Mother of the Year

Written Feb. 9, 2010 when contemplating how I stated my needs and create my own space with my familyparticularly in those earlier years when it was a little tougher because the kids were much younger.

I’ve been thinking about writing down my philosophy on motherhood. How I came to where I am, the journey and all of that good stuff, but today all that keeps popping into my head are those stories you’d rather file away in the ‘never to be opened’ drawer. The ones where you knew you were seriously out of the running for Mother of the Year and if Child Protective Services would have turned up on your door step, you wouldn’t have argued. Rather, you would have just turned the little ones over quietly and without question because you knew you didn’t deserve to be a mother in that moment. You’d love to just burn the whole lot of memories that fall into this file, but you know darn well they’re the ones your kids will tell again and again, generally in public, so you might as well get them out in the open so there are no surprises.

I’m thinking of all of those times that I had to demand and plan for my own quiet time. Times when I’d put a sign on my bedroom door that said ‘DO NOT DISTURB’. This meant that they were not to come within several feet of the door nor were they allowed to talk outside of it or knock on it. And without question, they were never to open it. Before they could read, I’d draw pictures on my ‘do not disturb’ sign. It would have a house with flames coming out of the roof, or a stick figure child with flames coming out of her hair. Or it would have a picture of a child hurt, either unconscious or with blood on them. Not to sound gory here, but I was trying to get my point across, that is, only bother me if it’s very serious.

In any event, on a good day there’d only be whispering outside the door. On a bad day, a wrestling match. I recall one day when Calvin came to the door crying loudly. Not unusual. I tried to master my meditation skills further and ignore it, but to no avail. He was really screaming. I opened the door to find him with his finger held up in the air for me to see. There was a scratch on it…the kind you get that makes the skin red along the scratch line. A scratch! I was instantly not a happy mother. The fact that I had been inside that room finding my center and seeking peace and harmony with the world was instantly lost and I pointed to the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door shouting, “What did I say about coming near the door?!!” He sputtered the word, “blood!” pointing his scratched finger to the picture I had drawn. I said, “Blood? BLOOD? That’s not blood! It’s got to be dripping on the floor to be blood!” Then I took my pen that I had been using to write loving thoughts in my journal and drew blood dripping off the kid in the picture and shut the door. Yep. Mother of the Year right here.

We may as well also come clean about that hot August day during the summer of 1993. It was beastly hot. One of those days where it’s even too hot to load the kids in the car and drive to the nearest pool. All you can do is hole up in the air conditioning until it’s over, which is exactly what we were doing. Until I came unglued. I don’t know why, but we had several kids at our house…possibly some friends, maybe a neighbor or two. They were getting a little squirrely and I was getting less and less able to keep them from fighting and crabbing at each other and I finally let loose. I was frantic with the need to get these kids out of my line of vision and earshot. I ordered them to go outside for 20 minutes so I could regain my sanity and grabbed the kitchen timer. Panic instantly ensued. Eyes grew wide and frightened and everyone clamored to remind me that not only was it 110 degrees in the shade, but we had none. I told them it was good for them, they needed fresh air, that they hadn’t been out all day…and with each statement I grew more frantic to get them OUT-SIDE! When Alex tried to tell me that there wasn’t any fresh air outside, I snapped. GET OUT! GET OUT!! They hustled out the door onto our square slab of a concrete patio and I shut and locked it behind them, timer set to 20.

They shuffled a few feet then turned to stare at me through the patio doors, every one of them with big, worried eyes. I moved out of their line of vision…into the kitchen in an effort to gain some composure and breathe. I peeked out the kitchen window and found them just standing there on the patio. Waiting. And sweating. Every hair on their heads plastered down with sweat. Their little t-shirts starting to cling to their bodies. Their cheeks pink with heat. Not good, but then again, a little heat never hurt anyone, right? Right. The timer said 15 minutes left. I showed them it through the window and suggested they go and play. They just stared. 13 minutes.

I went upstairs and actually peed in peace, doing a bit of centering there. 10 minutes left. Peeked out the upstairs window. Kids still standing on the patio slab, still looking in the patio door window, still sweating. Not good. I go downstairs to the door and point to the swingset. “Go swing!” I say cheerily. Nobody moves. 9 minutes. I’m starting to doubt this, but darn if I can’t give in now or we’ll never get through this day. In the kitchen again, I wash a few dishes and eat a cookie. OK, I wolf down eight. Nobody’s looking. Ding! Time’s up! The kids don’t jump up and down, they don’t run in the house. They walk in quietly, looking at me sideways the whole time with that ‘she has the power to kill us and she’s just crazy enough to do it’ look. Like I said, Mother of the Year.

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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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