By Melissa Face
“Do you like me more than candy?” my four-year-old, Delaney, asks. She’s been on this kick for a few weeks now, partly joking and partly trying to determine how she measures up in our eyes.
“Of course I like you more than candy,” I reassure her.
“Do you like me more than cookies?”
“Yes. I like you more than cookies, too,” I promise.
“What about coffee?” Her expression turns serious. “Do you like me more than coffee?”
“Now that’s a tough one!” I joke with her. “You wouldn’t really ask me to choose between you and coffee, would you?”
My older child, Evan, chimes in at that moment.
“Careful, Mom,” he warns. “It’s less than six days until Mother’s Day. You don’t want us to stop working on your presents, do you?”
I see him grin and wink at me in the rearview mirror, and I feel an actual ache in my chest from the love I feel for both of them.
“Of course I don’t want you to stop. I adore the things you make for me.”
But honestly, I had forgotten Mother’s Day was approaching. As grateful as I am to have my children and to be their mom, I don’t particularly love this holiday. Mother’s Day makes me feel inept and guilty. It is a day of celebration of all the characteristics I don’t demonstrate as a mom: selflessness, patience, tolerance, and kindness. It conjures images of moms who make and pack nutritious lunches, and plan and coordinate stimulating activities, all while talking in a quiet, calm voice.
I tried to be that mom a few times. Twice, maybe.
Since I’m a relatively hopeful person, I have fleeting moments when I think I can still be that mom. I tried again last Friday.
Delaney asked me to make her pancakes for breakfast, so after dropping Evan off at school, we went to the McDonald’s drive-thru, and I bought a large coffee and pancakes. That’s how pancakes are “made” at this stage of my life.
We were both excited about our day together. I promised her I would color with her and play with her doll house. And I promised myself I would try not to yell or fuss the whole day.
“Uh-oh!” Laney exclaimed, while I poured her juice in the other part of the room.
Nothing good ever follows “uh-oh”.
“I spilled a little bit of syrup,” Delaney whimpered.
“Of course you did,” I said, not exactly to myself.
The entire packet of maple goo cascaded off the edge of the table, into Delaney’s lap, and eventually formed an amber puddle on the floor.
For a minute or two, I just stood and watched it ooze and thought about what I might use to clean it up. I thought about not cleaning it up. I could just leave it there; we have other rooms in the house.
“I’m sorry,” Delaney said. “I was just trying to be a big girl.”
“I know,” I told her, while I wiped syrup off her belly.
A few minutes later, my maple scented daughter sat next to me with her box of crayons. We took turns coloring Skye from Paw Patrol, her current obsession, in as many shades of pink as we could find.
We were almost finished when Delaney told me she had to go to the bathroom. She has been working on her independence in this area as well, so she goes in alone, and I check on her as necessary.
After the sink had run for about five minutes, I knew it was time to check. I opened the door, and Delaney jumped.
“You scared me!” she said.
“It wouldn’t be scary if you weren’t doing something wrong,” I scolded.
Delaney had her Doc McStuffins doll under the faucet, face upright. I wondered if she had been learning about water torture in preschool.
“What ARE you doing to your doll?” I demanded.
“I was just cleaning her face from where somebody marked on her.”
That somebody was Delaney, about two weeks earlier.
I took in the scene: a puddle of water on the floor, two soggy towels on the door knob, and half a bottle of soap emptied into the sink, and Delaney, shirtless, perched on her stool, scrubbing away at Doc McStuffins’ face. I’m still not sure why she took her shirt off for the task.
Anyway, my reaction was not one that I’m proud of, not one I aspired to back before I became a mother. There was yelling, fussing, and tears, from both parties. I took Delaney upstairs to the bathtub, fussing all the way and wishing I could just sit down and drink my coffee, my coffee that sat cold on the counter, before the daily messes began, before I lost hope in another day, before I once again turned into the mom I do not want to be.
I was really hoping as I scrubbed syrup, hand soap, and one unknown substance off my daughter that she would not choose this moment to ask me if I liked her more than coffee.
This stage of life is so intense. Other working parents of young children know what I mean. Stay-at-home moms and dads know what I mean, and my friends definitely know what I mean.
I received a text message from my friend, Dawn, just the other day.
“I’ve wiped poop off two different butts this morning and neither was my own,” she said. “How is your day?!”
I laughed and commiserated. This is my life right now. It is nothing like I envisioned. I pictured myself having picnics, going to the park, and braiding my daughter’s hair. But all of that seems like some fantastical scene from Mary Poppins and nothing like my actual life.
When I have been especially grumpy and critical of my children, I feel a nagging guilt, and I try to do something to make up for it. But last Friday, I just joked that maybe my kids could go to the Mommy Store and find a mommy who doesn’t fuss so much.
Evan looked at me and said, “No way. I would never want another mommy.”
My eyes met his, and I could tell that he meant it.
So this year, I am going to try to be a little more enthusiastic about Mother’s Day. I need to say farewell, forever, to the mother I thought I would be, and learn to appreciate the mother I actually am.
My children accept me in the same way I accept them, despite shortcomings. They know I have a temper. They know I can be impatient. They know I sometimes fail, yet they love me anyway. They call for me when they don’t feel well and other times, too, like when they are mad at their father.
They are not perfect children, and I am not a perfect mom. But I love them something fierce, even more than coffee.