I hate those moms, the ones who give their kids zero screen time—none, ever—and then brag about how amazing it is on Facebook. Meanwhile, I’m trying to use the bathroom and shower for the first time in ten days and now, in addition to having to clean my greasy hair, I also have to wash away the guilt of having plugged them into their tablets so I have more than sixty seconds to do it all.
I hate those moms who, in the midst of a pandemic, do science experiments and distance learning while working full-time from home, the ones who report their children have learned to play piano, speak Chinese, and aced the SATs, and all while socially distancing and wearing their masks properly.
I hate those moms who post pictures of the beautifully arranged flowers in their kitchen, as though there is no laundry to fold, no dishes to wash, no crust of toast abandoned on the floor and ground to dust by a parade of feet, none of which bothered to stop and sweep it up.
Those moms who go on hikes, who take the fresh air and teach their kids to cast a fishing rod, to keep balanced in a canoe, the proper way to throw a baseball, to sink a three-pointer, I hate them too—their athleticism, their contentment, their unwavering avowal that children are sugar and spice and everything nice.
I hate those moms whose kids leaf through the encyclopedia and do calculus for fun. Those moms who have their kids volunteering, and upcycling, and coding in Python. Those moms who humble-brag about where their kids are going to college, who give out GPAs like party favors, who attend every spelling bee, debate, mock trial, math Olympiad and robotics competition, every award ceremony.
You know who I love? I love those moms who feed their kids cereal for dinner. Who come home at night to kitchen counters smeared with peanut butter, to breakfast dishes sitting in the sink, to the youngest kid having been locked in the closet by their older sibling. Those moms who step in dog poop as they walk through the living room. Those moms with kids who still pee the bed at seven and ignore curfew at seventeen. Those moms with weak pelvic floors, who leak when they laugh or sneeze. Those moms who miss the deadline for summer camp registration. Who can’t take a good picture. Who drop their phone into the toilet, into the tub of cream cheese, into chocolate chip cookie dough.
Don’t get me started on those moms whose kids dance at pre-professional ballet studios and practice gymnastics six days a week, who drive hours to attend Olympic-level soccer tournaments every weekend, or baton-twirling practice, or football pre-season. And those moms who go to swim meets. Do you even know how long a swim meet lasts?
I feel like a terrible parent. Every time those moms post their pictures on Instagram—every time they humble-brag on Marco Polo or drop me a text of the rainbow-exploding-birthday cake they pulled an all-nighter baking, or of the ocean diorama their kid designed with polymer clay and toothpicks—I feel like a terrible mom. Because today my kids refused to eat dinner and ran around the house naked and gave themselves tattoos with semi-permanent markers, and I couldn’t take pictures of anything because there’s a smear of ketchup hardened and dried on my phone’s camera lens.
We didn’t eat fruits or vegetables or nuts. Or we did, but only a little, and only because my son decided he was a plant-eating dinosaur—he refuses to say “herbivore”—and went into the refrigerator and knocked over the milk and dropped the leftovers on the floor so he could reach the box of salad, which he snacked on and dropped between the couch cushions and on the floor. Later, he had a green poop, which I know because he forgot to flush the toilet, again.
We didn’t have a music lesson, or literacy, or online learning. The kids couldn’t play independently for more than four minutes at a stretch without hitting something, screaming, or photobombing my video conferences, and I was flailing and exhausted by noon. When I saw the clock and realized there were eight hours remaining until bedtime, that’s when I cried.
My kids did not take baths tonight. Instead, they ate brownies. They screamed and did flips off the couch, into the heaping mountain of pillows they had collected from every corner of the house, and which I won’t get around to cleaning up for at least a week. I left their dishes in the sink. I lost my phone. I sung them “Wrecking Ball” as their lullaby.
Someday, I’ll love those moms. I’ll overcome my guilt of not being able to do it all, over the fact I’ll never be Instagramable, that parenting often feels like a job I was conscripted to do, that I’m a terrible baker, that our home is messy, that our kids cry and yell and tumble and forget to brush their hair. Someday, I’ll be okay with it. I’ll stop hating myself for the parent I’m not, and embrace myself for the parent I am. My children, bless them, will have so much to blame me for when they grow up.
Someday, I’ll be okay with that too.