Happy Belated Bubsday

At the end of December my Bub turned five. It is hard to believe it’s been five years since I became a mother. So hard to believe, in fact, that I put four candles on his birthday cake and even almost bought a number four candle. As you can see on the picture, I corrected the problem, but only because my husband noticed as I was lighting candles. (Also, Bub insisted on having a triangle cake. In the immortal words of Leonard Cohen, “I did my best, it wasn’t much.”)

To be honest, I’ve been afraid of writing this post all year. Age four has been tough. It’s not an easy age for parent or child, even if you don’t add a baby, a very emotional two-year-old, and a mom with PPD to the mix. I was afraid to write this because my relationships with my baby and toddler are so simple, those posts so easy to write. What does it say about me if it’s not as easy to write about Bub?

Benefits of being five? First library card!

But he’s growing up. As he grows, our relationship will grow, too. It will become more complex than it was at one or two. It will go through rough patches, and periods of adjustment. This is okay. It was a tough year, but we got through it. (pro-tip: Motherhood is easier when you’re not depressed. If you think you may have post-partum depression, get help – for you and for your kids.) Reflecting on this not-so-easy year, I’m seeing everything with a fresh perspective and learning some amazing things about my child.

Bub is so thirsty for knowledge. He is curious and inquisitive and wants to know the reason for everything. Or reasons, plural. (Actual conversation – Me: “You can’t go into the street, ever.” Bub: “Why?” Me: “Because a car could hit you and kill you.” Bub: “What’s the other reason?”). I couldn’t ask him to do or stop doing something without hearing, “Why?” This got very frustrating at times, but, I have no doubt that kid is going to learn a lot in his life and he’s going to love the process.

Bub is highly sensitive to his emotional environment. He is so perceptive and keyed in to those around him. Practically, this means if I’m feeling off, he’s feeling off. Of course this is challenging for me, but much more so for him. He’s too young right now to know what to do with all the emotional input he picks up on. It must feel uncomfortable to know intuitively when your mom isn’t at her best – especially when it lasts for a long time. With emotional maturity, this trait will develop kindness and empathy in him, and that is worth some temporary challenges.

Bub never does something just because everyone else is doing it. I can’t tell you how many social situations where I thought, “This would be so much easier if you would just do what the other kids are doing!” He needs to know the why, and “because everyone else is doing it” does not suffice. This may make some awkward parenting moments for me, but I’m proud. I’m making a point of giving a real answer to why, and he responds so well to getting a real, respectful answer – often one I’ve never considered before. It’s amazing how much we just do without ever questioning why. This certainly won’t be a problem for Bub, my little individual who insists on a good reason for everything.

Happy belated blog birthday to my Bub.

Great and Powerful Oz, Make Me a Good Mother

I’ve been listening to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with Bub. (This free Librivox recording is excellent.) It is much less scary and more four-year-old appropriate than the movie, I promise. The characters are so convinced of their failings that they cannot see they already have what they seek. The Scarecrow, so sure he has no brain, cannot see how his cleverness, logic, and ideas get him and his friends out of scrapes. The Tin Man, though he is in love with a munchkin girl and shows compassion to all he meets, believes he has no heart. The Lion, scared of every noise and shadow, fails to see how he faces these fears to help his friends without so much as a thought for his safety. They constantly demonstrate the very things they believe themselves lacking.

It struck me as I listened that we all do this; we often believe ourselves sorely lacking the characteristics and abilities we value most. I struggle with this particularly when it comes to motherhood, and I rarely meet a mother who isn’t similarly self-critical, at least some of the time. A mom will declare herself a “terrible mother” for all sorts of reasons, from losing her temper to taking time for a shower. But she cares about being a good mother, as the Scarecrow cares about brains. She would go to the Emerald City at all costs if it meant she could really be a good mother. I often fixate on this idea of a good mother, and the thing is, it just becomes whatever I am not. Sometimes I can think of nothing but my mistakes and shortcomings as a mom – even when I do something right, I lament that it isn’t enough. When we believe we do not possess the characteristic of being a good mother, we are blind to all but our failings.

“You people with hearts,” the Tin Man says, “have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful.” With this reasoning, he walks through the woods with careful attention so as to avoid crushing any living creature; when he does step on an ant, he cries until his tears rust his jaw so that he cannot even ask for help.

How often does mom guilt take us there? How often do we think, “You people who are good mothers have something to guide you! But I am a terrible mother, and so I must be very careful!” In the mom life, we will fail; we will step on ants. It is impossible to be a parent without making mistakes. But, like the Tin Man, we try our hardest and recognize when we fail. So, I’m trying to take a lesson from the Tin Man – beating myself up will only paralyze me. A friend of mine often says, “Bad moments don’t make bad mothers.” A good mother isn’t a perfect mother, but one who cares enough to try.

We all know the ending of this story. Dorothy discovers she always had the power to get home. The ruby slippers (or silver in the book) she has worn the whole time transport her back to Kansas. Do you worry that you are not a good mother? Stop worrying. You are wearing the ruby slippers already.