My doctor evaluated me recently. As the end of our conversation neared she asked if I was a perfectionist.
“No,” I answered without thinking twice. That was a no-brainer, I’m anything but perfect.
She tilted her head to the left, “Do you like things in order, routines, etcetera?”
I think twice now, out loud, “I mean, my house gets pretty messy sometimes…” I trail off as I picture the dirty dishes in the sink, the massive pile of dirty laundry, my chest tightens and I purse my lips, “When my house is messy I get pretty damn irritated, though.”
My doctor nods and walks out of the room. She returns with samples.
I don’t always see myself clearly. I am a perfectionist, it’s probably true. I can really see this in my parenting. I’m always beating myself up inside for falling short of the mother I feel I ought to be. Ideally I would be infinitely patient, I’d love to read boring, shitty children’s books over and over and over (I’m sorry children’s books, I think you’re great). If I was the mom I’d always intended to be, I would never lose my temper.
One afternoon a few years ago Layla, Piper and I were in the car on our way to the Omaha Children’s Museum. We had barely backed out of the driveway but the kids were already whining for snacks or arguing over who has the wettest-sounding farts; or maybe Piper had told Layla that she was going to “stick her like a pig.” Christ knows what blasphemous, ungrateful thing they were doing and had been doing on repeat for hours, most likely. Each day my kids discover a dozen new ways to make me want to lock myself in the closet and cry. But I remember, that particular day they had really taken it too far.
“That’s it!” I snapped on them and pressed the gas. I sped down the street, took a hard left, barely paused at the stop signs, I headed directly to the closest, most run-down looking house I could find. I abruptly pulled off of the street and parked on the cracked-cement driveway.
“Get out of the car!” I barked and they obeyed automatically. Their eyes were like saucers. “Mike Bob is going to babysit you! I can’t take this anymore!” I motioned for them to follow me to the door.
“Who’s Mike Bob?!” Their feet were planted.
“Mike Bob’s the guy who lives here. He can take his teeth out of his mouth like Grandma G.G. He said I could leave you with him any time I need. You are staying with Mike Bob until your dad picks you up. I’m getting my nails done and maybe going to Mexico!” I started to get back in the car.
“No Mom!” They grabbed at me, “No, we will not fight any more! We’re sorry!” Their eyes were filled with terror, terror and tears were welling up. I’d taken it too far. The girls get that from me and that fact doesn’t escape me.
I once told my doctor that I feel completely responsible for every bad thing my children do.
“You’d better get over that real fast,” she chuckled at me. She’s in her seventies, a real spit-fire. We laugh together at me, because I know I’m being ridiculous. I’m slowly learning to let things go.
When Layla was just born and I was the parent of one flawless little girl, I thought I had it all figured out. My daughter was perfect and I humbly believed that my perfect parenting and impeccable instincts were largely responsible for her perfection (did I mention that everything was perfect?!). For a few years after Layla was born I didn’t think other babies were cute anymore. I seriously thought every baby I saw looked weird because they weren’t the perfect template of a person that I had birthed. Then I had a second daughter and she broke the mold and altered my definition of perfection once again. She wasn’t Layla, she was Piper. She was cuckoo, not blonde hair with blue eyes but brown hair with brown eyes, dark and twisted and goofy, a total firecracker. And she was perfect, too.
My girls were changing me. They were shaking my view of my self and the world like an Etch a Sketch. That mom I’d pictured as a teenager when I’d paint my toes and dream up cute baby names was gone and I was standing there instead; a real human mom who made mistakes and didn’t know all the answers. I never imagined that I’d get so frustrated with my children one day that I’d intentionally frighten them to tears. But I also couldn’t anticipate how deeply I would love my girls and the crazy emotions and thoughts that love would put in my heart and my head.
Even if I do go off the deep end every once in a while, I need to take it easier on myself. I wake up every day to take care of three little girls. I could run to Mexico if I wanted, seriously you guys, I could. Instead I make meals, practice spelling words, blow bubbles, draw with chalk on the sidewalk. I ignore my kids to read a little often, sure. But I am a damn good mom. I do so many things right. I need to remember that. Besides, whatever’s good for the goose is good for the goslings. If I can get a handle on my stress, anxiety and depression by whatever means necessary, my children will reap the benefits. My doctor urged me not to feel so bad. She told me that there’s a consensus between her and her colleagues. They believe that moms are holding themselves to some dangerously high standards. We need to let go of perfection.
Have you ever been driven to madness by your beloved children? Please share in the comments! Then after the story, toot your own horn and tell me one of the ways that you’re a great mom or dad. Because you are.