I can cook for 20 people without breaking a sweat. I can do 6 loads of laundry in one day. I can bathe 4 children at the same time. I can change a mean diaper.
I’m good at managing the controlled chaos that is parenting, after all I’ve been doing this sort of thing for most of my life. Keeping the physical needs of our household met is pretty basic. Not that our house in immaculate (far from it) or I feel 100% confident in my abilities as a housekeeper (still working on that), but keeping the house running doesn’t scare me.
Babies don’t scare me either. I can nurse a baby, rock them and sing to them, snuggle them and bathe them, and wake up in the middle of the night with them. I know that Baby Boy feels safe and loved, and that’s all that a baby needs.
My one year old is pretty basic too. She loves snuggling, giggling when I tickle her toes, wants to read the same book 20,000 times, and loves pretending to be different animals. At the end of the day, I am confident that my one year old got snuggled and loved sufficiently.
But it’s a different story when it comes to my pre-schoolers. I’m not sure if it’s because I am an introvert, or because I’m hormonal. Maybe it’s because I have so many old lies in my head about my personality, or maybe it’s because I don’t have as much practice with that age as I do with babies. But I doubt myself every minute, and I feel lost trying to relate to them. At the end of the day, I find myself wondering if I hugged my 4 year old that day? Was I overly serious? Are my kids going to remember me as the quiet boring mom who fed them and wiped their bums, but didn’t really engage on any other level? I’ve always wanted to be the “fun Mom”, but I don’t think I’m that much fun to be with.
Don’t get me wrong, my 4 year old is amazingly conversational and imaginative. My 3 year old is cute and engaging and determined. But I feel clumsy and stupid when I try to do something with them.
My 3 year old often climbs up next to me and hands me a stuffed animal. “Make him talk Mom!” She demands. So I will try, I pick up the unicorn and make him say something incredibly boring about his purple mane. And then I get panicky. I can’t think of anything else to say! What does a unicorn talk about anyways? So the unicorn will make some sort of excuse and then stop talking.
If the baby is asleep, I will try to make an appearance in the backyard where the rest of the kids are playing. My 4 year old always gets so excited when I come outside. “Did you come out to play with us Mom?” I nod and sit down on the porch and wonder what to do. The monologue starts in my head. “Man, I can’t think of a single thing to do with them. They are all looking at me! Why am I still so fat and slow, I had the baby 6 weeks ago already? If only I had the energy and drive to play soccer or tag with them. Maybe I should just go in the house and let them play, they are way more imaginative than I am, I am just a damper on their ability to play.”
I will force myself to dump the blocks out on the floor and play with them, but I find myself looking at the clock again and again. “It’s only been 3 minutes? How can I be this bored already? Omygod I suck so bad at this! I can’t even manage to play with my kids for an hour straight? What is wrong with me?”
I try to remember what memories I have of my mom playing with us kids. But honestly, my mom didn’t do all that much with us besides physical care and schoolwork. As a kid I cooked and cleaned on my own and she would check my work. My mom rarely came outside at all. My good day-to-day memories of my mom involve her playing with my hair while we talked in the evenings sometimes. There was the time when I was 6 and I got to stay up late a few nights in a row and read “The Courage of Sarah Noble” with her. When I was about 12 we did a short bible study together after the other kids went to bed. I have good memories of Christmas and birthdays too. And I remember my mom allowed me to keep my little junk collection that meant so much to me.
I want my kids to know me, but sometimes I hardly feel as though I know myself. I want to enjoy being with them, but I don’t know how to just “be.” I want them to have more than just the special occasion memories. I want them to remember more than just a serious quiet mama who worked behind the scenes to keep things running. My old standby is baking with them. When I am baking I am confident, I don’t second guess myself or feel like I’m faking it. I love baking, and I love doing it with them. I can read with them too, the book is a great prop to hide my insecurities behind. But I would love to branch out, ditch the perfectionism, and add to my repertoire of ideas to be authentically present with my kids.