by Melissa Face
Nine years ago, I began having contractions around 4:00 in the afternoon. I calmly called Craig and asked him to come home as soon as he could. Contractions were subtle at first, and since it was my first pregnancy, I figured I had plenty of time to get to the hospital. I also had time to shave (the parts of my body I could still reach), and put on some concealer and eyeliner. By the time Craig arrived, I was dressed, bags in hand, ready to meet my son.
After eight hours of labor and an ineffective epidural, I met Evan. We cried, snuggled, and attempted nursing. I failed and cried some more. I hated having my breasts manipulated by a young woman who had not yet had children of her own and was apathetic of the fact I had just pushed out an eight-pound baby.
I hated failing at feeding my son. But I tried again. And I kept trying.
Eventually, I supplemented with formula until I was able to pump milk for him. He needed to be fed, and I needed to feel better about my new role as his mom.
Throughout the past nine years, I have failed at many other parts of motherhood. I have yelled at him when he probably didn’t deserve it, embarrassed him in public, and made him cry at homework time.
My most recent failure was choosing to move to a county that doesn’t prioritize the health and safety of its children. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I chose a school that is infested with mold, and my child has a mold allergy. I have failed him. Again.
A few weeks ago, Evan and I left a board meeting at which the state of his school and the request for replacement funding were the main topics on the agenda. At the end of the meeting, I felt no better than I did at the beginning. I had no renewed confidence that the people in charge were looking out for my kid or that a school would be built anytime in the immediate future. In fact, a new school will definitely not be ready in time to benefit Evan.
“I’m sorry,” I told him after the meeting. “I’m sorry that things feel messed up right now and that you are hearing people talk negatively about your school, especially me.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “At least you care. At least you’re trying.”
Apparently Evan measures my mom abilities by my effort and output and not by my (infrequent) moments of success. I wish I could allow myself that same courtesy.
It occurred to me as Evan approaches his ninth birthday that this one is significant. It’s monumental, in fact. Evan is halfway to the age of legal independence, and I only have the same number of years with him in my house that we have already spent together. That is a loud wake-up call.
I can’t waste these next nine years on anger.
I have to find happiness amidst the chaos. I have to focus on things I can control, even when I feel that people around me are letting us down. I still own my happiness, and this year, that is the best gift I can give my son: a happy mom.
The next nine years are going to pass quickly. I can’t spend them mad. I can’t spend them being critical of people around me. And I can’t spend them at meetings where members will do whatever they want whether I voice my opinion or not.
I am insignificant to those people. But not to my son.
We have to spend our time together doing what we love, laughing and learning, failing and trying again. Whether it’s a lactation consultant, a teacher, or a policy maker, there will always be someone who can interfere with my happiness. But I have the power to not let them.
“So you’re never going to be mad?” Evan asked. “You’re going to be happy every day?”
“Well, that’s not realistic,” I said. “But I can stop looking for things to be mad about. And I can try to do better.”
“We can all do that,” Evan agreed. “There’s always a chance to do better.”
So here’s my chance, and I’m taking it. I’m trying again where I’ve previously failed. I’m choosing happiness as my gift to Evan and myself.