Some moments are just like this.
I’ve been going about the day, making my way through, over and around the challenging bits, breathing deeply, feeling like I’m managing. There were hundreds of moments today already where I was a good mother, a great mother, even. I prevented accidents, wiped noses, rescued a drowning Lego guy from the toilet, changed fifteen diapers, made healthy meals and snacks that were eaten. I played trains, building and rebuilding the track as a figure eight, then as an “S,” then as “the same shape Daddy made it last time.” I co-refereed a three-year-olds’ play date. I nursed two babies a lot (in fact, I was nursing one at the same time as I was building the train track). I even managed to get one load of laundry into the washer. (It is still sitting there, but I will probably get it into the dryer eventually.)
The defining moment of my day, though, was none of these. It was this one, brief moment, in which the roll of paper towels has left my hand and is flying, in slow motion, toward the kitchen wall.
How did we get here?
The Boy and I were working on a stamping project for Valentine’s Day. He had abandoned the stamps in favor of using his hands on the stamp pads. This was fine- we were in the kitchen.
The babies, having resisted sleep for nearly the entire day, were finally napping. Then I heard one of them crying. “She probably dropped her pacifier,” I told him. “Wait right here- I’ll be right back.” I went down the hall and retrieved the pacifier. As I put it back into LadyBug’s mouth, the door burst open with a crash and The Boy entered as only a three-year-old can enter a room, talking loudly about his handprints and yellow and stickers and asking for more markers. My heart sank…he was going to end this hard-earned nap before it had started! I waved my hands, shushed him, tried to ask him to wait in the hall, gestured at the sleeping babies, held my finger to my lips, begging him to just be quieter…
I leaned toward him, still holding the pacifier in LadyBug’s mouth. I whisper-shouted at him.
He made his “I’m-not-budging” face and yelled it louder.
“NO! NO! NO!”
Scrunch-faced, he dropped to the floor, kicked his legs against the babies’ crib, and started smearing black ink handprints onto the carpet.
By now, both babies were screaming. Picturing the black ink smears going everywhere within seconds, I lifted The Boy up under his armpits, half-carried, half-dragged him down the hall to the bathroom, hoisted him up to the sink, and started washing his hands intensely.
He started kicking me.
“NO! Stop it! No, Mommy! You are hurting me!” He grabbed at the soap container, tried to wrestle it out of my hands, kicked his feet against the cabinets. And I started yelling.
“Stop it! Stop it! STOP IT!” I yelled at him. He cried harder, yelled at me to put him down. So I did. I deposited him Right Onto The Floor, wet, ink-covered, and wailing. Then I stomped into the kitchen, grabbed the paper towels to dry my own hands, let out an “arrrgggghhh!” of frustration, and flung the paper towels at the wall as hard as I could.
Who is this shrieking hurler of paper products? This yelling Mommy-monster who drags her child to the sink and scrubs him with such force? This is not the parent, not the person, I aspire to be.
(At least I didn’t throw them at my son, I guess. He didn’t even see me throw them…but still!)
As I discussed this incident with my friend later, the mommy guilt was consuming me. I had ruined him, my first-born. He would surely need therapy for this. He now had reason to believe that Mommy was unstable, that she might explode and freak out at any second with no warning. She might go from furtively whispering to him to flinging things at walls in no time. He would suffer from anxiety forever.
I had totally lost it.
My friend is kind, and she reminded me that all parents of young children have had these moments of which we’re not proud. “We all have our moments,” she said, “and no one said it would be easy.” She’s right, of course – it’s not easy, and sometimes it’s just the hardest thing I have ever done. But then she said the defining thing, the one I won’t forget.
“You are doing a great job, and no one else could be as good a mom to your three as you are.”
I thought about this. My instinct was to disagree with her. Surely someone else would not have lost her temper, would have been gentler, kinder with her correction of The Boy, would have washed his hands more tenderly, would certainly not have thrown the paper towels in anger.
But that same someone might not have done all the other amazing things I’ve done today. She wouldn’t know to put out extra yellow construction paper because that is the only color The Boy would choose (even though I always put out all the other colors, too, in case he changes his mind one day). She wouldn’t have known that LadyBug needs the pacifier lying just so against her lip, even after she falls asleep and it comes out of her mouth. She wouldn’t know that Belle won’t take her pacifier at all if she’s too tired but needs her grey elephant to rub against her face.
Besides, if God has enough confidence in me to trust me with these three little souls, then I must have what I need to be their mother. Maybe I don’t have it together at every moment, but I’m a work in progress, too. As my children are growing into themselves, I’m growing as their mother. I’m not perfect and never will be, but I am the perfect mother for them.
And so, I decided to forgive myself my trespasses today and try again tomorrow. I don’t have tantrums every day, thankfully. And while this isn’t an episode I’m particularly proud of, I’m happy that talking about it with my wise friend helped me to realize that there are countless things that I do very well, even amazingly well, even better than any other mom could do them, and that my three were entrusted to me for a reason.
To those of you on the journey with me, allow yourself a little grace next time you slip up. And remember that if you throw a whole roll of paper towels, they will fly, hit the wall, and unroll…and although you will probably be the one that has to roll them back up, it won’t be the end of the world.