My son is watching Caillou right now and I can’t help but notice that Caillou’s wonderful parents never seem to miss a beat. No matter how difficult the situation, they navigate it without getting the least bit ruffled. They never yell. And they never ever say anything to their children that could lead them to feel shame for their mistakes. They certainly never get cross with each other. I’ve noticed that Caillou’s mother never uses that horrible mom voice that mom’s use when they’re every kind of tired and annoyed at once. The kind of voice that I found myself using yesterday while desperately trying to go to the bathroom:
I had been up most of the night with a teething one-year-old. I looked awful; tried to get ready, but nothing fits me correctly anymore. Had settled on a poor choice, but didn’t have time to fix my mistake. The house was getting more out-of-sorts by the second, and the kids were crank city. This scene went on for two and a half hours, with no real progress in any direction… but it wasn’t until I had to go “number 2” and didn’t have the courage to shut the door behind me that the horrible mom voice crept in. My 3-year-old decided to grab the only roll of toilet paper and, giggling happily, rolled it out across the kitchen while my daughter stood clawing at my knees red-faced and screaming. I felt pure misery in my soul. All I wanted was to go to the bathroom in peace. And that’s when I got yelly and whiny, and screamy all at once. I can’t remember the words I used on my tormenters but I’m positive Caillou’s mother wouldn’t have approved.
I wish that morning could be erased forever. Or better yet, that it had never happened. But what if it had never happened? If had never happened, I wouldn’t have had the chance to cuddle my little girl close, after drying her tears and whipping her snotty nose, and know for sure that we loved each other even when we were both at our very worst. If it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to tell my son that I made a mistake. That I let myself lose control and that I was very sorry. I wouldn’t have gotten to feel my heart swell, as he solemnly followed my lead and apologized for his misdemeanor with the toilet paper.
The hard thing about that story is that it’s not just a once-a-week kind of thing at our house. In fact, there’s usually a portion of each day that closely resembles the bathroom incident mentioned above. I’m not always the one to lose it, but I make the list a lot more often than I would like… and it hurts to sit here and admit that because I have such a different vision for myself as a wife and mother. A more caillou-ish vision.
This perfect Caillou-kind-of- mother isn’t new. The people of the Victorian era even had a term for what they deemed to be the perfect wife and mother. They called her “the Angel in the House.” This “Angel” was devoted and submissive to her husband. She was passive and powerless, meek, charming, graceful, sympathetic, self-sacrificing, pious, and above all–pure.
Although the standards for “Angel in the House,” notably the passivity and powerlessness, are fairly undesirable, I still find the title itself alluring. When it really comes down to it, I do want to be an angel! Don’t we all? Mothers or not, don’t we all just want to be at least pretty close to perfect at what we do?
My children are asleep now and the house is clean and quiet. And in this quiet place, it’s easy to start to dream about a shiny clean tomorrow… but even though that kind of thinking can be nice, I think it might actually be more productive to plan for my failures of tomorrow. Because no matter how hard I might try, I won’t be able to demonstrate to my children how to live a life that is completely without resentment, impatience, bitterness, etc., but I can show them how I attempt to amend those attitudes when they crop up. And isn’t that one of the best things that I could teach them? How to get up when they fall? How to be okay with admitting their failures so that they can look for the best ways to recover from them? How to keep trying?
So I’m going to try and let go of the perfect mother… the mother of my dreams. I don’t want to get rid of her entirely, because I think she provides moments of genuine inspiration in my life. So maybe she’ll get tucked away somewhere special, where I can take her out and admire her on occasion…. But for the most part, I want to focus on being great at being a human mother… a mistake-making mother who tries really hard.
Because I think I can do that.
It might be the hardest thing of all because really being this kind of mother requires me to be honest with myself and where I’m at… but I think I’m up for the challenge!
Dear Reader: Tell me about you! Do you find yourself becoming discouraged by the difference between who you are right now and your vision of perfection? If so, what do you do about it?