Before I was a parent, I’d see people struggling in malls with their cranky, annoying offspring and wonder why they brought them out that day. I’d see them pandering to their miniature dictators and think they were too soft on those brats. I’d watch them from the corner of my eye when they yelled at the kids in public and think they must be monsters behind closed doors. I knew exactly how I’d raise my imaginary children, and I knew the kinds of people they’d grow up to be.
They would eat their vegetables because I said so. They’d be put to bed and sleep soundly until morning because that’s what they’re supposed to do. They would speak politely, remembering their manners, and use proper table etiquette and never say words like “fart” or “idiot.” We would spend our days happily taking adventures, learning, and reading book after book. My house would always be tidy because my happy children would sit quietly playing in their immaculate rooms.
I wouldn’t have to raise my voice, because I would have taught my children to respect and listen to me without having to ever yell. They would love music and literature and enjoy museums and galleries. They would wear beautiful clothes I’d chosen for them and would have neat hair and clean shoes, always. And I would never wear that in public, because I’d have some respect for myself, for Pete's sake.
They would excel in school because not only would they be intelligent, they would also be so eager to learn. They could recite interesting facts about our world and impress adults with their vocabularies. They would be charming and well loved.
And then I had my children.
Our days are filled with utter chaos and joy. The house is a mess most days, and the kids get more fun out of poop humour than I care to admit. We fight and yell and there are days when I can’t do anything but sit on the floor and cry because I am all out of ways to convince my kids to just be nice to one another and give their mama a break. Sometimes I’m really not sure they’ve had fruits or veggies in a couple days, and often I just don’t really feel like putting together Instagram-worthy lunches for them.
There are mornings I wake up to the sounds of them fighting already and wish I could just shut my eyes until Daddy gets home. I tell them I just NEED A BREAK. I’m that mom who dragged her preschooler out of the grocery store under her arm, milk and butter needs be damned, because he JUST WANTED GUM and I couldn’t buy him yet another package of that frigging stuff because he wasted it and got it in his hair and all over his hands and oh my god I just needed a break.
My kids aren’t always happy. They’re not always smiling, and making amazing childhood memories that some other mom would lovingly print and protect in a baby book. We don’t even have baby books. Sometimes the TV is their entertainment for a day while I write. More often than not, their clothes are chosen from the clean laundry that’s piled on the floor because I just haven’t got the time or energy to get it into everyone’s dresser drawers yet. And you know what? I feel like I’ve won because, hey, that laundry is clean.
I hiss at the kids to STOP IT RIGHT NOW or YOU’RE IN BIG TROUBLE and I have all different kinds of mom-guilt, wondering if I’m messing up these little people or if I’m doing it right, or how big their therapy bills will be one day.
There are mornings when we wake up and do crafts together and everything is beautiful and calm. It’s these moments I like to capture because they’re just so filled with happiness and love, my heart could explode. They smile and tell me I’m the best mom ever and things are just so peaceful. They play together and imagine far away worlds where ponies and robots live in harmony, and I find the time to not only shower, but to blow my hair dry and put makeup on. I find time to write, and there is no whining to be heard.
On the good days and the bad, I love these kids with a ferocity I have never felt. I had no idea how consuming it would be, being their mom. How every day is one step closer to them being grown, to them forming their ideals and expectations and views of our world.
I am so full of the words I’ve eaten since becoming a parent. A dictionary’s worth of words I’ve had to swallow. All that judgement and assumption. And it doesn’t end just because we become parents; it’s still out there, parent against parent, mom against mom. This is a difficult job, and it’s one I feel overwhelmingly privileged to have, but it’s also one that, while doing it, you’ll never really know if you’re doing it right.
What I know now is that I really have no idea.