It’s not nice to say to myself, "I failed as a parent." For one, my child isn’t even two yet. How much a failure could I be, really? But I did today, and I do sometimes, and I think it needs to be talked about.
I’m not talking about the long term, "Oh no, Johnny works at a bar!" kind of failure — I think the range of failure in the long term has to be determined by each family — but in the short term, when I fail to care for my son in a way that respects both our needs and keeps us both happy.
We had a decently good morning; Miles enjoyed his new toys, and it wasn’t until nearly noon that I realized that his swollen not-yet-molar was hurting him. It was also in this moment that I saw in my mind the Tylenol on my in-law’s bar. I remembered saying, "Don’t forget that. You’re gonna need that."
You can guess where the Tylenol is right now.
We needed more anyway, but I couldn’t get more today. This started to set the pace for us. Luckily I did have orajel on-hand, and between that and some marathon nursing sessions, we kept calm until naptime.
After naptime… Well, that was a different story. Nothing was right. No matter what he was playing with, or what I was doing, it was wrong. He was inconsolable, with these small boughts of reason.
I was able to start dinner. He threw a tantrum, got over it. He played with his cars. While I was making spaghetti sauce, intent to have dinner and ready when Andy gets home from work at six, Miles comes in to run his car along the edge of the counter. He tries to do it on the oven handle, and I ask him to take his car into the living room.
He’s not-quite-two; of course he ignores me. I take the car and put it on the ground. He screams and throws himself to the ground. He slaps my feet in an attempt to let me know he’s angry. I physically move him to the living room. He throws himself against the wall and screams on the floor. (For the record: he does this sometimes; it’s never hard, and he only rarely actually hurts himself, but what it must sound like to my neighbors…!)
He calms down. I decide that I’m going make desert, and dig up a recipe. He freaks out and climbs up on the table, and — accidentally — unplugs my computer while I’m writing down the recipe. My nerves are started to unravel.
I decide to unload the dishwasher while everything simmers. He starts chewing on a whisk. I take it away to put up. He screams. I move him again, and he screams on the other side of the dishwasher. I move him further, and I tell him I swear to God I need him to just shut up.
Things are falling apart. He’s standing in our narrow kitchen behind me, howling, and I’m trying to get the breadsticks out of the oven — he tries to get in.
I lose my shit. He’s again wailing and hitting me, and I absolutely cannot stand to look at him anymore — I take him to his bedroom and close the door, or I swear I’m going to absolutely lose my shit. He screams.
I vent on Facebook briefly, and get Andy’s work number. Miles comes out of his bedroom wailing and grasping my legs. I beg Andy to come home — it’s only fifteen minutes before he’s scheduled off.
I turn off the oven and the burners — dinner is ready — and sit down. Miles sits in my lap, wraps his arms around my neck, and holds on like if he lets go I’ll never pick him up again.
I failed him as his mother, because my son felt abandoned when I knew he wasn’t feeling well and probably just needed some extra attention. I try not to cry on his little shoulder, and he proceeds to laugh at me.
He nurses. Andy comes home, and asks if I’m okay, and kisses my forehead. From his vantage point on my chest, Miles watches. He unlatches, sits up, and kisses my forehead.
I cry. I cannot stop — I am a shitty mother, and my toddler still loves me.
He was still a handful throughout the night, especially as we got closer to bedtime, but we watched some Doctor Who in bed and snuggled, and then we brushed teeth and went to bed. Daddy read him his books, and I breathed.
Maybe it’s not wise to get on the Internet and scream, "Look at how shitty I treated my kid!" But by doing it — by getting on here and laying it out — I can process it. I can understand why I was so frayed, what it was I could do differently. And also, I can admit it: I am a human. I am not perfect, and I make mistakes. I also love my child, and recognize my limits.
We have moments of weakness. We do not need to be defined by them. Our failures are not absolute; they can inspire us to learn, to do better.