In honor of all the beautiful mothers I know and love, I thought I’d share a real life story, a little segment I’m calling True Confessions.
You know what I’m talking about. I think. I hope? Maybe not. Maybe you will finish reading this and decide I’m not fit to write about anything having to do with mothering. You decide.
True Confession #1:
Not long after moving into our new home, in a new neighborhood, we added a new baby to our life with a 21 month old. This new baby was adorable and snuggly and had an amazing ability to sleep for 90 minutes increments and projectile spit up every time she ate.
My Grace is a love. She was an exhausting baby.
Soon after our move into our “real house to be real adults” our neighborhood had a volunteer day. We decided to attend, in hopes of meeting new neighbors and to do good deeds to earn us a “good neighbor” label. That Saturday morning, we arrived, me with an 8 week old in her little pouch, a toddler running amuck, husband with shovel in hand. Ready to be helpful. Everyone there was planting flowers—I think—honestly I can’t recall; I had about 4 hours of interrupted sleep the night before. And about the same for the nights before that.
Tucker, Grace, and I lasted about 15 minutes before we headed back home, clearly more of a hindrance than a help. My husband stayed, helped, and presumably got labeled good neighbor or at least good man.
Later that week, said good man was traveling for business. Or maybe just at work late. I don’t remember. Again—I had been getting 90 minutes intervals of sleep for weeks, and sleep deprivation destroys both the spirit and the memory.
What I do remember, clearly, is that I was trying to make dinner. Nothing elaborate, just put some foods together to feed my people. I remember Grace had been crying on and off all day, I remember Tucker had one of those needy days—babies crawling on me all day long. Our two dogs had been barking incessantly, probably the sound of which had caused Tucker a sleepless afternoon. It was one of those days I was about to lose it. Crying and barking and “mamamamamammaamama” all day long. By 5 pm, I poured myself a glass of wine.
And then the dogs went bananas. Beserker. Completely nuts. But I was too tired to look for the root cause. I decided to start yelling STOP, as if that would calm it down. At this point, Tucker, nearly two , decided to start screaming, all the noise too much for his sensitive little being, his body went into sensory overload—which resulted in his own cacophony of screams and tears.
Not at Tucker. Not at Grace. At the dogs. I started yelling, ferociously and rather insanely, That’s it! I can’t take it anymore! That’s enough. That’s enough! That’s ENOUGH!
At that moment I noticed what the dogs were barking at. There were people at the door. Not just any people—the kind older couple who lived down the street, the ones in charge of the neighborhood volunteer day. But they were no longer at the door. They were walking away.
Rational Catherine took over, and opened the door. Wanting to appear normal, I decided to open the door and call out to them. Trying desperately to portray myself as a good mom. A nice mom. At least not a raging lunatic. Hi—I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.
Oh that’s ok, they quickly said, eyes looking at anything but me. You’re busy.
Suddenly I looked at myself and saw what they saw. What this older man and his wife, coming on a mission of goodwill—to thank my husband for helping, these new neighbors of ours—what they saw at this particular moment.
They saw me —disheveled and crazy, with giant dark circles under my eyes, baby in one hand, glass of wine in the other (because why not be known as the neighborhood lush?), crying toddler standing in the background, dogs barking, food burning on the stove, and the leftover vibration of enough ENOUGH!
These nice people were sliding away, trying to avoid further contact with me.
I was embarrassed. This one moment was this family’s vision of me, as a mother, when in truth, I really was so much more. Looking back, I don’t know why I even tried to participate in the world as a normal human during those times. I mean. I had an infant who LITERALLY DIDNT SLEEP and a toddler who had a drastic sleep regression, wanting to be with us and her every time she was up, which was all the time. I was a walking zombie.
And I kept trying to put on this face, this mask that said “I got this. I’m awesome. I’m a great mom.”
Often times I was. But sometimes, pieces of me were aching. Crying for attention.
Meanwhile, I wanted to appear kind. Gentle. Sweet. Patient. And people everywhere were telling me to enjoy every moment, I would never get it back, so I felt guilty for being so tired. The guilt and the exhaustion and the wish to be better—those were some of my toughest moments, and I felt badly for having them.
My overly sensitive self was then worried about what these people thought of me. Would they think I was terrible? Would they call Child Protective Services on me? When I shared my worries with my husband he reassured me. No. You aren’t a bad mom. You had a bad moment.
I realized, after some thought, that they weren’t walking away because they were scared. They were walking away because they knew. They knew that feeling of being so tired, so overwhelmed, so not YOURSELF, that absolutely irrational thoughts and feelings come flying out of your mouth. I think they had been there. Or at least I pretend they’ve been there. That’s the only way I can make eye contact with them now, as I see them at least once a week on our family walks.
This experience made a deep and lasting impression on me. Not so much at embarrassed I was, but at the idea that mothers do so much. And at any given moment, the moment people witness might be the worst moment of a mother’s day, a mother’s week, or a mother’s career as a mother. Now, when I see a mom grabbing a child by the arm in the grocery store, hissing stop. that. right. now I know there’s more behind the picture. When another mother comments “helpfully” to me that “He seems a little old for you to be carrying him,” I let it slide, instead of lashing out at her. Other people don’t know what any other mother’s day (or child’s day) was like, or what any other person may be going through. I’ve been that mom, seen for one moment of irrational sleep deprived insanity, not for the millions of moments I’ve been gentle, kind, and all the things I always wish to be.
Mothers, I salute you. Cheers to the moments that get photographed for their poetic beauty, and cheers to the moments when you open the door, looking completely unhinged, drinking wine, holding babies, and screaming at the top of your lungs. Neither of these moments defines you as mother. You are always so much more.
I look forward to sharing with you episode #2 of True Confessions. The day I screamed and ran from the house (into the back yard), came back in to find my young son, eyes more worried than they should have been, comforting his little sister. Don’t worry. Mommies always come back. They have to. They really have to…