I received a white sweater for Christmas. I didn’t like it at first. I don’t wear white, it makes me look big and sloppy, what with the smears of boy dirt and dribbles of spilled coffee and slowly growing layers of graphite around the cuffs that start with correcting worksheets and then feed off of doodles of beautiful eyes that don’t turn into whole faces because I can never get the second one to match.
I can kind of draw, but what I really want to be able to do is sing. I can’t sing. But I can kind of draw. Sometimes this feels like my story, that the things I have the ability to do are always the ones that leave my fingers marred all shiny and gray, those that can only be done in quiet and lonely spaces.
This is how I felt this week – gray, drab, hidden. It was a rough few days, full of the kinds of stresses and worries that I was too naive to consider in all those years I couldn’t wait to be a grown up.
That white sweater… Eventually I tried it on. Even though it had a turtleneck, which made me consider wearing only a tank top on that cold January day. I don’t like things close to my neck, they make me hyperventilate. But the truth is that I didn’t have anything else clean that fit, and downstairs there was Has anyone called Child Protective Services on that house? kinds of screamyness happening, and sometimes you just have to jam that first clean sweater over your head and move the fuck on with your day already.
It was really soft. And warm. I felt pretty in it, even clipped my hair up. Turns out that it was a perfect curl-up-with-a-book sweater, and even though I haven’t had a good curl-up-with-a-book day in close to 10 years, it’s like falling into an old friend: I recognized and welcomed it. And was happy.
Immediately after I finished putting my hair up, I turned to leave the bathroom and that lovely sweater snagged on a tiny splinter of wood on the bathroom door.
While fixing lunch, the corner of my countertop caused an even larger pull.
The jaunty tail of my dragon keychain yanked out a thread on my way to the store.
And, sure enough, my pencil took yet another while doodling.
It didn’t matter how careful I was – my soft, new sweater just wasn’t made for wear. By the end of the day, it was misshapen and broken.
This is how I felt today – every moment pulling at delicate threads that were never actually intended for use.
Unfortunately, today was also Isabel and Aidan’s dance recital.
Through a series of miscommunications and misunderstandings, I wound up spending hours upon hours sitting in the back of the auditorium by myself because, almost immediately after we arrived for Isabel’s rehearsal, Nick and Aidan had to leave to run a special Mother’s Day errand. Isabel was pissed because none of her friends’ mothers were staying and she, by all means, absolutely did not need me there.
“I thought we were all going to go together to get lunch,” I said to Nick.
“Well, this is why I thought you wouldn’t be coming with us to drop Belle off,” he said.
“You didn’t tell me that,” I said.
He was sure he did. I was equally sure I had told him that I thought we’d all be going together for lunch, and he was just as adamant that I had not. It didn’t really matter, because he and Aidan had somewhere to be and I did not. I told myself to be grateful that the cause of the issue was something nice they were doing for me, but I didn’t feel grateful. I was irritated and unhappy, at the end of a week that had already rendered me brittle.
It went downhill from there. I held it together for the kids, hugged them and told them how great they looked in rehearsal. But I didn’t really feel it. I hated the world, and this terrible anger came to a head in the moment that I noticed Nick had packed the too-big white t-shirt, the shirt that was supposed to be a costume part, in Aidan’s bag.
“I told you that shirt was too big!” I sounded like a bitch. I don’t often sound like a bitch. I’m very diplomatic and have a hell of a mental filter. I don’t get mad like most people. I’m not defensive. I’m not a score-keeper. I don’t do “I told you so.” But by 1:30 this afternoon, I had been snagged too many times.
Nick was angry. “You’re fun today,” he said. Which, written here, makes it sound like he was all cool and good humored about it, but he wasn’t. In fact, the very clear translation of these words was, “You are being a vindictive, nasty fucking monster.” And I was.
So I tempered it a bit. Not because I realized I was being awful (which I did). Not because I felt bad about being rude to my husband (which I knew I was). But because tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I didn’t want to do anything that would forfeit my day. It was a selfish and rotten reason to reign it in.
This is the ugliness that sometimes happens in my head, that sometimes happens in all of our heads, when we’ve been pushed and pulled too much.
This is me not being the wife I wish I was, for speaking to my husband in a way that would make me cry if he were to do the same to me.
This is me not being the person I wish I was, for having to force a smile when other people would be so kind as to share a nice word with me.
This is me not being the mom I wish I was, for not allowing the prospect of my kids’ performances to override all of the other shit that was gumming up my works.
I had a hard week, full of difficult questions and challenging problems and responsibilities that made me uncomfortable and caused me to lose sleep. Crawling out from underneath it, without time to regroup and recover, this is me falling short of my best in every conceivable way.
And this post? This is me saying that I think we’re all pretty tired of feeling like we always have to be our best. Tired of pretending that being a “good” mom means possessing an inhuman degree of selflessness, such that a dance recital is all it takes to overcome real world problems. Sick of Pinterest- and Facebook-inspired snapshots of glamour-mommyhood that make us think that the key to doing this thing right is being able to pack the prettiest Bento box or make up the cutest poem to paste on the toy-collection bin.
This is me staking my flag in the ground and saying that being a good mom? Is never once even asking the question of whether you’d be at your kids’ dance recital, no matter how rotten your week was.
Because I never did.
It was the only certainty in my day. The one, unmoveable, unchangeable fact in this whole damned weekend.
I would be in that audience. Taking pictures. Clapping. Finding joy in their joy. And I did. Smiling, genuinely, when Aidan’s feet hit the stage – both of them at the same time, naturally, because the boy will never use stairs when jumping is an option. Tearing up when Isabel performed the steps she’d choreographed herself – seeing how graceful she was, how much more confident than last year. And Nick smiled at me, and the moment was electric between us, seeing these babies we made as they become.
This is me being a mom. Not a perfect mom. Not always the at-my-best mom. But a good-enough mom. A mom who will mess stuff up all the time, but who will never, ever miss those moments. A mom whose daughter can be mad at having me there for rehearsal, because it will never occur to her to question whether or not I’ll be there when it matters.
Tonight Nick asked me what I want to do for Mother’s Day, and I felt shy about answering. Like I didn’t deserve to have a Mother’s Day anymore, because I’d snapped at him earlier and not been as gregarious with our family and friends as I’d have liked.
Then I realized…I entertained a lot of really, really stupid thoughts today.
But that, right there? Was the dumbest and most ridiculous of them all.