I am worried that I am a bad mom. Both my kids do tell me I am the worst. “You are the worst!” they scream, slamming things against the floor. I wish there were a class I could take on how to handle these moments. I love classes because I love being told the steps to follow to do something well. There are books, and I do read them, but I can never remember the ideas in the critical moment.
Milo knows when he has disappointed me—“Don’t use your teacher voice!” he cries. He becomes combative and defensive and exceedingly whiny until he explodes, and I remind him how unconditionally I love him.
I always think I am teaching Milo a lesson, but he is always teaching me.
He says to his sister Ruby, “You are funny and you are smart, but you aren’t very good at eating ice cream.” He has internalized the compliment-critique structure.
I try to expound on the art of telling a white lie, on the occasional need to leave out a part of the truth, and he tells it like it is: “That’s just lying!”
He says to me, “You have a beard and a moustache.” I say how hurt I feel.
“Why?” he asks, incredulous.
“I think beards and moustaches are man things, and I want to look like a woman,” I say.
“Oh, Mama,” Milo says condescendingly, “It’s not about man or woman, it’s about what is in your heart.”
And I know that’s the real truth, the whole truth, and I both love and resent him for telling it.
And I know when he said the other day, frustrated because I wouldn’t buy him a toy, “I look at you and think YOU’RE NOT EVEN MY MOM,” that he is tapping into some deep existential stuff that pains me constantly but is easy to ignore, like a paper cut.
Am I his mother?
Yes, of course I am. There’s no way he was switched at birth because he was born in our bedroom and placed directly onto my chest.
But there are more moments than I care to admit in which my consciousness pulls up and out of my body, and I feel I am watching myself from a drone.
Here is an overburdened mother dropping lunchboxes and things in the street. Here is a harried mother jamming little feet into shoes that are still full of yesterday’s sand and wood chips. Here is a worried mother blaming someone else, anyone else, for her children’s misbehaviors.
“You’re not acting like a mom!” Milo also yells sometimes when I thwart his visions, withhold the iPad. I love when he chooses these words because they set me up so perfectly.
“A mom’s job is to keep her children safe, not to give them everything they want,” I say coolly, which only makes Milo madder. His face gets redder, his fists clench tighter.
I am so proud of him.
Milo’s ability to wrap up his frustration and direct it at me, his biggest fan, rather than at the world, at other children, at walls and chairs, marks a huge step forward for him. Plus, it’s never long before he shifts gears, sinks into my chest, and mumbles, “Hold me.”
And I do.
Originally published on Medium.com.