My 2-year-old remembers everything. She recalls adorable things, like each and every word of her favorite books, the otter she met at the aquarium last summer and the lyrics to holiday songs that she hasn’t sung in months. She can rattle off my favorite places to pick up coffee, the entire family’s middle names and a number of Spanish words heard on “Dora the Explorer.”
She also remembers things are more upsetting: the imposing bug we found in the backyard eight months ago, the mitten she devastatingly lost in the snow and that time she fell down the stairs and hit her head on a shelf.
I am in awe of her ability to not only remember, but comprehend, the events that unfold around her every day—including my own mistakes.
“Silly Mommy,” she says, when I make a careless error. She knew better herself, but she won’t chide me for it.
Still, not every error is harmless, and I am wondering if she’s starting to tally things up.
Does my daughter remember the delicate way I guide her in taking turns with her baby sister—or that I check my phone more often than necessary? Does she think about the tickles and jokes we share while getting dressed in the morning—or my impatience for gently brushing out her tangled hair? Does she think about the way I smooth her forehead and kiss her cheek before bedtime, or that exasperating night when I groaned, “Can’t we just read ONE book in peace?!” as she climbed off her bed for the umpteenth time to micromanage her sister’s toy selection on the floor.
Mom guilt, in other words, reaches a whole new level the smarter and more conscious our children become. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that my own guilt can be extreme, but regardless of my self-awareness, it’s still there: my continual fear that I could say or do something, even in passing, that will change the course of my daughters’ lives forever, or alter our relationship forever.
I know, I know. The overall value of a relationship rarely boils down to one thing, but the sum of so many. Still, I feel the need to be perfect.
My memory of my own mom is that she was perfect. While I rejected naps and remained wholly skeptical of bedtimes, she seemed to have boundless energy, enough to make every moment memorable. She approached playtime with new ideas for my Barbie dolls’ adventures, never rushed me while I built mountains of mashed potatoes and even watched my favorite television shows with me, because “Sesame Street” was no babysitter and the dishwasher could wait.
Oh sure, she took forever to get me dressed in the morning and I was oftentimes late for school. She prohibited me from jumping off of swings in motion, and she forced me to drive in the confines of my high school’s parking lot for two months before allowing me onto the streets.
But I never questioned her love for me.
Sometimes, when I tell my mother how perfect she was and lament how imperfect I am, she tells me that I am out of my mind.
“They need you,” she reminds me.
Hmmm. I am pretty adept at kissing away boo-boos, and I make a mean grilled cheese.
But what gets me worried is something deeper: will my children go off into the world with the confidence that comes from knowing they are unconditionally loved for their strengths and flaws, alike? Will they believe this, despite the fact that I oftentimes rush through moments both big and small?
When my big girl sees my mistakes, she says, “Silly Mommy,” with a smile. I hope this is because I take each of her mistakes in stride, too. “No big deal,” I say, when she spills a drink or stains her clothes, despite the fact that I am silently calculating my chances of removing pizza sauce from her white shirt.
I also want my daughters to know that I recognize their strengths, no matter how distracted or stressed I may seem throughout the day. Sometimes, things happen too quickly for me to provide adequate praise, and I snag quiet moments later on to share my pride.
I was recently reading a book to my 2-year-old in the library, when she bolted moments after we began. “Wait! We didn’t even finish the first page!” I called, feeling disheartened.
She ran all the way to a new friend we met earlier in the afternoon, asking if she would like to join us, and my heart exploded into a million little pieces.
“Hey,” I said, during dinner that evening. “It was so nice of you to ask the little girl at the library to join us while we read. I love the way you always invite people to join in what you’re doing.”
“Charlie!” she exclaimed, through a mouthful of chicken nuggets. Yes, that was the little girl’s name. She remembered her good deed, and she knew that Mommy did too.
I felt relieved that evening, grateful for the opportunity to let my daughter know that I am proud of the person she is becoming.
My intentions are not always so serious, either. I share a lot of laughs with my girls – real laughs, the kind that come from underarm tickles, sticking out our tongues as far as we can or shouts of, “Don’t touch the poop!” (Keep in mind, my kids are 2 years old and 11 months old, respectively.)
Despite all of this reassuring evidence, there will always be room for that special, piercing self-doubt that only parents understand. My toddler wants to spend a lot of time with her daddy on the weekends. My baby’s face lights up in a special way when her grandma enters the room. Oh, and I didn’t lunge fast enough when my 2-year-old fell headfirst into a doorframe last week.
I wonder… Do I keep a close enough eye on them? Am I exciting to spend time with? Do they know how quickly I race through bedtime?
“Mommy? I wuv you,” my toddler says, seemingly out of nowhere.
Did you hear that? She loves me, flaws and all. I bet her sister does, too.