“You had your chance and you blew it. All the other moms managed to get their act together over the summer and only you didn’t. You’ve got to get yourself together, everyone else did it, why couldn’t you?”
OK, that’s not really what she said. After all, the preschool director is my good friend, she’d never say that to me, even if she was thinking that.
After many failed attempts at toilet training my 3 year old over the summer, I had finally resigned myself to the fact that trying to toilet train my son during my third trimester of pregnancy was not going to happen. For starters, I just wasn’t quick enough on my feet to bolt to the bathroom every time he said he had to go. My brain wasn’t quick enough to watch his face for the tell tale signs that come seconds before the accident happens. Using my knowledgeable experience in the field, I decided it would be an easier feat to accomplish postpartum, baby in hand and all.
But now I wasn’t feeling so confident in my decision anymore. I was notified a week before preschool started that all three-year-olds needed to be toilet trained or they would have to go to the two year old class. 2.5 weeks to due date, I gave it a try for a total of 3 hours and then threw in the towel; relying on my previous wise decision.
So he joined the two year old class.
And it didn’t work out. Because he’s 3 ½, and they were 2. He didn’t belong there.
And that’s where the phone call came in. He couldn’t come back to school until he was toilet trained. And I was only 6 days away from my due date, of which I hadn’t been early in years and suddenly hoped I wouldn’t be; I had to deal with this.
“Failure, failure, failure!” is all I heard on the phone.
“Stop that!” yelled that tiny rational voice in me, the voice that seemed to be shrinking by the day. “You’ve toilet trained 5 kids already, you’re not a failure! Stop blaming yourself!”
“OK, the who IS to blame?” I had enough sensibility not to blame my three year old; after all, he’s super cute, and he’s only three!!
She reassured me again that she’s not saying it’s abnormal not to be toilet trained by 3 ½ years old (she really IS my friend!) but she has to make this policy due to lack of enough hands in the classroom for diaper changing (grr..yes failure).
I hung up the phone and with whatever determination I could find, I decided we’d give it our all. 6 days till due date-6 days to get this done. And I’m never early anyway. I looked at my crew of helpers, ranging in age from 5-11…this was a task we’d all do together. We’d be a team; the Toilet Training Brigade.
Three hours and 5 accidents later, I was losing it.
He HAS to get toilet trained! He HAS to go to preschool!
I upped the bribes, I mean, rewards. Quite honestly, he could have bargained with me for anything at that point.
And then it happened. On day #2, amidst much bathroom-toilet-training havoc, I felt a contraction.
I started panicking. “No way, I’m not due yet! I need to get this little guy toilet trained!”
But the contractions didn’t listen to me…and 5 days before my due date, only 24 hours into toilet training, our newest member of the crew was born (more on that in the next post🙂 ).
And all I could think about was toilet training.
I couldn’t back out now. We had to get it done. My husband and I had an emergency meeting right there in the delivery room; we came up with a plan. Not only would the three year old get a whooping 9 chocolate chips (up from 3, which was the amount when we started) from each success, but whichever of his siblings would get him to the bathroom would get 9 chips too.
And that’s why, over the next few days, at any given point during the day all the kids were squished into the bathroom. I was also running out of chocolate chips.
And I had a newborn in my arms.
Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I realized I had broken one of the most basic rules of child rearing. A rule that every mom knows from day one.
All the articles I’d read over the past years starting flooding my sleep deprived mind…Toilet training should never be done around the time of the birth of a new sibling. Emotional trauma for the child. Too much change. Breeds resentful behavior. Can be destructive to mother-child bond or child-baby bond. And on and on.
Oh no. I’d broken the law. They’d come after me. The mommy police. They’d expose my wrongdoings. Everyone would know the truth. I’d have to go to mommy prison. They’d take away my mommy license. Where can I hide??
Thankfully, my thoughts were interrupted by the entire Toilet Training Brigade stampeding into the kitchen to demand their 9 chocolate chips, and a very smiling toilet trained 3 year old trailing behind, looking pretty pleased. I scanned his face carefully, to see if the scars of my mistake were noticeable. He looked happy.
Who knows, maybe the resentment doesn’t come out until the teenage years…
My mother was visiting for the week, to help out postpartum. She was nominated as the new director of the Toilet Training Brigade and the official Chocolate Chips Distributor. Things were moving ahead.
Then came the set back day. This smart little boy knew that the only time for a pamper was when he went to sleep. And he claimed he was tired for most of the day and indeed stayed in his bed.
I tried to block out the tormenting thoughts of “You see, you ruined him! You forced him into this! You’re going to pay for this!”
But the next day dawned bright and cheerful and off he went to school, letting everyone know he was officially toilet trained.
Two weeks later, he’s still smiling. And proud.
Maybe the mommy books were wrong? Perhaps I didn’t break the law after all. Maybe it’s not the end of the world if we make decisions based on our own common sense, instead of book based generalizations? Maybe each kids is different and we should tune in to what our own child needs?
If I see one more hashtag of #makingmemories, #summerofalifetime, #memoriesthatlastforever or anything of the sort I feel like I’m going to scream. Is it possible to make memories just by chance, or only if their hashtagged?
While it seems like everyone I know and don’t know is #creatingmemories at pristine beaches and remote destinations, I’m merely #livinglife.
I wake up at 7 and hear much noise going on in the kitchen below. I remember it’s Monday, the day my husband leaves at 6:30am…that means I’m on duty. I listen for the familiar sounds…chair scratching across the kitchen floor – that’s the toddler heading over to get something…some musical toy playing, that must be my 3 year old. An UNO game going on somewhere…sounds ok for now. I know I’ll pay for this, but I decide to sleep a bit more.
Sure enough, when I head down at 8:30, I see what my extra hour of sleep cost me. Half a container of milk and a box of cheerios, both spread across the kitchen floor. And the full carton of strawberries, that the toddler and 3 year old divided and took a bite from each one (while sitting on the counter, where I found them). I do a quick calculation…Yes, the $8 or so is worth my hour of sleep. I make it through my breakfast and coffee and although I’m too tired to shlep out to the park, I gather everyone together and usher them out to the van. I know the kids need to get out. It’s not exotic, it’s not pristine, it’s just #gettingthroughanothersummerday.
We get to the park in time for everyone to want snack. And anyways, they all hate this park, why did we choose this one. I tell them what time snack will be and they sit on the benches near me. #boringestouttingindeed. Eventually they drift away and my 11 year old makes up some sort of chasing-hiding-finding game that works for awhile. They almost miss snack time, but thankfully my daughter set her watch so they all show up on time. And it’s barbecue chips. #notsuchaboringouttingafterall.
We head home in time for lunch, and they all get to work. I feel a mixture of pride and exhaustion as I watch the 5 big kids make their lunches…at the cost of the pop up toaster, the oven, the panini maker, the frying pan, crumbs, eggs shells, cucumbers, tomatoes, cutting boards, tuna cans and a few other stuff strewn across the counter. Oh the good old days where I just made the same sandwich for everyone…at least I can still do that with the two little ones. Lunch time takes more than an hour and after a touch of cleanup, the troops head out to play with the hose in the backyard. #hesprayedmeintheface, #hesbotheringme and #tellhimtostop would describe the next hour, as I attempt to put together supper.
Smoothies for everyone, a great quick and even slightly healthy (berries and milk, that’s good stuff, right?) snack that they all like, except for the ones who haaaaate it. #worstsnackever. Computer time fills the last part of our day, twenty minutes each. And so while it seems everyone is smiling in picture perfect summer fun, #creatingmemoriesthatlastalifetime and #bestfamilyever pictures haunt me (why am I on Facebook again?!) we – well, #boringestdayever, #justanotherday.
I sit on the couch after everyone is tucked in and hear the happy chatter coming from the bedrooms upstairs as the kids discuss the various things they did and plan to do. And I can’t help but wonder; is it possible for my kids to be making #memoriesthatlastalifetime and spending time with #bestfamilyever even if that wasn’t our intention?
Perhaps #livinglife as is, is a good enough way to make memories after all.
It was exactly 3:15 when I remembered. The problem was that the appointment was 45 minutes earlier, at 2:30 pm.
And I had forgotten all about it.
It was a double well visit.
I had been determined to get well visits for all the kids done before school started, and I had missed the first two.
I was mortified. Embarrased. Annoyed.
And with no other choice, I called the Doctor’s office to admit my shortcomings; I was not supermom after all. I forgot the appointments.
“Hi, I had a 2:30 double appointment and I have a feeling I missed it…”
Before she could reprimand me, I tried to save myself some grace.
“I’m mortified. I’m so embarrassed this happened to me. I can’t believe I forgot. I have it in big letters on my calendar, I remembered this morning. I don’t know what happened…”
But the truth is, I do know what happened.
I’m running mommy camp! I want to say
All the kids are home ALL day.
And it’s 106 degrees outside.
And I’m in my ninth month.
And I had 7 appointments this month that I DID remember.
Doesn’t that count??
And I’m nesting.
And I have lists and lists of closets and drawers to organize and I haven’t gotten to a single one!
And…my house cleaner is away for the week. THE WHOLE WEEK!!
And I’m still making 3 meals and 17 snacks EVERY SINGLE DAY!!
Doesn’t that count? Shouldn’t I be excused?
But of course, I don’t think she’s interested in hearing my life story and I don’t think it’ll help.
“You missed two appointments. Barbara will call you on Monday,” she says sternly.
And I tell her the truth about how I feel. “I feel like I’m being sent to the principal. I’m so sorry about this. Please tell me what I should do.”
The more profusely I apologize, the softer her tone is slowly getting.
What’s the worse that can happen? I think to myself.
They’ll pin a picture of me on the bulletin board under “Worst Mom of the Year”?
They’ll kick me out of the practice? I don’t think the doctor wants to lose 7 patients at once.
“I’m just so sorry, I don’t know how it happened…well maybe I do,” I can’t resist adding. I do want some sympathy, after all. ” I’m in my ninth month, perhaps I’ve finally lost the last bit of non-scatterbrainedness that I had left…”
There’s a fine I have to pay for missing the appointment.
It’s not fair! I want to shout, similar to how my kids say it when they lose computer time.
You don’t understand, I was never late to school in my life! Not in elementary school, not in high school! It’s only since I became a mother that I’ve started being late or missing appointments!
Don’t judge me! It’s because I have kids! It’s not my fault!
But then I remember that I’m the mother and I must act like an adult.
We reschedule the appointments and I set up a dozen or so reminders to make sure I don’t miss it. It’s tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll bring a plate of cookies just to soothe my broken ego, But I can’t fight reality.
It doesn’t matter how punctual I was in high school, having kids changes it all. I’m ok with it, really, I just wish everyone else was too.
“Do u think she looks happy?”
They all lean in a little closer, ready to give their professional opinions.
“She looks bored,” announces my 11 year old.
“She looks happy,” my 8 year old decides.
“I think she looks tired,” chimes in my 6 year old.
Six little faces try to see the phone screen a bit better, as I enlarge the photo of my daughter in camp.
She’s sitting on the side. Hmm. I don’t see any of her friends near her. She does look tired. Or sad?
“Maybe she’s homesick,” I think out loud.
“No,” says my 11 year old, pretty confidently. “She just looks bored. She’s probably waiting for the activity to start. She’s not homesick.”
I decide to trust his opinion. After all, he’s been to camp more recently than me.
I look at the six little boys clustered around me. The six little boys who have taught me so much about life.
That things really are better when you’re standing on your head. (Ok, I haven’t tried it, but I am convinced.)
That food tastes much better when your hands are covered in dirt from digging.
That anything can be turned into a flying object.
That life is so much more fun when you zoom through the house at top speed making as much noise as possible.
I go back to the picture. The picture of my one ally, my daughter, who is away at camp.
Her hair is brushed. It’s mock wedding day, so she’s wearing her nice shabbos outfit. She’s wearing her weekday shoes. Oh no, what happened to her shabbos shoes?
I know the answer, she likes being comfortable. And her weekday shoes are more comfortable. But still I worry. And she’s not sitting near her friends.
“Where are her friends?” I ask my experts.
“Somewhere else,” they say. They are not so concerned.
“Go to the next picture already!”
I scrutinize it one more time.
“So you think she’s happy? Not homesick?”
It’s my three.year old who convinces me.
“She looks so happy! I miss her!”
My 1 year old is getting impatient, trying to tap the screen to get the picture to move.
My husband walks in. I call him over to get his opinion.
“She looks great!” he says enthusiastically.
“But she’s not smiling.”
“So? She still looks happy, She can be happy even if she’s not smiling.”
He has a valid point. I’m clearly outvoted. I finally agree. She’s happy. She’s not homesick.
And we move on to the next picture, although my heart is still stuck on the one before.
It’s been 5 days since she called from camp, she’ll call again in 2 days.
Once a week is not enough, I need to know how she’s doing every day!
Deep down I know it’s a good thing. And I know she begged to go to camp. She is ready for this. Maybe I’m the one who is not ready.
We finish scanning the rest of the pictures and move on to supper.
They’re all eating. I sneak my phone out and leave the room for a minute, knowing I’ll probably get caught.
But I need to check. I know pictures are only updated once a day, but maybe, just maybe, they updated again. It doesn’t hurt to check.
Four remote control cars in one room is really hectic. Very hard on the ears. But if it keeps all the kids busy, then I’m determined to ignore it. And it works like a charm for at least 6 minutes, until they have a great idea to take them outside.
I tell them I don’t think it’s a good idea, they’re not meant for outdoors. They beg and explain and negotiate and convince me it’s ok to take them outside. I state my opinion again and let them decide. They pack their cars and controls and I enjoy the few seconds of quiet, knowing this outdoor activity is not going to last long.
Only 3.5 minutes later, one of them is back, sobbing hysterically. As the car was being maneuvered outside, apparently it went right down the drain across the street.
I’m not much help here, because the only thing I could think of saying is of course it went down the drain! but I don’t say it and instead just offer my sincerest Oh no!
My boys are on it, they are determined to get it back from the 5 foot drop under the drain grate.
I mind my own business as they get to work, monitoring the situation out of the corner of my eye.
The door opens and closes, little feet come in and out – there’s a serious operation going on.
The outdoor broom makes its way out of the house, along with some hangers and string. Only when the kitchen broom starts being led towards the door do i intervene and say no, not that. Who knows what’s down that drain, I don’t want it on my kitchen broom.
More random pieces leave the house, and I decide it’s time to go check what’s going on.
I go out and see a bunch of little people huddled over the drain, quite a cute sight, if I may say so myself.
But they are kind of in the street…and even though it’s a very quiet street, it’s a street nonetheless…not very safe looking.
My oldest has some contraption consisting of a broom handle, string, hangers, paper clips and some other objects i can’t identify and they’re all cheering him on.
“Guys, you need to come in, this isn’t safe. You need to go back inside.”
Hmm, they don’t seem to hear me, although I’m standing right there.
“I know you all want to get the car back, but it’s not possible. We’ll just have to share the other three.”
They look up and finally notice me, excitedly filling me in on all the details of their plan.
“But you’re in the street, this isn’t safe, we need to go back inside…”
I’m not getting very far with this…and so I stop and watch the scene again.
And I quietly admit they are on to something…they just might get it.
As my son works very cautiously and determinedly drops his makeshift car-catching-rod down the slats, they all hold their breath.
And I hold mine too, not saying a word. Not a word of encouragement or discouragement. I make a conscious decision to just watch and put all my mother comments on hold.
And slowly he pulls his car-catching-rod up, up, up with the car dangling off it’s edge. Higher and higher, until it reaches the opening.
Once again, I swallow the temptation of letting any mommy-instinctive comments escape and ignore the urge to say, careful, move it slowly….
He clearly doesn’t need my help. He reaches for the car slowly as it appears above the drain grate. Don’t touch it, I want to shout. It’s dirty! But I don’t say that either.
And he lifts it up, as if it’s a trophy, and is greeted by wild cheers from his whole crowd of followers, his siblings. And they all run towards the house, my son proudly waving the car in the air. And I just watch.
5 little boys with tzitzis blowing in the breeze, little heads with matching teal yarmulkas (ok, not my oldest, he asked me to please buy him a normal color yarmulka, so we settled on royal blue) bouncing down the street, some barefoot some not, but clearly a tight knit crew. And they’re mine.
It’s overwhelming and it’s humbling. Because once again I’m reminded that being a mom is not just about knowing what to say when, and to which child, it’s also about knowing when to say nothing and to just watch instead.
I need to be on time to my appointment. I waited a month for it and I can not be late.
And then there is a flat tire. Even though the van is sitting safely in my garage, the back tire is still undeniably flat. I glance at the clock, do some quick math and figure I can still make it on time.
My husband changes the tire and I get the kids in the car. And that is when my 6 year old decides to go put on his shoes and discovers they are wet. Of course they’re wet. I clearly remember telling him NOT to jump in the big puddle yesterday but naturally he didn’t listen. And the shoes are still wet. He’s fine to wear them anyway, but I tell him he needs to get his Crocs.
He returns with only one Croc and can’t find the other. I bite my tongue from saying the first thing that comes to mind – If you’d put them in your cubby where they belong, we wouldn’t have that problem. But I know that’s a useless thing to say; only I would benefit from saying it, not him…and so I don’t say it. Get your Shabbos shoes, I say instead. He’s back, we hop in the car and leave. Only half way there he tell me that he took two right foot shoes…and two different sizes.
I refrain from my should-have-put-it-in-the-right-place statement again and try to figure out what to do. We get to their morning classes and he doesn’t want to get out of the car. I glance at the clock. I will be late. I know I will. I hate being late. I never used to be late.
But I do what I’m getting very good at since becoming a mom…I surrender to the time and deal with my son first.
I beg, I bribe, I plead and work out an agreement for him to go into class anyway and I ask his friends to join him in a no-shoe day. Crisis resolved and I’m on my way.
I follow trusty WAZE for the 1.5 minute drive to my appointment…and it takes me to the front of Walmart and says I’ve arrived at my destination. Although I have very strong loyalty to WAZE, I know that this is not the doctor’s office. And no matter what I do, Waze insists that it is.
I call the office; naturally no one answers the phone…and I’m only number 7 in line. I drive around the parking lot, waiting for Walmart to magically turn into the doctor’s office I’m looking for…and it doesn’t. And I drive around and around and the next block and the block before…and 20 minutes later, all on my own, I find the right address. And I was right; it is not in Walmart, as Waze had insisted.
I run into the office, my whole list of excuses in tow and beg to keep my appointment. I use all my cards…how hard it was to find babysitting for all my kids…how I drove around and around and no one answered my call…and after 20 minutes, they tell me I have to reschedule. I’m fuming. I’m frustrated. I’m angry. I’m annoyed. And I do what all good pregnant women do-I cry.
This is so silly, get over it! Says that little voice in me.
But easier said than done; it took so much planning and my whole day is messed up.
I get back in the car; now I’m starving too. Not a great combination.
Well, I certainly know where Walmart is. I stop in to grab some food, wishing they carried some gooey kosher baked goods because I certainly deserve that right now. I begrudginly settle on a container of blueberries. And I eat the whole thing.
I start driving and tell myself I’ve got to shake my rotten mood, This is ridiculous. And so I search my mind for a way to get over it.
And here’s what I come up with:
Thank G-d I have a van that can have a flat tire.
Thank G-d I have a husband; and even better, a husband that can change a flat tire.
Thank G-d my kids have shoes, and lots of them, so they can get them wet, lost or mixed up.
Thank G-d I have kids that can make me late.
Thank G-d I have a place to drop my kids off for learning each morning.
Thank G-d I have money so I can buy a container of blueberries.
And Thank G-d I have an appointment at the doctor for a good reason.
“You’re child is uncooperative and disrespectful.”
I nod, trying to keep myself together.
“Your child is not behaving and not following directions.”
Keep it together, keep it together, I tell myself.
They are not saying that YOU are misbehaving, they are talking about your child.
But still I feel shame creeping through me, enveloping me.
They’re not talking about you!! Stop it!
But if they are talking about my child, aren’t they talking about me?
If my child fails to behave properly, isn’t it because I failed to teach my child?
It certainly feels like that.
NO, no, no shouts the logical side of me, stop it!
This is about your child, not about you. You can’t help your child if all you think about is you!
I nod and apologize, and express my sincerest disappointment in my child (and perhaps in myself?) and lead my child to the waiting room.
I watch my tear-streaked child, sitting in his chair whimpering.
And I try to put my thoughts together.
When my child succeeds, do I take the credit? Is the success because I’m such a good mother, or does the child alone get the credit, for each child is their own person?
If i take the credit when things work well, then do I get the flack for when they don’t perform how they should?
Or is each child indeed their own little person, responsible for their achievements and for their failures?
Of course I want to pat myself on the back when my child receives a top mark on a test, has an impressive talent or when my baby sleeps through the night..
But do I really get the credit? I’m suddenly not so sure.
Each child is their own person.
Parents are there to guide, lead, direct and teach. But each child has their own little mind, personality and character. And their own little decisions to make.
I did not misbehave. My child did.
And one of my other children is still being seen in back; I’m guessing that means he is cooperating. So maybe it isn’t all my fault.
So then why am I still feeling so ashamed?
As my child loudly yells some angry remarks and cries, I see this other mom in the waiting room grab the hand of her two year old child and leads her out of the room, loudly telling her, “I don’t want you to see how that child is behaving!”
I watch as she marches out of the waiting room, crushing what is left of my motherhood confidence with each footstep, smashing it all to tiny pieces.
I am ashamed. I feel like a failure.
And I look at my dear child; my child’s face has the same feelings stamped across it.
Should I punish my child for misbehaving? Who does like the doctors office? Is my child at fault? Am I at fault?
We sit quietly; I don’t want to say anything I will regret.
My child quiets down and settles on a pout.
I slowly let go of the shame and feelings of inadequacy and I am able to think clearer.
Children learn from their mistakes. They grow up. I must be patient.
Being a mother is truly a humbling experience.