I'm a failure as a mother.
These are the words that have been running through my head lately.
Humans are brutal to one another, regardless of love. Sometimes because of love. We spit and slander and steal.
Including my little angels. At four-years-old my daughter is cunning. At eight-years-old my stepson knows it all. Neither of them does much in the way of listening. They like to get one another in trouble. They are the worst of enemies and the best of friends, depending on the moment. They are brilliant and sneaky and creative, a frightening combination. Ultimately they are loving and fallible creatures, jumping on expensive furniture not out of spite but out of joy. Others complement their compassion, empathy and kindness. But hell do they know how to rise it.
Even our 10-month-old baby has learned to scream in deafening pitches, which she does in response to the older ones when they fight. Sometimes it works and they stop, sometimes it doesn't. The rest of us are smitten for the baby and her pure innocence. But I see it slipping away as she processes and internalizes and eventually adopts our naughty behavior. We are all guilty.
I see it happening and I am powerless to stop it. Not that the point of being human is to be perfect, but why can't we find it in ourselves to set a better example? Humans behave like animals, because we are animals. This is our blessing and our curse. We have rational thought, and yet we are irrational by our very origins. We struggle to reconcile our animal nature with our divine creative minds. We are tortured by the paradox of our being. I want to be calm, but I am anxious. I want to be patient, but I prefer speed. I want to be disciplined, but I lack control. I want to be honest, but I am afraid. I want to be even tempered, but I am erratic.
I want to be a good mother, but I fail every day.
Recently in a San Francisco coffee shop, alone with my three kids, a middle-aged man chatted with me about babies and children and even childbirth. As he left, he said to my stepson, “it's hard raising parents, isn't it?” Another lady chimed in, “but if you do a good job, you end up with nice parents!”
And I laughed because it was true, and I told my boy he has an extra special job because he has to raise four parents. He agreed, with a delighted smile. This is why I write essays for my blog and tag them “Lessons from My Children.” I am a student of life, and in this season, I am a full-time student of my children. They are tough teachers. They demand my attention around the clock. Sometimes I joke they are trying to kill me, but I guess I'm not joking nor am I being morbid. They are taking from me just as I took from my parents. Sucking me dry literally and metaphorically because that's the circle of life, and what a privilege it is to contribute. But I cannot let them have all of me, I have to stick up for myself and my self-care and my passions. Vying for alone time often feels like buying forbidden goods from a black market, the satisfaction heavily tainted by guilt and fear.
When my children misbehave and I am not in the healthiest state of mind to respond, I often mirror their behavior. It's easier to forgive them than myself. They are the children. As the adult I am supposed to know better. I don't know better. I am amazed at how quickly they are able to move on from everyone's transgressions, without a shadow of a grudge.
Children teach forgiveness.
As parents, we need to extend this forgiveness back to ourselves. When we have a family, we can't keep everyone happy. We are too complex and sensitive for that. But would we want to be any different, given the choice? Is it not our many layers that make us fascinating creatures able to create beautiful things? In order to reconcile our animal nature with our divine creative minds and rational thought, we must accept our behavior for what it is no matter how flawed or obscene.
I get grumpy, the kind of low-grade depression that claws at anyone with a smile, when my sleep is constantly interrupted or I haven't formally exercised in three weeks or I'm sick or I haven't opened my computer to write something in too many long days.
And then my sweet curly-haired child for whom I’ve devoted the last five years of my life manages to secure (read: steal) a pack of Trident chewing gum, hiding it from me for at least a day until I notice the wrappers in her drawer and the chewed up wads everywhere else.
I'm a failure as a mother.
And then she's in our urban backyard screaming at the top of her lungs, “somebody help me!” I tell her that if she doesn't stop screaming then one of our many neighbors might call the police and they might take me away. I know I’m threatening her, but I am desperate for her to stop.
I'm a failure as a mother.
And finally, just today, she cut aforementioned curly hair off at the scalp, a significant chunk above her left ear. I was so upset, so choked by vanity, that I made her feel worse about it than she needed to feel, injecting her impressionable young mind with superficiality. I wanted her to show more remorse. She was willing to forgive herself immediately, but I wasn’t.
I’m a failure as a mother.
But for inexplicable reasons they love me beyond reason and I love them so bad it hurts and I think and I hope that my failures will not ruin them as humans or us as a family. Perhaps we are not ruined because we have failed, nor are we special because we have succeeded. Rather we are living because we love, and we keep getting better at this because we are trying.
This is me, trying.
“Chaos is part of our home ground. Instead of looking for something higher or purer, work with it just as it is.” – Pema Chodron