Yesterday, I was on the beach with Pace (who had refused to take her afternoon nap) while Mapple Dapple was napping. I had been planning on this particular hour being my time to just sit in my chair. My time to not be either covered in sand or holding a child in the ocean, and I was skirting the issue hard. “You’re making such pretty castles on your own! You’re such a big girl, you don’t need Mommy to play with you…” It wasn’t working. Then, in my head I heard someone say, “You’re such a good Mom.” I remembered with guilt that I was very pregnant and playing with Pace (who was flipping out because she couldn’t get the sand off her fingers) in the sand when I heard it. It seemed like it was so recent…who had said that? I played the words again, and suddenly I felt that ache that has come to be too familiar these days as I recognized the sweet voice. There is something so jarring about hearing a voice that seems so real and recent in your mind, only to realize how utterly far away they are now…
Mom and I did not start off all that great in the “mother encouraging her daughter who is a new mother” category. For me at least, there were times as a new Mom that I questioned the innate nature I had always assumed I possessed. How could I be so frustrated with my own baby? How could anything that cute still make me want to scream (as loud as I could) in frustration? Was something wrong with me? Was I evil? Then I would remember my own Mom. The woman who would blow up from time to time during our childhood, and I would think, “There is where I will find solstice! She will understand! She will assure me that I am not crazy!”
So I would call her, time and again I would call expecting an understanding ear only to hear, “Abby, how can you get so frustrated with that precious baby? She’s an angel child!” And every time I would hang up feeling like I must be evil after all. Then one day I was having a particularly frustrating time, driving down Hwy 280 with Pace screaming her head off in the backseat, not because she was hungry or tired or needed a diaper change (I had handled all of those things moments before); she was just crying because she wanted to be held. At that particular moment Mom called, and I made the mistake of answering.
“Abby, what in the world is Pace crying about?!”
“She’s mad because she’s strapped in her car seat and she wants me to hold her. Can you just ignore it? What were you calling about?”
“I don’t know how in the world you can let that baby cry like that. I’d just have to pull the car over. I couldn’t bear it!”
“Don’t you think I hate it too? What do you want me to do, risk our lives by swerving off the highway, so that I can get off on the shoulder of the road with traffic whizzing by, take her out of her seat, which would calm her down immediately, but then have to put her right back and listen to her cry even harder? Or do you just want me to B Spears it down the interstate with her in my lap. She may be crushed if we had a wreck, but at least she wouldn’t be crying.”
“I don’t know Abby, but there’s got to be a parking lot around there somewhere. I just couldn’t stand it.”
I got off the phone, so angry and hurt I could spit. Why did she always make me feel like a negligent mother? Then I heard a little voice asking me if it was really her fault. Wasn’t it me who was always calling to tell her about the moments I was stressed. How often did I call just to tell her the sweet stuff? Did I ever make her see that 90% of life with that little baby was blissfully happy…there was just that other 10%…and that was what she was always hearing about. So, I did pull off the highway, into a quiet neighborhood. I took Mom’s advice and just sat in a big soccer field and loved on Pace until she was completely content. Miraculously, she didn’t even cry when I put her back in that car seat. I guess I’d waited long enough, that she forgot what she was so mad about. Then, I called Mom back. I had decided to tell her that she was right about calming Pace down, and then paint the picture of the beautiful morning we’d shared. She was glad to hear there was no more screaming, and then I told her about the time we’d spent that morning, just Pace and me, in mine and Jeremiah’s big bed. I told her about how I’d put toys just out of her reach and she had rolled over. I told her about how we smiled and cooed at each other for who knew how long. I told her that if life would fade away, I could watch Pace develop all day long, and never stop smiling. Then I paused, and do you know what she said?
“Abby, I just worry about her rolling around on that big bed of yours. Its so high and those hard floors–she would break her neck if she rolled off. I just don’t think its a good idea how you’re always playing with her up there.”
I lost it. Flipped. I told her about how I could hardly stand to talk to her anymore because she was always making me feel like a bad mother. I told her that I needed some encouragement and support…to know that I wasn’t a bad person because I got frustrated with my baby. Who in the world was I supposed to confide those types of things in if it wasn’t her? And (I’m just being honest with you) I told her that, believe it or not, I was old enough to remember when Kendall (my sister) was a baby, and I knew she hadn’t always been Mother Theresa either!
I braced myself for the retaliation. To say my Mom didn’t take criticism well would be the understatement of the century. She didn’t take it at all–ever. But for the first time in my life, she was completely penitent. She apologized. She told me that she talked to all her friends about what a wonderful mother I was, and she had had no idea she was making me feel that way. And y’all, she never did it again. I’m not saying I didn’t notice her biting her lip from time to time, but she stopped all the nagging guilt trips and she started encouraging me.
So, last summer when I waddled my pregnant self back and forth to the ocean with buckets full of water and got covered in sand as I taught my 2 year old what building sand castles was all about–I was feeling like a good mother. I was sitting just in front of Mom’s feet and I heard her say, almost to herself, “You’re such a good Mom” and I knew that this time her heart was sincere. She wasn’t biting her lip or trying to build me up for the sake of our friendship–she meant it and I was deeply grateful. And as I sit here tonight, unable to sleep because I feel the need to get this story down before I lose it, I know she’s so thankful that I remembered.