I had almost made my escape.
Our excursion carefully planned, one of my favorite "bestie's" and I anticipated a rare evening out together. As usual, I ticked the mental list of responsibilities before we fled to the nearest restaurant featuring actual menus - the word, "happy" nowhere to be found. Homework finished, check. Dinner made, check. Instruments practiced, check. Toes washed, warm and ready for tuck-ins with Daddy, check. Talking points readied, I anticipated a frosty mug and several hours of blissful girl-time. Ah, the decadence!
Dashing out the door, I pried my big kids away from screen time for goodnight kisses. The real test was getting past our yummy 4-year-old... our last hoorah with the "baby" years. Foiled again. She wrapped a fortress of pink polka dots around me and wailed, "don't leave me mommy!"
Enter the most powerful of all emotions.... mommy-guilt. And I've got it in spades.
Now, at this point, the logical section of what is left of my brain, where the wise, calm, seasoned mother resides, launched into practiced reminders. Stay strong. You deserve a break. You're a better mom when you take time to nourish your soul, blow off some steam, connect with your friends, excavate Diane, that capable girl everyone counts on to get the job done. But even the wise mother in me was powerless against my baby girl's quivering lips and brimming eyes. Extracting her from my unsteady legs, I held her fiercely and then, mustering every ounce of my steely reserves, left. But not without taking the guilt along for the ride.
I think this is the common denominator between so many mothers. We all relate to feeling guilty, stretched as we are. Doesn't really matter what choices we've made; working moms feel guilty for not being present every single minute; stay-home moms feel guilty over frustration with burnout and isolation. Most moms I know wrestle with guilt over just about every aspect of our jobs... if our children squabble, surely we must not have taught them enough about self control. When our kids get sick, we blame ourselves for not sneaking enough Vitamin C into their 3 squares. We feel it wash over when we just want to finish a project for a client while fending off whomever is nipping at our heels for attention. When the house appears as if Armageddon's arrived; when our husband takes last place on the totem pole; when we fantasize about silence and bubble baths and hot meals and killer jeans... and well, you get the picture. What's up with that?
I'm wondering about the origins of mother-guilt. Does guilt reside within us by design, a mechanism that serves to ensure we respond to our relentless demands? To spring out of warm sleep for months on end to nourish a newborn? To forgo lazy Saturday mornings to take in the rounds of Little League? To keep bedside vigil during a bout with the flu? Check under the bed for monsters for the 100th time? Save cash toward college tuition instead of buying a those AWESOME new jeans? (Sorry; I've got a thing for jeans ... ) Maybe there is a method to guilt's madness. Maybe there's a place for it, but I must make my penchant for guilt behave. It must be disciplined, harnessed. Taught to get out of my way and let me take a run, finish some work, or get out of the house without the pesky pangs to which I've become accustomed. I've got to remember to mother myself, to be as gentle and loving and patient with myself as I try to be with my precious brood.
My own mother's advice, I'm certain, would be to cut myself some slack. After all, she'd feel pretty guilty if she didn't teach me otherwise. :)
In honor of Erma: The lullaby is the spell whereby the mother attempts to transform herself back from an ogre to a saint. -James Fenton
Prayer: Gracious Father; remind me that like you, I give, nurture and sustain life. Help me to remember that you are pleased with my efforts; move me to reside in your perfect, unconditional love.