The last time I knew that I was doing the right thing for my child, she was in my stomach, rolling and kicking. Eating well, sleeping and taking vitamins was easy. Planning for childbirth and showers and packing hospital bags was exciting. I read all the magazines, all the books that told me what to expect, and I was prepared. I really was thoroughly prepared. That part is easy to prepare for and of course, like all first time moms, I thought making it through pregnancy was going to be the hard part.
Then, she came. I had to start making decisions I felt wildly unqualified to make, and with the decisions, came the worry.
She's not getting enough milk through breastfeeding, has my body failed her?
Why is she crying so much?
Is poop supposed to be this color?
Is her head supported enough?
Is she sleeping in the proper position?
What if I'm doing this WRONG?
The self doubt came rushing in and flooded my brain. It's hard not to doubt yourself when the stakes are so high. Every trickle of vomit makes your blood run cold and every giggle allows you to finally breathe out that baited breath you've been holding in for so long. It's the most beautifully, horrific type of co-dependent relationship.
Then they learn to walk. They bump their heads and they get bruises. They become autonomous, decision making people, who are also wildly unqualified. We are all learning together, but parents are still accountable for every back-turned-for-two-seconds, tumble. Every small object that gets left on the floor and could be put into their mouth without missing a beat. Every cold that could be meningitis. There are so many things that could go wrong. Anything could go wrong and take it all away in an instant. It's terrifying.
I have three kids and I spend my life terrified. Every time they get sick. Every name said by a bully that breaks their heart. Every lesson they have trouble learning. All of the trials and tribulations that they face in life are mine to shoulder and I do that because I love them, and I hope we'll figure out the right way together.
My kids don't have the pink and blue bedrooms that I envisioned when I ran my hand over the feet in my belly and flipped through Parenting magazines. They don't have tons of friends. We live in a two bedroom town home and they share a room. My oldest gets picked on and self isolates. My middle got sent to the Principal's office yesterday for punching two kids and she's given up on reading. My little sits at home with me while I work, bored out of his mind and has started crying and saying he's lonely. Reality has crashed in and ruined my perfect parenting. And I know, this was bound to happen. Life isn't perfect, parents aren't perfect and you have to roll with the punches. You have to try to learn not to beat yourself up.
But how can I not beat myself up when I come home from dropping my kids off and the power is out? When we can't afford cable? When we have to tell them no to going to parties because we can't afford a present? When television ends up babysitting because I'm so beaten down that I can't muster the strength to police another fight? How do I know that the words I said in frustration, in a cry of tension releasing desperation, didn't leave a mark? How can I live with myself, knowing all the things they need and all the things I have to force them to do with and without? I'm constantly ruminating, trying to figure out how to turn it around. The inside of my brain runs a stream of "what if" scenarios and I sink a little more every time I feel like I've missed a step.
I wish I knew the outcome. I wish we could all find out how our kids turn out, so we can jump in the time machine and change the pain. Stop the heartaches. I need to know that they are going to be okay, that I'm doing okay and that I'm not doing it all WRONG.
I've been waiting since that moment my first child was handed to me for the questions to stop. For anything that would tell me that I knew without any doubt or hesitation that I'm making the right calls. I'm starting to think that never comes. The only thing that happens is that the calls get bigger and the stakes get higher. It's gambling at the big table in Vegas when you stumbled into the first few rounds on dumb luck.
But then there's the hugs and kisses. They make it all melt away long enough to feel okay again. Those two seconds of gratitude are just enough to make it through. Their love makes everything worth it. And I have to hope that if all of it is worth it to me, just to make it to the hugs, that the hugs are worth it all for them too. I have to hope that they will realize when they are older how much each of these nerve wracking moments have meant to me, and how I wouldn't change it for all the zen in the world. Hopefully, my love can carry them through, like theirs carries me. If love's the answer to all these questions, I have this in the bag.