To the Self-Critical Parent: You’ve come so Far

I was leaving the bathroom of a busy cafe, waving my watery hands in the air rather than pausing to insert them into the dryer, when I brushed past her. Actually, knocked into her, elbowed her, buffeted by her, are probably more accurate descriptions of what took place. She was standing to the side of the toilet doorway, the generic white plastic change table extended from the wall, wrestling a tiny, red, mid-air-bicycle-pumping  newborn out of one nappy and into another. Basically she was trying to dress a young wild bear.

‘Sorry,’ she said with her eyes on her task, brushing at a renegade strand of hair, escaped from her ponytail, with the back of her hand. I couldn’t help but notice the red rawness of her knuckles, the jagged perimeter of her fingernails, signs of too much hand washing, too many baby wipes and cotton balls and late nights and early mornings. She said it automatically, ‘sorry’, because becoming a mum is also a lifetime of feeling like it (whatever it is) is your fault.

‘Don’t be,’ I said, smiling. ‘I’ve had three of them myself, I know what it’s like.’ I tried to infuse my words with a drizzle of reassuring sympathy, to speak in  mum-to-mum morse code comfort, a thousand nappy changes linking us in a universal body language of motherhood. I’m not sure if she heard me. The newborn fog is like a forcefield.

I walked through the door and exited to the rest of my day. But my words, intended to reassure her, echoed in my own head. ‘I know what it’s like.’ And I did know, it’s true. But at the same time then, why had I forgotten. Until moments like these, when the past is pulled out by the tail, surprised and blinking, its as if the no-longer-present experience is put into a file, marked ‘over now, no longer refer to.’

But should it be put aside so easily, so out of sight? All those triumphs, and struggles, and tears, the well-trodden pathways littered with answered prayers, and new mornings. We forget so easily, wipe our experiences away, discard them like used diapers in the bin. Maybe we even say ‘sorry’ and move onto the next pressing thing, the next challenge, the next squirmy red problem. We forget too easily where we’ve come from, what He’s brought us through, and in the process, I’d contend, we forget a little where we are going.

All those years ago, me pregnant with baby number one
Me, all those eons ago, pregnant and glowing (perspiring) in the countryside with Baby E.

The Wise Woman once told me, ‘Always make sure to mark the milestones. Celebrate. Remember.’ I wonder if she reminded me of this because she knew it would never be the tendency that came the easiest to me, to any of us.

The bad, the failures, the disappointments, for some reason these are easy to recal, but the good? And I don’t just mean the pure, perfect, mountaintop, once-in-a-year goods, who has these anyway? I mean the dappled goods too. The sleepless nights, the mixed triumphs of, say, learning to be patient with irrational toddlers, the nappys you learnt to wrestle like a WWF pro in a milk-speckled night-shirt. The good in the growing.

I am so quick to remember my ‘could haves,’ ‘should haves’, ‘didn’t get to’s’ but what about my ‘made it through,’ ‘trudged through,’ ‘ grew as I was stretched’ moments?

We so easily forget the magnitude of new-life and of birth, and focus too much attention on our fluctuating performance as parents

I remember when I  left the sterile, buffering walls of the hospital for the first time with baby number 1. We stopped on the way home at the shops to buy another super small onesie as she was SO TINY and she needed JUST THE RIGHT STUFF (first baby syndrome). Anyway, what I remember about that quick trip to the shops was that Dr M waited in the car with baby E, while I ran/shuffled/very-new-mum speed walked through the shopping centre with my head held high, sure EVERYONE must be able to see it. [cue applause]. Here I was, a woman who’d thought she might never have kids, a woman scared of escalators (another story) parading around the shops having given birth, with a real, beautiful baby waiting in the car for me. Wasn’t it amazing? It was. It is. I see her now and I’m so proud of her as I write. And she was me. Is me. My point? That was a milestone, a victory, a story to be told, again and again. And yet, until now, I’ve barely thought of it.

Instead of seeing the miracle in the birth event, I’ve moved onto worrying about how my kids are doing in school, how I’m doing at helping them with their homework (not well) and worrying about their terrible eating habits. But it would do me good, I think, to pause and remember that day. Because it tells of His faithfulness, of curving roads and unexpected new beginnings. And it reminds me that the present too, no matter how rugged and chaotic it looks now, is equally wondrous and full of potential and hope.

And this is just one example, extracted from one story, and I’m aware that not everyone of us has the same tale to tell. But we all have something to tell, something to remember. And before we court the next failure, or worry over our lack in some area, we do well to remember. In our endless quest for the next thing to satisfy our hungry hearts, we do ourselves good to remember how far we’ve already come.

Photo by Rob Viuya

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