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Perpetual Inadequacy

Yesterday morning I had a meeting at the
school where I teach, and the girls needed to come along and hang
out. I packed vigorously for the two-hour meeting, determined they
wouldn’t get bored and start interrupting the grownups. I had
two (2!) types of snacks, dress-up clothes so they could put on
their costumes and dance in the big studio, their iPod so they
could dance to their favorite music, ballet shoes, activity boxes,
and markers.

I was prepared.

The weather was rainy, so at the last
minute the girls begged to wear their rainboots and jackets.
Feeling organized and magnanimous, I said yes, and the girls piled
in the car with ladybugs and kittens on their feet. I ran mentally
through the diaper bag: spare diaper? Check. Silkys? Check. Water
bottles? Check. Maddie had grabbed her One Thing for the car
– a book – and Cora had picked up a dolly diaper bag
stuffed with last-minute treasures.

As we pulled out of the garage Cora spied Maddie reading her book
and said to me, “Mama, where’s my book?”
“Oh, love, I didn’t bring you a book – you
brought your dolly’s diaper bag instead, remember?”

“Oh, no, Mommy, I need a book, like Maddie!” Cora said,
and promptly broke out in tears.

It seems that no matter how hard I try, it’s never enough. I
stay up late organizing swim gear for the pool the next day, or get
up extra early to pack lunches, just so the time with the girls
won’t be rushed and frantic. I run through my check-lists and
cover all possible scenarios in my head, and yet I still never seem
to get it right. And as much as I try not to let it get me down,
sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed; it’s as if the girls
are never going to be satisfied, so why not just give up and let
‘em deal with it.

There are two lessons here, I know: one is that learning to deal
with disappointment and missed opportunities is a valuable lesson
for the girls to learn, and I understand that it’s helpful
for them to have to be able to adapt when Mommy forgets their
favorite pencil bag or leaves their clipboard at home for church.
And for the most part, the girls accept such minor calamities with
equanimity, only occasionally finding themselves unable to accept
the situation and move on: “What do you mean you forgot

In this situation, I know that the pressure comes from me more than
from my girls, that I hold myself to some high standard and
don’t cut myself slack when I forget something. I am, after
all, The Mommy, and it’s My Job to be the Rememberer of All
Things Domestic. I feel – totally insanely, I grant you
– that I’ve let the team down when I drop one of my
juggling balls, or imagine a small black mark on my work record
that will be discussed when my annual review comes around.

I also feel, though – and I’ll confess this to you
fellow parents – resentful and underappreciated. When
I’m out with my two year old and she asks for, say, bananas
and strawberries and all I have to offer would be either mango or
peanut butter crackers, I grit my teeth as I say, “Mommy
doesn’t have bananas and strawberries. All Mommy has to offer
are mango and peanut butter crackers.” Because I know what
will happen next if the mood is right: howling, tears, begging, and
resentment. And through the whole thing, I’ll seethe with
some resentment myself, a silent monologue running under
Cora’s tirade that sounds something like this:
“What’s your PROBLEM? Can’t you just say
‘Thank you, Mommy, for feeding me AT ALL’ and shut up?
Can’t you just be grateful for the fact that I’ve got
two different snacks for you and probably, while we’re at it,
an emergency tub of applesauce somewhere at the bottom of the
diaper bag. How about a little gratitude, kid?”

This passes, of course, and I know it’s not Cora’s job
to be grateful – it’s my job to serve her, and raise
her well. So hopefully she’ll say thank you and be polite,
but without any real understanding of the work I put in behind the
scenes to make her day go smoothly. She’ll say something
sweet and I’ll melt and my yoke will be light again –
until the next time.

I said there are two lessons to learn here, and this is the second:
what I consider important and what my kid considers important are
usually two very different things. And the days I succeed best at
this part of my job are the days I think like my children.
They’re not so concerned about whether or not the spare
diapers are packed, or the hand sanitizer is freshly refilled, or
that Cora’s spoon is in the bag so she doesn’t have to
use an adult spoon and make a mess everywhere. My girls want
comfort and nourishment and recognition, and the days that are the
sweetest are the days I hit all those spots. As I packed those
activity boxes yesterday, I recalled that Maddie had been working a
lot on Cinderella’s hair in a coloring book, and I dug out
her dull yellow pencil and sharpened it. When Maddie opened her
book and searched for the pencil, she found it fresh and pointy and
smiled at me, delighted. As we settled into the car for the drive
to the studio, Cora called out for Ariel’s song, even as I
was already loading her current favorite into the stereo. Cora
heard the first strains, and sat back, content.

The little things we do – preparing favorite foods for a big
day, sharpening pencils for an avid artist, arranging all of a
child’s favorite songs on a CD – are the ways we tell
our children we love them, and, perhaps almost more importantly,
that they are known. Intimately. These gifts, these acts of
service, are a big part of my day, and I suffer through the
intermittent resentment because I choose to – because I think
the occasional crabbiness is worth the knowledge that my daughters
know, to their very core, that they are known and loved.

Do I sometimes feel that it’s never enough? Yeah. Do I
sometimes feel under-valued? Heck, yeah. Do I think it’s
worth it? Hell, yes.

Perpetually inadequate? Perhaps more like perpetually imperfect.
But maybe, just maybe, that’s just good enough.


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