Being There

IMG_5095I’m feeling a little bit under-appreciated by my kids lately.  Can I say that?  Is that selfish?

It’s summer vacation, and unlike past years when I froze in the face of tackling childcare/camp/travel for twelve weeks, this year I stared it right in the face and planned — if I do say so — a pretty fah-bulous summer break for my kids, complete with Lego Camp for the kickoff, a camping weekend, and no fewer than 3.5 weeks in Tahoe including 4th of July fireworks.  BAM.  I am #winning at summer.

Except that we are, oh, 4 days in, and my kids are not sharing the feeling.  Instead of being pumped, LittleMan doesn’t want to spend the “long days” at camp (6 hours) and Babygirl wants cupcakes for breakfast in addition to after camp and four French braids instead of two, and Mommy is Mean.

(I’d like to add at this point that Lego Camp is 40 minutes from our house, and yesterday I spent 5 hours in my car between the drop-off, pick-up, and work meetings, which you know is my favorite way to spend a sunny day.)


When LittleMan was a baby I had this (bad) habit of sort of semi-ironically referring to myself as Worst Mom Ever.  I even had an acronym for it (WME).  My mom and my sister and my husband would get mad at me (like, sometimes really mad): “DON’T SAY THAT!”   But it was a habit, a sardonic defense against the deep, hungry insecurity I was feeling as a first-time mom…and to be honest, it was something I internalized deeply at the time.  Maybe it was a weird manifestation of postpartum depression, or maybe I was just going through a messed-up time, but a dark, empty part of me really believed that I was a terrible mother.

My baby cried all the time.  My baby couldn’t sleep.  I dropped him off at daycare, and then worked and stressed, and then picked up, and fed and put the sleepless baby to bed, and then didn’t sleep well and did all of those things the next day.  We lived in a dark apartment and it was a dark time.

Joyful too, because, new baby.

But dark.

Life can be complicated like that.

When LittleMan was eight months old, I was faced with an ultimatum by my employer: I had been working reduced hours since my maternity leave, and suddenly, less than a day after successfully completing a massive initiative, I was called into a meeting and told that I would need to return at full capacity by the end of the month or resign.

This was not a good meeting.  No one in the meeting was his or her best self, myself included.  Things were said that could not be taken back, and I resigned on the spot, locked myself in my office and sobbed, then packed up and left within hours.

This professional episode, while unpleasant at best, was a turning point in my life: it was the moment when I acknowledged fully how my priorities had changed.  I wanted to build a little life with my baby so badly that I would literally walk out of a job on no notice if that time was threatened, or that need questioned.  I had never done anything like that before, no matter how tempted or angry I might have been.  Standing on the corner outside my office in the middle of the day, I was at once unrecognizable to myself and suddenly so very sure of who I was and what I wanted: I wanted to be a mom who was there, as much as humanly possible.  I might be the Worst Mom Ever, but I would be the Worst Mom Ever Who Was Also There.  (And for the record, it’s really hard to be both those things at once.)

This has not always been easy, and there have been more fits and starts than I can count over the past seven years, but still…It has been a really long time since I dropped a WME.

This morning, while Babygirl whined that I was mean for refusing to give her spoonfuls of Nutella at 6am and LittleMan fake-cried about being abandoned to build Legos and make stop-motion animation movies on an iPad all day (I know, right?), I kind of lost it.

“You know what, you two?” I said, standing in the living room in my PJs with my hands out, open palms.  “I’m a pretty good mom.  Do you know that?  Do you KNOW how good you have it?  And I’m not going to sit here and listen to you” — I pointed at LittleMan, sprawled on the floor with the entire cast of Ninjago littered around him — “and you” — I pointed at Babygirl sitting on the sofa, half-ready for camp with one French braid pigtail tied with a pink hair tie, “whine at me for one more minute!”  And then I grabbed my coffee and went in my room for a Mommy Time-Out.

There was a time in my life — a long, long time — when I would have filled the quiet of the Mommy Time-Out with self-shaming thoughts about losing my temper, raising my voice, not trying hard enough to meet my children where they are, and on and on.  There was a time when I would have beat myself up for spoiling them, enabling them, fostering an absence of gratitude.  There was a time when I would have talked myself into believing I am the Worst Mom Ever Who is Failing to Raise Children Who Behave Perfectly All the Time.  There was a time when I would have emerged from the Mommy Time-Out apologizing to everyone and the furniture for my lack of altruism, and demanding nothing from my kids.

But not today.  Today I sat, sipping coffee and sorting through the supplies for our upcoming camping weekend, and thought: I deserve some respect, dammit.  Yes: they are little and they are learning; they need space to test boundaries and they are forgiven for being human.  But also: I have worth.  And teaching them to respect and appreciate the effort that goes into the lives they enjoy is part of raising them right, even if it means raising my voice sometimes.

When I came out a few minutes later, Babygirl was sniffling, chastened on the arm of the couch.  LittleMan came in for one of his around-the-waist apology hugs.  I finished Babygirl’s hairdo and went back to putting breakfast on the table.  We didn’t really speak.  We didn’t really need to.

My husband came in from his workout, raised an eyebrow at me, an unspoken inquiry into the unusual hush in the room.  “I deserve to be appreciated,” I said quietly, without looking up, spreading peanut butter on pita for the lunch boxes.

“I know,” he replied, giving my arm a squeeze.

You don’t get what you don’t ask for.  I’m learning.


  1. Rebecca says:

    I think parents often forget what they are teaching their kids with their indirect behaviors. What you did…was a great lesson to your kids. You are teaching them to respect themselves and have self worth. Now, that lesson is invaluable. Good for you mommy! #bestmomever …that’s your new line (BME)

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