Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Mothers Day Blues

I often wonder how many other mothers are plagued with guilt. Not many days go by without me wondering what my Mother Rate is. I mean, if all mothers start out with, say, 100 Mother Points, how many do I loose for having my children watch more than 60 minutes of TV in one day, for raising my voice, for cleaning more than I play, for not going to the park, for feeding them processed foods, for filling sippy cups with more juice than milk, for continuing to use sippy cups at all, for forgetting to brush teeth, for laying down with my kids at night to get them to sleep, for having children that recognize all fast food signs.... Believe me, I can make an impressive list of things to feel guilty about.

As I sat in church on Mother's Day thinking about the splendid calling of motherhood, I found myself tearing up. Not because I felt blessed to be a mother of three wonderful kids, which I am. But because of how inadequate I felt as MOTHER. Lousy, in fact. There was no holiday that got more tears out of my own mother, and I'm pretty sure they weren't tears of joy. Although in the case of my mom, she had nothing to feel guilty about. In fact, I'm ready to celebrate just about every other mother I see. Just not me.

Yesterday, our little neighbor boy, Tommy, come over to play for the day. His mother just had a baby 5 days ago and needed a break. At the end of the long, rainy day, after Kaleb had gone on time-out for more time than he had been in, I became frustrated and raised my voice. Kaleb told me I was rude for putting him on time-out. Okay, I admit it, I sounded like a 4-year old myself as I explained why his behavior was unacceptable.

"You don't call me rude," I said, sounding perfectly adult. "In fact, mister, you'll be on time-out for the rest of your life if you keep this up!" Napless Kaleb began to cry and his good friend Tommy stood by his side and said, "I have a nice mommy."

So I can celebrate Tommy's nice mommy, Rebecca, who had her little baby in their home, naturally. If fact Rebecca, dilated to 7 and a half, climbed their stairs to invite her husband to the birth of their child. "She didn't even raise her voice until the very end," her husband later told me. "And all she said was 'This hurts'." He paused. "She's a wonderful woman."

And this mother? I wonder how many people I yelled at, merely 4 centimeters dilated, once I got to the hospital. “Someone get me an epidural, dammit!"

I'm hopeful that my Mother Rate is determined by the things I get right and not the things I get wrong. Or maybe as long as the sum is positive I can consider myself an okay mom. Tommy wouldn't do well living with this Mommy. And Kaleb wouldn't do well living with Rebecca. I guess God has it all figured out when he sends out souls. My optimistic guess is that as long as you try to do your best every day, God sorts out the mistakes and makes up the difference.

About two weeks ago Rebecca was outside working in her yard when Tommy started throwing rocks at passing cars. His mother swiftly picked him up and swatted him on the bottom to which Tommy howled inconsolably. Rich, who was outside pulling in the hose, leaned towards me and whispered, "Bet you don't think your mommy's so nice right now, do you, Tommy?" I appreciated my husband's macho attempt to console my still troubled heart. But most comforting was the fact that my lovely neighbor is probably more like me than I thought, with imperfect children and imperfect mommy moments just like the rest of us.

Now maybe we could start a support group, because I could sure use one.

Birthday Times Two

Kaleb, 4, and Zack, 1, have the same birthday: May 5th. Cinco de Mayo. A day of festivals, celebrations, insanity.

This year we decided to celebrate at Chuck E. Cheese – “where a kid can be a kid.” And where parents are sucked into a tornado of hyperactivity.

We had the party on Saturday, three days after the official birthday, so as soon as we walked in the door, Kaleb was primed for party. "Can I open the presents?" he asked. "When can I open the presents? Can I open the presents now?"

We came with a small stack of presents, two cakes (that I stayed up past midnight making), one 80-year old uncle, and three children under four. We ordered the pizza, situated the children and began the festivities.

Rich took Kaleb and Leah and a handful of tokens to the playland. Keep in mind that at Chuck E. Cheese the absence of these two children does not equate to tranquility, because just three chairs down another party is a brewin', complete with Chuck E. Cheese himself doing the Macarena, flanked by a whole slew of frightening, life-size, mechanical muppets, lip- syncing pop-song parodies. It’s not just loud, but stupefying – a world where the Wiggles and Barney make sense.

I tried having a conversation with Uncle Bill but he had already turned down his hearing aide and was mesmerized by what looked like a giant ostrich relaying the Chuck E. Cheese news on four television sets mounted to the ceiling. Zack was just as dumb-founded as his 80-year old table buddy.

I busied myself by putting the finishing touches on Kaleb’s birthday cake: Doc Oc and Spiderman action figures. The kids returned, the song was sung and the cake revealed. Kaleb tore the toys from the cake and began licking their feet as he made his way back to the playland. I had barely eaten my pizza when he returned, crying.

“I lost Doc Oc’s arms,” he said, holding out a Doc Oc with only two octopus arms instead of four.

“Where did you loose them?”

“In the place with all the balls.”

The Ball Pit. He had taken his first two birthday presents into the ball pit and lost Doc Oc’s arms.

Rich distracted Kaleb by having all the kids get on the Chuck E. Cheese stage to dance. When the curtain began to drop Rich grabbed all three kids and made his way back to the table, tipping over Zack’s birthday cake. It dropped onto the floor, frosting first.

As I sat on the floor, scooping up fist-fulls of green frosting with the occasional plastic frog, I wondered if this party was going to get better or worse. Note: wet wipes remove any trace of green food coloring from Chuck E. Cheese carpet.

I decided to climb into the ball pit myself and extract the Doc Oc arms. I refused to let those action figures be just another thing that went wrong at that party. But when I saw the pit, bustling with at least 10 young children, I decided not to risk getting arrested.

So we did the next best thing. My husband told the all the kids in the pit that the first one to find a Doc Oc arm would get tokens, lots of tokens. The battle began.

This story has a happy ending. Some kid found the arms and Doc Oc went home intact. A second cake, frozen at home, was thawed as a replacement for the one that went belly-up at Chuck E. Cheese.

And little Zacky was able to have his cake and eat it too.