There are days when staying present with my children is not what I want to do.
Instead, I want to check out.
I want to peruse Facebook or read the news or break out my yoga mat for thirty minutes of Pilates in the middle of the day.
These are the days when my inner critic yells loudly.
She screams that I am not a good mother. She tells me to turn off my phone. She demands that I look at the time I wasted reading news headlines and only finishing one article.
Because, as a mother to young children, it’s impossible to check out completely; actually, that’s why I often practice Pilates on my yoga mat—because a true yoga practice, to me, is more than randomly throwing my body into positions, and I have to stop and move a baby away from a too-tiny object her sister left on the carpet or take notice of something this older sister wants to say to me.
In short, I can only check out enough to be a half-assed mom and a half-assed fill-in-the-blank (news reader, exerciser, writer).
But there are days when being a fully present mom is enough to make me feel like I could go crazy.
These are the days when my inner child delicately pokes at my heart and asks softly that I be gentle with myself.
She asks that I remember I’m doing my best. She reminds me that thirty minutes of Pilates put me in a better mood for the rest of the afternoon. She lets me know that taking three minutes to read NPR’s website isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Last night, I told my husband that I don’t want to be perfect—I want to be me. I meant that.
I like “me,” most of the time. It’s just that the mother I have in my head isn’t the mother who usually lives my life.
There is no perfect mother. There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all love.
I remember reading a long time ago, before I ever had my own children, that people love the idea of mother. They love the Madonna cradling a serene baby Jesus. They love a statue mother.
People don’t want to have to witness the time when the baby cried uncontrollably or when the mother wanted to tear her hair out in frustration.
It doesn’t get more real than motherhood, though.
It doesn’t get more real than sleepless nights that are not going to be solved by some crappy online article about “ten things to do for a great night sleep!”
It doesn’t get more real than feeding issues and milestone markers and endless laundry and never getting to go to the bathroom alone.
We idealize motherhood so much that even actual mothers forget that there is no such thing as this.
This doesn’t mean we can’t try.
This doesn’t mean I won’t bite my tongue or consciously take deep breaths when I feel my own frustration level rising.
This doesn’t mean we can’t love our children perfectly, despite our lack of perfection.
I never thought I could love a human being as much as I do my children. I look at them and they are enough—my life has real meaning because I bore them. This is not the same as feeling fulfilled as a person because I’m a mom.
And this is why some days I want to go on vacation—I want just one day off.
There are no days off from motherhood.
There is an hour and a half at the yoga studio; there is that weekend I actually flew out to Connecticut to spend time with friends—but there is never a moment of my life when I am not a mother, and I’m sure that this will be true when my children are much older than I am as I write this now.
So I clickity-clack on my laptop for ten minutes while I attempt one more time to nap the restless baby.
I hit “save” and check on the oldest as she relaxes with a book.
And I look over at the baby monitor and see that she’s finally drifting off to sleep, and I again feel ready to do puzzles with my big kid for the billionth time.
Most importantly, I choose to stifle that inner critic and nurture the inner child—I choose kindness over fearful judgment because if there’s one thing I want to do perfectly with my kids, it’s make them feel safe by my love.
Love feels safe when there is acceptance—and I accept that I might never be the perfect Madonna-like mom, but I can be the perfect me.