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Guilty Conscience

Ruby is my Christmas baby, Dec. 21, which means her birthday gets completely lost in the holiday shuffle – I always end up bringing cupcakes one day (that is not her actual birthday) and then scrambling to collect money for teacher gifts and assemble Christmas class favors and attend holiday programs the rest of the week.

And Georgia is my Memorial Day baby, May 30, which means her birthday gets completely lost in the end-of-the-school-year shuffle – I always end up bringing cupcakes one day (that is not her actual birthday) and then scrambling to collect money for teacher gifts and assemble end-of-school class favors and attend awards programs the rest of the week.

Birthday parties end up nowhere near their true date of birth – and this year, we got so far off track for Ruby that we’re actually having a half-birthday party for her instead.

It all stresses me out.

“So just … don’t do it,” my husband says. “You don’t need to send out favors. You don’t always have to be the room mom. The kids will live without class birthday cupcakes in addition to the cake they get on their real birthdays and the cake they get at their parties.”

Except I do need to do it. For reasons that I cannot articulate, I do need to try to do it all and do it all well. On Tuesday night, the cupcakes I was trying to bake for Georgia came out all misshapen, spreading out of their designated cups into one huge lumpy chocolate disaster. I tried again with a second batch – even more careful not to overfill, even though I had been careful enough the first time, even though I know how to bake cupcakes – and the same thing happened. I weighed my options; considered the prospect, still before me, of making homemade chocolate buttercream and piping it on; and drove to Rouses for 36 bakery cupcakes. I still decorated them with personalized hand-punched cardstock circles – but I felt a crushing weight of shame for buying them.

WHY? Why on earth do I do this to myself? Why have I convinced myself that bakery cupcakes, even when I decorate them, are something I should feel bad about?

“I don’t know how you do it,” another mom said to me the other day upon learning that I was going to be PTA vice president next year, having spent this year serving as PTA secretary, class agent, and room mom.

But the truth is, even if I look OK on the surface (and a lot of times I don’t), I am a mess a lot of the time. Like, I am doing it, kind of, but I am screwing up constantly along the way.

Wednesday night found me driving frantically home from work (late), shaving my legs while my kids stood bickering outside the shower door and I yelled at them to be quiet, haphazardly applying lipstick with one hand while unknotting a shoelace with the other, and then driving to a school banquet with the AC off to save gas because I was terrified I might run out on the way because I kept meaning to stop for gas except that I was always too late on the way to something else to justify the time – and still showing up 15 minutes late to the banquet! Then I came home, packed two different bags for Ruby and Georgia for their respective “water days” at school, assembled 48 Starburst favor bags with stickers that say, “BURST into Summer” and 36 strawberry gummy favor bags with stickers that say, “Have a BERRY Sweet Summer!”, threw a load of laundry in the wash, and started the dishwasher. And the kitchen is still a mess, there are still baskets of laundry all over my house, and I had to drive back out to school a second time Thursday morning because I forgot to pack both towels and underwear.

I don’t think it’s Imposter Syndrome, not really, that fuels me, although I do feel like a maternal fraud sometimes. I think it’s more that I have trouble both with saying no and with reigning myself in when I get into something. Motherhood is the most high-stakes thing I have ever done, and anything I do, I overdo, so of course I am overdoing motherhood (in the visible ways, like cupcakes and PTA involvement, and yes – God, yes – I acknowledge fully that having the time and transportation and money to do these things and make these choices is steeped in privilege and that I am lucky, lucky, lucky). But I, like most mothers, like most parents, want to do it all well, and even if I don’t always feel like a fraud, I am in a sort of horrified limbo at all times, just waiting to fail. I wish you could do a certain set of steps to guarantee a good outcome, to make your kids be kind and successful and healthy and safe.

You can’t. It’s overwhelmingly scary. But there I sit, applying punny stickers to bags of candy, like so many adhesive talismans.

And wishing my kids had been born in a different month, like late January or maybe early October.



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