I remember so clearly the day a stranger stopped me to compliment my parenting. I had just parked the car and was skipping over to get one-year-old Quinn out of her carseat. I had a big grin on my face and I was humming a merry tune. I threw open her door, tickled her toes and said “We’re here little one!” and she giggled at me. A man who was walking down the street stopped in his tracks. “What a fun mama you have!” he said to Quinn. We both beamed.
I may have slight rose-colored glasses on here, but looking back on that first year, I remember being a mostly carefree and happy mama. Yes, I was exhausted (Quinn was still maxing out at four-hour stretches at night) and hormonal and emotional. But I was joyous and fulfilled too. Tired, yes. Overwhelmed, totally. But I really liked what I was doing most of the time. I vowed to be that way forever.
All around me I saw angry and bedraggled parents and I just didn’t get it. That was never going to be me! All were confusing to me: the sighing mom scolding her kids in line at Target, the red-faced dad pulling his kid away from the park with a scowl, the dazed grandparent staring mutely at the proud two-year-old stacking blocks at the doctor’s office. Why weren’t they having more fun? I mean, I was a parent too. I knew how it was. And it didn’t have to be like that!
Fast-forward five years and two more kids and I see I was wrong about everything. I’ve been that mom at Target. Actually, I avoid Target completely with my kids because I just can’t handle the chaos. I leave the park with gritted teeth at least half of the time. And I no longer watch every single thing they do intently. Sometimes I just need a minute. Not that I ever get one. But I try. Desperately.
These days strangers don’t stop to complement my parenting. They look at me with a mix of pity, confusion and annoyance. In a glance, I am the bedraggled mom with too many kids.
Sometimes I appear angry and frustrated. Sometimes I appear sweet and happy. Always, I am thinking on my feet and scrambling to meet the needs of three very different people in three very different stages, all of them challenging.
Something tells me that when I look back on these years, the sweet and happy parenting moments will rise to the surface as the angry and frustrated ones sink down to murkiness. I hope that’s what happens for me and my kids. But here, in the thick of it, I must admit that this doesn’t feel the way I expected it to. It is HARD and I make a lot of mistakes. Yes, I had a lot of kids pretty darn close together. That doesn’t make things very easy. But it’s more than that.
The thing about children is they are constantly morphing. So you might think a mom of three like me is a pro by now. And in some ways I am. My one-year-old hasn’t slept well in over a week and I’m really not that fazed by it. My four-year-old is trying out disobedience in new and elaborate ways, but that doesn’t affect me as much as it did the first time around. But I am also the mom who is dealing with a six-year-old for a very first time, and helping my six- and four-year-olds to navigate through their increasingly elaborate disputes and disagreements.
Though I’ve been Quinn’s mom for six years now, she is still new to me every day. New challenges and new triumphs crop up on a daily basis. I watch in wonder as she draws, swell with pride as she picks flowers to cheer up a sad friend, shrink deep inside myself as she tells me she hates me, calls the craft I’ve set out “stupid,” dismisses her sister with a slammed door, roughly lifts the baby despite my cries of protest.
I’ve had to work on anger, disappointment, frustration, loneliness and boredom. I’ve learned to meditate and breathe. To admit to my children that mommy has had enough and needs a time out. To apologize when I raise my voice. I work hard to model good ways of handling these emotions for my kids. Sometimes I’m pleased with my reactions to tough situations, sometimes I lie in bed for hours plotting a better course for the next time.
I take immense comfort in knowing there will always be a next time, that these three little wonders will awaken with a fresh new outlook, with a clean slate for me. I strive to give them the same courtesy. I know that every tomorrow brings wonder and joy – and new challenges and frustrations too.
I’m not the mom I was going to be, the one who joyously skips through these early challenging years. But I am a mom I’m proud of, one who has let go of unrealistic expectations and an unattainable ideal. A mom who knows how hard it is to be here, and wants to be here anyway.
About the Author
Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter and co-founder of the local blog Moms Alive. She is mama to Ruby, 4, Quinn, 6, and Nora, 13 months. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, knitting and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.