Sometimes I feel like I don't know what I'm doing, she says. The crease that runs vertically between her eyebrows (the one that's grown more prominent with age, the one that occasionally prompts her kids to ask if she's mad, the one she daydreams about erasing with expensive surgical means) has deepened. Well. It's more like ... sometimes I feel like I'm doing it all wrong.
I don't know if I'm doing right by my kids. I don't know how to help them past their challenges. I don't know if I'm the right person to -- oh, I don't know how to say it. I feel lost and unsure and it's the most important thing in my life and I don't --
Listen. I lean forward, take her by the hand. Pull her knitted, faraway gaze to my own. Listen, I say. Listen to me.
You aren't a failure. It's okay not to be sure about things. We don't always have clear instructions in life -- in fact, we rarely do. It's all about being open to learning and open to sharing and open to listening to your heart, and more often than not, it's about doing the best you can with the little you've got. Do you remember how your grandmother described how she made pies? By guess and by golly, she said. As in, you can read all the recipes in the world, but some things can't be written down. A perfect pie crust is a twisty maze that must be navigated anew each time.
Almost nothing is simple. It's normal to be scared.
What's the most important thing you've learned about parenthood? That it's always changing. And yet, what's the thing you worry about the most? That the way things are now are the way things will be forever.
I love you, but jeez.
You know that young children are a force of nature, always in motion. Always growing and changing, right before your very eyes. This is the curse and the blessing of motherhood: you get to -- you have to -- watch it happen. It's like a time-lapse video, clickclickclickclick and your boys are taller, they're smarter, they're more. They were so small and now they're not and tomorrow they will be something else and this is truthiest truth of all, it's always, always changing.
Your heart will never stop expanding, never stop breaking. A million gladnesses, a million sorrows. You say goodbye to those tiny babies you'll never see again, you catch a glimpse of the strong, beautiful men they will be.
This is all to say that the challenges of today will change. Your sensitive one -- the one who weeps so dramatically over a skinned knee, the one who often melts down instead of facing adversity -- every minute, he is growing away from the boy he is today. For better and for worse, this is the truth. You are listening and talking and thinking about how to help ease his journey, and that's all you can do.
You cannot take away every burden. You cannot erase every hurt.
Your youngest, are you watching him? He is opening like a flower in the morning sun. He was so shy, just a few months ago. You thought he'd be like that forever, even though you knew better. You thought, Oh no, oh no, is this my fault? Look at him now. Things have already changed.
Your secret fear is that the darkest thoughts you have about yourself will live inside your children. That they will look at you and see a failure. That they will see weakness and bad choices, a fuckup who is unworthy of love.
This may in fact happen someday. I can't predict the future, and teenagers are known to be awful. (Do you remember how you were?) But my guess is that they will respect your honesty, and they will eventually understand how hard you worked for the happy life you made for yourself.
Most importantly, they will know how much you love them. You are changing the cycle. You are giving them a more loving, more affectionate, more open childhood than you had. It's okay that you don't always feel sure in your actions. It's okay that it isn't easy.
You are a good mom. Do you hear me? You are a good mother.
(We look at each other. Mirrored. Can't you tell this to yourself? she asks, gently.)
(No. No, I can't. I can write it down in a rattling rush of keystrokes, hit publish so it's real and forever, and try like hell to believe it, though.)
Do you ever find that you're easier on other moms than you are on yourself?
Image via Linda Sharps