I was chatting with the other moms about teachers, school policies, upcoming events. There was nothing but warmth and camaraderie around me. But still, I felt like an imposter—like I was only pretending to be a parent.
I knew I wanted to be a mom when I was 5 years old and held my newborn sister in my lap. Her Kewpie mouth, little feather fingers, downy hair—I was hooked. I was the best mother’s helper to my mom. I took care of my sister any chance I got. I longed like mad for babies of my own.
And now I have two (not technically babies, but I can call them that as long as I want). For me, the baby phase was actually the easiest part. Their wants and needs were the same. Nurse, cuddle, diaper, repeat. I had my moments of doubt—and exhaustion so severe I thought my eyeballs were going to fall out—but mostly I knew what to do.
The next phase was when I started to feel clueless. Some things still come easily, but a lot of the time I feel like I’m totally making it up as I go along.
For example, every night, I turn into a short-order cook, making multiple meals that my children reject. I hate it. I want it to change. I’ve been told that the only way to stop that is to present your kids with a few foods they might like, and tell them this is what’s for dinner, and they can eat or wait till the next meal.
So, I tried that for a few days. My younger son did OK, although he ate nothing but strawberry yogurt. My older son lay on the floor crying from 4 to 8 p.m., a hungry, indignant mess. Normal advice never seems to work for him. So, now I am back to short-order chef extraordinaire.
There are 50 million other little questions that pop into my head throughout the day that I have no answers to. Do I feed them all-organic, or save money for college? Should I work more? Work less? Should I push the piano lessons, swim lessons and art lessons, even though I hate being busy, or stay home more and just let them do whatever they damn well please? Did I listen well enough to their stories, their fears, their doubts? Was I too distracted? Did I yell too much? Does my couch have that flame-retardant crap in it that is going to give us all cancer? How about our cell phones—little cancer sticks?
Maybe it’s the fact that we live in a time of over-information—the onslaught of Internet articles saying wildly opposing things, my Facebook feed full of other parents grappling with this stuff, professing to know the answer for a day. Sometimes it feels like every decision I make as a parent is charged with a ridiculous degree of importance.
But mostly, it just doesn’t seem right that I’m the one who has to decide these things. In just a few years, I’ll be 40, but I have no idea how that happened. I’m still that little girl holding my tiny sister in my lap.
Raising kids is messy. I don’t just mean the actual messes, though there are plenty (as I type my living room floor is covered in tape, soil and 78 Matchbox cars). I mean the fact is that most days we feel like we’re failing. Most days we feel like we’re inventing what to do as we go along. Most days everything we planned goes up in smoke because of cranky kids, starving kids, sick kids, stubborn kids, tired kids—and don’t forget exhausted, dumbfounded parents as well.
Maybe the only thing we can know about raising kids is that we know nothing.
I truly believe that kisses, hugs and cuddles heal everything (again, I knew how to do the newborn phase just fine), and sometimes I feel like that’s all I’ve got for my kids. And maybe—just maybe—that’s enough, and the rest will fall into place.