I Am Not a Great Mom


For all of us mothers, I think somewhere along the way people tell us, “You’re such a great mom!” And while I appreciate the thought, it always makes me a bit uncomfortable because I know I’m not a great mom. I’m a mom doing her best, but I’m not great.

Let me tell you about last night. I started the day at precisely 12:08am, smacking my older son. It wasn’t intentional and it really wasn’t my fault (it was no one’s fault), but the fact remains that I smacked him. At 12:08am. The day had barely begun.

(You’re wondering why I smacked him at a time when we should all be sleeping. He woke me up to tell me that his little brother was crying. I’m a notoriously jumpy person—my fight-or-flight response is very strong, and Chris will tell you that I’m the jumpiest person he’s ever met. So when Theo came and touched my arm when I had only been asleep for less than an hour and was in some rather deep stage of sleep, I didn’t think rationally. I thought, “SOMEONE IS ATTACKING ME IN MY BED!” and I struck out. And smacked my son. And when I was truly conscious a moment later, I was horrified. Thankfully, Theo doesn’t seem permanently traumatized by this.)

I walked into the boys’ shared room and asked my younger son if he was okay. “Yesssssh,” he said in his tiny, sweet voice. I felt his forehead, and he seemed fine, so I gave him a kiss and told both boys to go back to sleep.

Fifteen minutes later, as my heart rate was returning to normal and I was drifting back off to sleep, I heard Theo yelling at Sam. I got up to investigate, and Sam sat up in his crib and threw up everywhere. Everywhere. Pajamas, sheets, crib, toys next to the crib, floor. Everywhere.

A great mom would immediately wonder about her son’s well-being. My first thought was, “Shit! Stomach virus! I’m not going to be able to go on my girls’ weekend!” Because I was supposed to go spend the night in San Francisco with my two best friends—our annual weekend together. The one I’ve been looking forward to for six months.

I will say, my second thought was, “Oh god, I hope he’s okay. I don’t want another health scare like the last time he had stomach virus!” (He ended up in the hospital for thirty hours of IV fluids to treat dehydration and metabolic acidosis.)

And my third thought was, “Shit, I’m going to get this, too.”

So sandwiched between two selfish thoughts was concern for my son. At least it’s there somewhere. But I’m pretty sure my #2 thought would’ve been #1 if I were really a great mom.

Meanwhile, Theo was freaking out. Because that’s what he does when a situation slides outside the norm, and especially if it involves someone getting sick. “SHIT!” I heard him yelling as he went downstairs to find Chris. “SHIT, SHIT, SHIT! SHIT!”

No, he’s not supposed to curse. Yes, he does it anyway. Yes, we’re working on it. It’s a slow process.

When things go awry, Theo doesn’t know how to cope, and he inserts himself in every situation and conversation, loudly and forcefully so that you can’t ignore him. I know he doesn’t cope well with stress. A great mother would recognize that he needs compassion in these situations, too. And I do recognize that—but what I do in the moment is another story.

Sam was puking…and crying…and puking…and screaming…and having diarrhea. The cat kept getting in the middle. The dog was agitated and running around the house. And Theo was screaming swear words in the middle of the night. (We share a wall with a neighbor; I’m sure he enjoyed the blue streak being cursed up.)

And so, in not-great-mother form, I yelled, “Go to bed, Theo! I cannot deal with this right now! Your brother will be fine! Just go climb into bed in the den and go to sleep!”

Excellent parenting, right there. This to the kid I had inadvertently smacked half an hour before.

The story ends fine. I took Sam to the Emergency Room at 3am, when the doctor on call advised it. (After his dehydration issue last year, they weren’t taking any chances.) We got a nice prescription to stop the vomiting, and he is keeping liquids down. I was able to see Theo before he left for school, and he was a smidge calmer. I talked to my excellent friends, who agreed that we should simply reschedule the weekend. I’m out $300 for the hotel, but I have high hopes that I can sweet-talk the hotel into a refund, given the situation. Or at very least, a reschedule.

So it’s all good. But was I a great mother? Not so much. I did my best, but like most mornings of my life, I woke up after my three-hour nap this morning (having been awake in the ER all night) and thought, “I need to do better.”

Nine years I’ve been saying “I need to do better.” I’m not sure that feeling ever ends. Although a tiny voice does remind me that if I thought I was doing everything perfectly and never needed to improve, I’d probably be horribly misguided and not really serving my kids well. Because we learn from our mistakes, right? And I make plenty of them.

Tomorrow is another day. I will do better. If I’m not puking, that is. If I am, then we’ll start again with the “doing better” after the puke ends. Because no one can do well when puking; of that I am convinced.

Beautiful eyes in the ER, waiting for some Zofran to make the puke stop:


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