Or perhaps I should say: When I fail as a mother.
It happens all the time. But as opposed to being scolded by a boss or having to stay late at work or – god forbid – work the weekend, I have to deal with how my failure effects what is most precious to me: my child.
Today I baked cookies for my sons’ birthdays. I also woke up at 5:30am because of a screaming kid, had to deal with a wild toddler all morning and a husband who was constantly responding to work emails. By 7am it already felt like the longest day. So it probably wasn’t a wise decision to bake cookies. BUT…the boys’ birthday party is this weekend, and I was determined to make cute little number cookies. I got started while Julian was occupied and Arthur was taking his morning nap. Before long, Julian joined me in the kitchen, and “Oh WOW! Mama is baking cookies. That means I must help by shoving as much cookie dough as I possibly can into my mouth.”
We do a lot of baking around here, and I usually involve Julian and let him help. He loves to measure and mix and use cookie cutters and do dishes. He is great at all of it, and I usually cherish our time in the kitchen together.
Today, however, baking felt like a chore, and I was worn down. I had no patience left in me.
After letting Julian eat a bit of dough, roll it out and help cut out a few cookies, he continued to shove fistfuls of raw dough in his face. He ignored my requests to stop. In fact, it was as if I was talking to someone who wasn’t even there. He was in a total daze – “Must eat dough now!” – and didn’t or couldn’t hear a word I said. Or yelled. Because then I lost it. I kicked Julian out of the kitchen and told him to leave me alone and just “go play with your iPad.” Bam.
We both cried.
I kept baking the cookies, with my cramped back and lines of worry all across my face. And with that hot, spreading feeling of guilt in my gut.
After I cooled down I asked Jules if he had time to help me now, and we baked some more together for a while. Then we cuddled on the bed and talked about listening and obeying, eating dough and being worn down. And then, in 2-almost-3-year-old fashion, everything was forgotten and we started playing. And tickling. And laughing. And smooching. And I looked at my boy’s precious face up close, at his little cheek dimple and tiny nose and his eyebrows and his gap-toothed smile, and I was so in love with him. And so in awe. And still so ashamed.
Every now and then it just happens. I snap. I think most mothers can relate. And while the guilt is very real, it’s also really, really important to let go. When I act like a super-sized brat (not the sausage kind) to my kid, I apologize. I want him to know that I am not perfect and that I do make mistakes, that it’s ok to make mistakes and to apologize and then move on. That’s what I expect from him when he shoves his brother or acts out in another way.
And I think that part of being an actual human being around my kid has taught him humanity. He is very compassionate and very in tune with how others feel. He often asks me how I feel, if I’m tired or “super happy.” And he always offers a hug and a kiss or rubs my shoulders when he senses that I feel sad.
Here is my cookie dough-crazy kid, a few hours after the infamous baking incident. I guess he moved on, and so should I.