I was up at 2am last night, unable to sleep and unwilling to fight it. Sometimes sleep happens and sometimes it doesn’t.
And in these perfectly quiet moments of darkness, when I’m not sleepy enough for it to feel like nighttime and I’m not awake enough to face the day, I hold the cup of coffee anyway, believing the hot steamy promises it never keeps. I browse old pictures and read old blog entries, reliving things I’ve written and letting the memories flow. I wonder how it’s possible for the years to pass so quickly when the minutes seem to tick by so slowly.
“That’s when you realize just how much of an amazingly Perfect Mother you are. The loaf of homemade bread cools on the counter as its warm, yeasty aroma fills your kitchen with happy expectations of sitting around the table with the people you love. The edges of the spiced apple pork chops crisp in the oven as the last of the water evaporates from the pot of garlic brown rice. The house smells good. The delicious warmth blankets my home with the kind of peace you find only in Hallmark movies. My children are quietly reading and playing with their stash of new toys. The holiday music allows us to hold on to Christmas for a few more weeks.
I feel like today was worth more, like I somehow managed to get more organics into their bodies and meaningful ideas into their minds. I was a better mother today. And that fills me with a sweet sense of smugness.
I smooth my clean, smartly coiffed hair and pick a few bits of lint from my pressed pants, feeling superior to all those other unshowered mothers still wearing the yoga pants they slept in the night before. I’m not that mother today.
My darling toddler sprawled on the dining room floor, chugga-chugga-choo’ing his wooden train as I imagine him feeling happy and loved in this perfectly warm and secure home I created. He smells the delicious food wafting from the kitchen and sweetly asks “what you cooking?” I bend down to reveal the delicious secrets of warm bread, baked apples and tender pork chops, imagining his big brown eyes growing large as he hears what Mumma has made just for him. Because she loves him and she is the Best Mother today.
I wait for his little words to catch up to his sense of smell, hanging off every mispronounced syllable, every lisp and lingering squeak of baby talk, not willing to correct him because he is my last baby and I’ll never get to hear baby talk again. I’ll never have another chance to appreciate the secret language of my toddler, the language that only the mother can understand, the words and sounds that only we know how to respond to. I’m in no hurry for him to talk like a big boy.
I watch him stand up, anticipating open arms and a pointed finger towards the loaf of freshly baked bread.
I wait for it.
I live for it.
‘NO! I WAN MCDONOWS! I WAN CHICKEN NUGGITS!’
But. The warm bread. And the pork chops. Candle burning. Clean shirt. Folded laundry. Perfect Mother.
I want to rip your heart out mother, with my chubby little fingers. And then I want to purée it into pink slime, bread it, fry it up and dip it in sweet and sour sauce. And then I will also throw my wooden train on your foot. The wooden train set you put together for me today because children who play with wooden toys have exceptional parents.
And then it happened.
My shiny Perfect Mother ribbon unpinned itself from my festive new year’s sweater and fell silently to the floor. My perfectly clean floor. My ribbon. My beautiful ribbon. I cooked all afternoon and I washed my hair. All the things were in their places and I was wearing actual pants. All that hard work! All that kneading and seasoning and putting things where they belonged. All that perfection!
I had even shaved my legs.
So I cracked open the last lime beer in the refrigerator, took a long cold sip and told him to go watch some TV while I made him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on homemade bread. Which suddenly felt very much like regular bread. And I slipped back into my cleanish yoga pants and put my ribbon back into the drawer.”
It’s pretty clear I’ve been an imperfect mother since at least 2006, when I started documenting my daily botches on the internet. Blogging was the cool thing to do at the time because you could write down all your feelings and poke fun at yourself before somebody else did. And now my toddler just turned ten years old and he’d still take a happy meal over pork chops and rice. And my Perfect Mother ribbon is still constantly falling to the floor, no matter how many times I pin it to my shirt. But I still take it out of the drawer and try to wear it. And I still reach for the yoga pants before anything else, even if I may or may not have worn them to bed the night before. And sometimes I hate cooking.
And even if all my best intentions for the day, the month, the years, didn’t go as smoothly as they might look in the scrapbook, they’re still good. They aren’t perfect, but they’re good. And maybe I don’t need a ribbon to be a Good Enough Mother. (Although I would really like one. I like those big blue ones they give out at country fair baking contests.) I could tape it to the fridge and when somebody asks where I got it, I could tell them I had the best apple pie. Or maybe I earned it by doing really good voices in the stories I read to my children at night. Or what if I earned the ribbon simply by putting them to bed when I was too tired to read? Maybe I won my Good Enough Mother ribbon by buying organic fruits and vegetables and chopping them up for snacks. But what if I had a particularly rough month trying to balance home and work and for a few weeks I said “yes” to fast food takeout and extra fries and ice cream?
I could say I won my Good Enough Mother ribbon from washing their clothes or buckling them up safely or finally finding the library books that were only six months overdue or remembering to check the expiration date on the children’s Motrin…most of the time.
Or I could just say that I’m doing my job the best I know how and I don’t know if I’m doing it right all the time, but I’m still doing it.
Some days I feel like a Good Enough Mother when I’ve managed to get a shower and put on makeup. (Also known as Selfie Days because documenting the moment somehow makes it seem more real, giving me hope that it might actually happen again in the near future. Don’t judge.)
And while we’re busy looking down at where our shiny ribbon fell, searching for another safety-pin to attach it to our shirts, our toddlers somehow turn ten years old. Our ten-year-olds become teenagers. The creases in our foreheads become a little deeper. And we wish the years would pass as slowly as the minutes seem to. And sometimes we stare at the clock and wish it would spin faster so it can be bedtime already because we’re exhausted and ready for this day to be done.
But they’ll keep growing and you’ll keep doing your best. When you do have those Perfect Mother days, never underestimate the power of a selfie.
And when it’s not perfect just remember, it’s Good Enough, Mother.