I sit on the sugary-white-sand beach and watch my kids from a short distance. The waves are small. The sand is soft and clean. It’s a family-friendly area, a beautiful location, and our comfortable, rented condo is directly behind us. My husband is nearby, too. I adore watching them play here. I am grateful for these brief moments to sit in the sun and just feel it; to absorb all this goodness and truly relax. I’ve been wishing for this moment for years.
Yet, I don’t fully relax. I feel a tinge of guilt for not playing more with them; for enjoying these minutes to myself. I hope the kids don’t get bit or stung by something unseen in the water’s edge or swept under when they venture one step too deep. They will need more sunblock soon, so I keep my mind on the time and the sun. I continually count the toys and towels laying around us to make sure we haven’t lost something. We smile politely at passersby, but I am also wary of strangers. Our daughter is notorious for putting things in her mouth, so I watch her like a hawk as she picks up seashells and fistfuls of sand.
Since the days of their births, I have dreamed of our first, big family vacation. It seems fleeting now. But also, I know this experience would be more enjoyable, in some ways, without the kids; and I feel terrible for thinking it. I wonder silently, “Do all parents feel this way? Am I selfish? It’s their vacation, too. Are we doing this right? Will they remember this at all? I pray their memories will be happy. Will they speak fondly of ‘vacation mom’ or will they only remember that she sat alone on this chair for ten minutes? How do I measure up in their eyes?”
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We sit in the living room at home enjoying a beautiful morning with my sister and her kids. They spent the night with us and we have a few fun things planned today before they leave. The kids are watching a movie and none of us are dressed yet. We’re not in a hurry. Breakfast is still a mess in the kitchen — an extension of the living room and tiny dining area — and the coffee smells inviting.
I sit on my husband’s recliner holding my little girl and talking to my sister from across the room. The other three kids are sprawled all over the couch, which also reclines on both ends. Everything is fairly calm, for a change, and everyone seems happy.
Then it happens…
My son leans slowly forward on the reclined end of the couch. It is like slow motion as we watch the foot rest slowly drop to the floor. Why he ever leaned his head toward the coffee table is beyond me, but I am not totally surprised. Seconds later, we hear the THUMP sound of his forehead against the wood.
I glance up just on time to watch this scene unfold and then catch sight of my sister’s shocked expression. Can he really be hurt? But I know this cry and I hate it. I scoop him up quickly in my arms and press his face to my shoulder. He leans on me hard and shudders as he cries. Then I see the blood and I carry him quickly to the bathroom away from the other kids.
My husband and I spend the next couple hours with our son at the non-emergency clinic having the cut glued back together, while my sister keeps the other three kids at home. This is the second time in our son’s short life that he has been to this same clinic having his head glued together for the same reason — the coffee table. I swear up and down that we will turn the stupid thing into kindling and my husband doesn’t argue.
As our boy bounces and spins around the clinic room like he’s actually enjoying this experience, we know he will ultimately be fine. We’re grateful it isn’t worse, but it has taken a chunk of time from our day and caused enough anxiety between us to last all month. I hope we can still manage one fun thing with the family today before they leave… Or maybe that is irresponsible?
My head is a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. I wonder what portion of this event my son will remember. Will he recall how quickly I came to his rescue or will he only remember the panic in my voice? Did he hear my sister calmly reassuring us to slow down and take our time? Did he know she was speaking from experience or did he only see the blood dripping off his face and see the helpless concern all over mine? Will he remember that I was here too, or will he only know that Daddy came home from work to drive us to the clinic? Did I even tell our daughter goodbye? Does she feel abandoned or is she simply having fun with her cousins, oblivious to all that occurred this morning? How do I measure up in their eyes?
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Most of our daily memories are lighthearted and good — even the hard stuff has some goodness to it — but the weight of motherhood is heavy. It is often impossible to give ourselves grace, especially in the blistering heat of these crazy moments. We want to relax, but we just can’t, because when we allow ourselves to relax, something scary happens and we regret everything. We break out the measuring stick and start deducting points for every little thing that goes wrong, because obviously it is all Mom’s fault.
How often do we compare ourselves to other mothers, families, books, movies, song lyrics that sound magical and tragic all at the same time? I’ve even compared myself to the neighbor’s cat. Wouldn’t it be nice to be a fat, lazy house cat lounging in the sun all day demanding attention until I didn’t want attention anymore? She has no idea… Dumb cat.
Truthfully, my kids are always my measuring stick. I can turn off social media and look away from the television and read a book with a healthy sense of self-awareness, knowing that not all circumstances are like mine. But when I see their tiny faces… GOSH! It’s hard to refrain from spoiling my babies just to make them like me. I have never desired love so much as I want theirs. I have never wanted to excel at a job the way I want to conquer the crap out of this one. Take that, motherhood! But I often come up short and the weight is heavy. So heavy. I am just one person.
Then again, occasionally I measure up superhero-tall and it feels like floating. It’s weightless and I pat myself gently on the shoulder. I may be just one person, who doubts herself on an hourly basis, but I got this. NO ONE can do this (for them) better than me, because I AM MOM. Hear me roar.
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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale — an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click HERE to read the next post in this series: “Measuring Up.”