Before I was a mother, I was unquestionably the world’s greatest mother. My pretend kids were sleep trained by the end of month one. My babies slept in their bassinets and cribs like the spawn of perfection they were, and I never heard a peep from them until the bluebirds by my window sang that it was morning, the dawn of another day of motherhood at its finest. My pretend kids ate vegetables. All of them. Because not only did I prepare them to ideal doneness, I also took the time to hide them in all of their homemade, organic, non-GMO baby food. As these pillars of the baby community grew, my pretend children dominated the playground with their kindness. And cleanliness! They never pushed some lazy, greedy kid hogging the slide. My superior brood was patient, respected for their compassion and fine manners. Snotty nose? Not on my kids. A picked nose? Oh heck no! Fingers are for developing fine motor skills, not digging for boogers.
Yes, before I was a mother, I would sit back and rest easy each night, knowing my upstanding offspring would develop into mature, easily managed teenagers. So dynamic their self-control would be, I wouldn’t need to monitor their screen time. Naturally, my mothering would create offspring who always chose outdoor play, reading, and creativity over Apex, Fortnite, and Roblox any day. I mean, c’mon. I wouldn't be a loser Mom who gives in every time her kid says, “I can’t. I’m in the middle of a battle.”
Ah yes. Life was good as the world’s greatest mother. I should’ve written a book sharing my dynamic secrets.
Only the title would’ve actually been, Everything I Said I’d Do When I Had Kids was a Complete Lie.
The truth is, I wing this flying circus every flipping day. I have for the last fourteen years, five months, and sixteen days. The Golden Boy slept in the bassinet maybe one night -- one long, sleep sucking night. He ended up spending the majority of his infancy sleeping in a swing, and only because I tiptoed into his nursery (a nursery that was never finished -- maybe one corner was camera ready) every three hours to wind up the timer on the swing and, on occasion, fumble in the dark, switching out the batteries in total fear that he’d wake up. Eventually, he ended up in my bed just like the other two would, because I’m greedy with my sleep and took on the mantra “If Mama’s happy, we’re all happy.” Did they eventually sleep in cribs? Yes. Each one earlier than the next, but not without several exhausting nights of me sobbing, “Oh I can’t stand to hear him cry like that. I am the world’s worst mother.” And my husband saying, “Go back to bed. I’ve got this.” And thank God he did have it because otherwise, there’d be a fourteen-year-old, twelve-year-old, and nine-year-old in bed with us every night today. Along with the dogs.
So my bedtime supremeness was a big fat fail.
My babies did eat their veggies, but only because they were babies and didn’t know any better. Ask me how many vegetables I get down their throats now? They’ve wised up. Broccoli is a four letter word and covering it with cheese only leads to, “Mom, just because you make broccoli look like nachos doesn’t mean it tastes like nachos.” Valid point, kid.
As for chivalry, we were called to the principal’s office so many times about Middle Man’s behavior in preschool that I ended up getting a job there because my frequent visits blossomed into a beautiful friendship with the staff. Middle Man never shoved a kid off a slide, but he did punch a kid in the stomach, told his teacher she drove a hooptie, and that if she made him lie down for a nap he was going to send her on the “Highway to Hell” with AC/DC. Nailed it!
Politeness, compassion, and empathy -- check, check, check!
To stop the Golden Boy from digging for gold, we showed him a video of staph infections. It worked, but I’m pretty sure that will be his leading childhood traumatic memory at his first adulthood therapy session. And as for screen time (which incidentally is THE modern day saying that makes me cringe the most. Perhaps because the idea that we have to regulate screen addiction in five-year-olds is just plain depressing.) I fight those iPads, iPhones, and PlayStations like a crusader on the battlefield for righteousness. I nag, guilt trip, and leave subliminal messages on top of their controllers and next to their chargers. Sometimes it’s photographs of them playing in our backyard tree or riding their bikes and often with a sticky note attached that reads, “Video games kill. Fresh air doesn’t. Choose life.”
But most of the time it goes something like this:
Me: “Time for dinner!”
Kid: “Mom, I’m in the middle of a battle!”
Me: “Then die already! I’m starving.”
Yep. That’s me. World’s Greatest Mom. Organized. (I never fish ballet tights out of the laundry ten minutes before The Girl needs to leave for class.) Patient. (That wasn’t me you heard wailing through the house with an empty milk carton above my head, screaming, “What’s wrong with you?! Who puts an empty milk carton back in the fridge? I breastfed you for over a year. I was guaranteed better brains than this!”) And worthy of your adoration. (I never drop off in the carpool line in my pajamas, nor do I forget when last my child bathed. Cough. Cough.)
But isn’t that how it always is? We excel at completing challenges before we face them. When D-Day hits, however, and that challenge is suddenly our reality, only then do we know the truth. It’s rough out there. And it isn’t just a struggle for those of us in combat with babies and teenagers. Marriage -- remember the perfect love story you had planned? The sun would never go down on your arguments, right? Wake up and smell the bad breath and see the toilet seat up, sister. Marriage is often a daily reminder that our perfect plans are often pointless. What about our assumptions of other life challenges -- money management, the care of an elderly parent, a temperamental boss? What about more personal trials like weight gain, trauma, or a nasty breakup? It seems we have all the answers until we actually have to answer for ourselves.
Or maybe, we are guilty of being judgmental before our judgement has any real value.
I remember when my father was dying and I was on a rampage about nutrition, homeopathic cures, and all the “right'' food choices. It was my desperate obsession. One day, Pop’s visitor was a dear friend who had metastatic cancer. She generously brought dinner for my family -- Popeye’s fried chicken. And as I watched her bite down on the fatty, salty, fried dinner, I said to myself, “Geez, if I had cancer, I wouldn’t be eating that. What is she thinking?” Cut to two and half years later, my taste buds wrecked by chemo, my persistent nausea fluctuating my appetite and causing bizarre cravings, and a recent Friday night when the only thing that remotely sounded good was a fried shrimp poboy. Did I eat the poboy? You better believe I did. It was that or I didn’t eat at all. It was the first food in days that tasted good too. And as I sank my teeth into that crunchy, fried, comfort food, I thought about our family friend’s Popeye’s dinner and was instantly humbled.
I know enough to know that I am always entitled to an opinion, but that doesn’t guarantee my opinion is grounded in knowledge. In Proverbs 21:2 it says, “A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.” Jesus would have known the cries of our friend’s heart. He would have known that maybe she was struggling with finding food that sounded appetizing, or that she was more focused on her her emotional welfare than what nutrients she was or was not putting into her body, because maybe not having the added stress of always making the “right” food choices was the peace of mind she needed to to fight her fight. (She has survived by the way.) It wasn’t my place to judge. What I would have done had no value. All it did was pull my compassion away from her. And, as it turned out, I would later learn from personal experience just how ignorant I truly was.
There is a definite difference between being judgmental and having good judgement. Good judgement is born from facts and understanding the bigger picture before making a decision or forming an opinion. Being judgmental withholds empathy for the subject of our judginess. Therefore, one could conclude that good judgement is a form of compassion. But I think far too often we limit ourselves to this compassion only as it applies to ourselves. I can cut myself some slack far more easily than I can another because I know my story, my circumstances, and my heart. We live in a world consumed with assumption and judginess -- not good judgement -- and while it’s tempting for me to visualize how I would do it better than the rest, it sure is lonely on that high horse where I am just as misunderstood as you are.
We will always see snotty kids on the playground, messy finances, and ugly breakups to tempt our opinion of how others do it wrong. But what if these temptations exist as an opportunity for service and for how we will ultimately be judged not in this world, but in the next? How willing are we to pause our pride and say to the mother of an unruly toddler, “Mama, I see your struggle. How can I better serve you?”
And not, “How can I judge you?”