I was at Target the other day (yes, Target. Again.) and Shawna, the cashier, was commenting on how happy Lyla is (yes, my daughter and I are both on a first name basis with all the cashiers at Target.) As Shawna was saying that I must be doing something right to have such a sweet baby… something I take no actual credit for, except for maybe my genes, but her sweet gene most likely came from her dad anyway… the random woman behind me said, “Yeah, she’s happy now. Just don’t mess her up like my mom did with me. I’m actually on my way to therapy right now.” Ummmm… ok. First of all, I think this is a bit TMI for the Target checkout line at 9 AM. It’s right on par with the woman last week who tried to help me pick out a tampon… which would have been ok except for her confession, “I bleed like a stuck pig, and I was flying through those tampons like Valium.” I just slowly and quietly backed away without making any sudden moves that would startle her. Way too much info and waaaaay too much crazy for a Tuesday morning. But then again, I have a blog confessing my innermost thoughts and greatest fears to anyone who’s bored enough to read them, so who am I to judge?
Regardless, Ms. Therapy’s overshare definitely got me thinking… and when I say thinking, I mean over-thinking, and when I say over-thinking, I mean freaking-the-F-out… about my responsibility as a mother. It’s not that I had never thought about what a huge responsibility motherhood is before. It’s just that a prime example of bad mothering was standing right in front of me (with a cart full of lightbulbs, orange juice, an obscene amount of cat litter, and a King Size snickers in case you were wondering.) I wanted desperately to ask Ms. Therapy what her mother’s crime had been? Where had she gone wrong? Did she send her to the wrong preschool? Did she let her “cry it out” too often, or let her watch tv too much? Did she push her too hard or not enough? Did she judge her too harshly or not pay her enough attention? Or were her crimes more nefarious… the kinds of things that even a brash person such as myself can’t bear to type. I desperately wanted to ask Ms. Therapy what was causing her to buy 82 lbs of cat litter on a Tues morning on her way to therapy, but there are some things that even I can’t ask.
It sounds so easy. Just don’t mess them up. In theory, it should be. But it seems that the road is paved with so many landmines. Every decision, every word, every reaction is an opportunity to teach… or to ruin.
Right now my daughter is perfect. She has no prejudices. She doesn’t know what it means to be hateful, or spiteful, or mean. She thinks everyone is equal, and therefore bestows her sweet smiles on anyone who will pay attention. She is unselfconscious about the way she looks. She doesn’t suck in her little bottle belly or wear high heels to thin out her cankles. She doesn’t care if she looks stupid when she dances, or falls, or fails, or even when she is pooping in public. (In fact, she looks you right in the eye and smiles proudly like she just cured cancer.)
In this imperfect world, how can an imperfect mother preserve her children’s perfection? How do I raise my daughter to be smart and tough, while teaching her to be kind and honest? How do I give my daughter experience, while protecting her innocence? How do I show her how to be a strong woman, while teaching her that she doesn’t have to tear anyone else down to do it? How can my daughter become an adult, while keeping all of the wonderful qualities that make her a child? Except maybe the pooping in public. I think that is one childlike quality that we can leave in childhood.
So, what is the answer? The truth is that I have no idea. Hopefully you aren’t reading my blog for answers to anything. If you are… perhaps I could interest you in a sarcastic remark instead? I don’t have the answers. I don’t know if it is possible to be a perfect parent or to raise a perfect child. But the closest thing to an answer that I have, and the only thing that helps me sleep some nights, is a saying that I have often heard from a parent who I know did a pretty wonderful job… my dad. (Hey, I’m not perfect but I don’t have 80 cats either.) My dad always says that if every decision you make is done out of love, then it’s the right one. That always helps me feel better. I may be a little judgemental, a bit over-anxious, and not even close to perfect, but if there is one thing that know I can do right, it’s loving my daughter so much it hurts. And then worry that maybe I’m loving her too much….