Everyone knows the power of words; we learn that lesson from a very early age. But I have found that my child’s words contain so much more power. It is amazing how the words out of something so small can elicit so much emotion. That immense pride you feel the first time your child says a word, their first word at all. To see my son point to a ball and say “ba;” as a parent I was overcome with emotion, and it was wonderful.
Then there is the first time they say “mama,” or “dada.” The many months of waiting, and when it first happens, your world changes all over again. There are so many “first words” and “first phrases” that excite parents. Hearing your child say they love you for the first time….hearing them say “Today was a great day.” I love listening to my son and his words can make me laugh hysterically, make me proud, make me feel the joys of motherhood all over again.
But then there are the words that break you. The times when your child says something he/she had no idea would rip you to shreds. For me, the first significant time it happened was at the beginning of what was already a chaotic day. Still adjusting to life with two kids; a curious three year old and a mild-mannered but horribly-sleeping four month old, along with adjusting to working full time, I find my mornings are chaotic. This particular morning was awful – my four month old was up by 5 am and had a blow-out diaper, my toddler was ready to play, and I still needed to wash my pump parts from the day before. As always, I was rushing and frantic to leave by 6:30. To top it all off, the dog threw up as I was getting my youngest in his car seat. It was chaos.
Once we were all in the car, I sighed. My sense of self is non-existent. I know that there are good weeks and bad weeks, but as I sat there, I thought “Wow, thank goodness it is Friday, because this one has been rough.” Taking a deep breath, I started the car and got ready to bring the boys to my mom’s. My son and I were chatting about how it was almost the weekend, and we were going to the New zoo boo; he was so excited to wear his bulldozer costume that I made him. And then it came out of nowhere, a small little sentence, and I was obliterated. My son asked who my mom was, and I replied “grandma.” He asked who’s my husband’s mom was, and I replied “nana.” And then he thought for a second, paused, and said “I really want a different mommy.”
I lost it, instantly. I felt broken into hundreds of tiny pieces. It was unintentional on his part certainly, and I know he didn’t mean it, but that little sentence brought all my internal fears of failure as a mom to the surface. And I wallowed in the sadness. It broke me because he wasn’t mad at me when he said it, he wasn’t upset. It was so nonchalant and casual, which made it So. Much. Worse…. The tears flowed, and I couldn’t get them to stop. He started crying instantly too, because he hasn’t really seen me cry. When we got out of the car, Henry hugged me and told me “I love you mommy,” and “I didn’t mean it.” And I know he didn’t, but it still hurt so much.
When you are a mom, a large part of your identity becomes being a mother. You are constantly evaluating yourself: “I could’ve done that better,” “I should’ve read him a couple more books,” “He would’ve liked to play outside more today.” This internal analysis of our mothering is constant, and lately, I personally feel I am failing more than anything else. My husband, my mother, my mother-in-law, my friends – they would all say otherwise. They tell me I am doing fantastic, that the bulldozer Halloween costume I made for my son is amazing and he will be so happy, that I should be proud of all I do as a mother. Why can’t I let those words sink in? Why is it that the innocent, unintentional statement of a three-year old is what I let define my day, or worse, confirm my fears of failure?
But just as mothers do, I picked myself back up and told myself to move on. My children adore me….I know it and see it when I pick them up and my youngest smiles in delight and my oldest says “Mommy, mommy you’re home!” Those words, those first words he says every time I pick him up, those are the ones I choose to focus on and let fill me with joy.