I was a Type A child born to Type B parents. In grade school, while other kids earned $5 for A’s and $1 for B’s, my mom offered me $5 if I could make a B and be OK with it. I don’t think I achieved that until maybe high school. And even then, it wasn’t so much that I was OK with it as it was that it just couldn’t be helped: My brain cannot do geometry.
I have always been a total perfectionist, and I know that sounds like bragging, but it really isn’t. My perfectionism is something I dislike about myself – it keeps me from taking risks, from pursuing things that don’t come naturally to me, like sports or music or, really, anything that doesn’t concern language. I loved biology in school, but it wasn’t my best subject, so senior year, I took Southern literature instead of advanced bio. I made an A in Southern lit, but I still am sad that I never got to dissect a piglet.
And when I do make mistakes, as I inevitably do, I am haunted by them – especially the journalistic mistakes I make that stay in print to torment me forever. I still cringe whenever I see the word “crescent,” which, due to a cascade of errors both human and technological, was spelled without its second C – in 100-point type – in the first issue of New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles that I edited.
All of this is to say that I pretty much expected – and certainly fervently hoped – that I would be an absolutely perfect mother. I mean, I knew I would lose my temper sometimes, but I thought we would calm down and discuss our feelings at length and then hug and kiss and walk away feeling warm and fuzzy like at the end of Full House. Um, yeah. Obviously, that didn’t happen. There was just so much I didn’t anticipate.
I did not expect to be so angry at a tiny 8-week-old baby, so unnerved by incessant crying. I didn’t expect to inadvertently hurt her so many times. I didn’t expect that there would be weekends with her that were so challenging that I looked at Monday as a vacation.
And while I hate making mistakes that are immortalized in print, I really hate the idea of making a mistake that could be immortalized in my flesh and blood.
I am still working on forgiving myself for being a good mother instead of a “perfect” one. I am working on forgiving myself for working out of the home, for enjoying my job as much as I do, for having to tell Ruby, more than once: “Sorry, sweetie. Mommy can’t play right now because she’s busy writing about motherhood.” For packing Twinkies in her lunchbox instead of organic fruit leather. For all the times I yelled instead of reacting calmly. For letting her watch so much television. For sending her to daycare once with a bad cough because I was on deadline. And of course for getting divorced.
I balance the guilt as best I can by giving her tons of hugs and kisses and telling her I love her so often that she now rolls her eyes. (I once said, “Hey, Ruby, guess what,” and when she said, “What?” and I said, “I love you!” she said, “Jeez, Mom. I knew that. I thought you were actually going to say something cool.”) I balance it by driving to four places to buy the exact right school supplies, volunteering at her school on the weekends and signing up to be room mother for her class even though I have no idea when I will find the time to do everything.
When I told my dad I’d signed up to be the room mother, he said, “Why the hell did you do that?” And I said, “Because I want to be a good mom.” And he said, “Listen, ‘good’ just means you haven’t gotten arrested for abuse or neglect at the end of the day.” (When I said he was Type B, I meant it.)
I’m not quite to the point where I can accept my dad’s definition of successful parenting – which honestly is probably a good thing – but parenthood has taught me a lot about the value of trying. I was bad at math in second grade, so I became a writer. I was bad at ballet, so I quit. But when I am bad at parenting, quitting isn’t an option.
I am still sad that I didn’t get to dissect that pig – but I have the rest of our lives to learn how to raise my daughter.