Lately, it's been in the front of my mind a LOT.
I seem to be a carrier. It has become such a characteristic of mine that I am actively seeking ways to dispel some of it. It's like a tangible force, following me around as I make my way through this parenting journey. It makes my stomach hurt sometimes, it makes me doubt myself to the point of tears, and it makes me constantly fight the comparisons between myself and other moms.
I am quite sure that my guilt has two very distinctive origins. The first, and most devastating one, is the family we left in Ethiopia one year ago. I could write for a week about the emotions that thinking of them evoke. I know that some of you adoptive parents can relate. I never, ever imagined it would be so hard. I find myself in a panic, knowing that soon, Charlie will being asking the questions. What if I don't know the answers? What if he is angry? What if I don't know enough about his culture? What if he can't understand why he is here? Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
My other guilt source is far more simple, yet somehow just as terrifying to me. It's the everyday, I-know-he-should-be-eating-veggies-for-snacks-but-dang-he-really-likes-these-cookies type of Mom guilt. The nagging feeling in my brain when we let him play Nintendo for an hour, because he so loves that Mario game. That nagging voice tells me that things have changed, and even though we grew up eating Little Debbies and playing video games, that now you just can't be that relaxed. It's not enough now, even though we grew up healthy and happy and so close to our parents that to this day, people are amazed by our bond. That voice nags me if I decide to read a magazine, or a blog, or do anything for myself when my kids are awake.
Why can't it be okay that I let Charlie do his own thing for a while? I can't let go of the idea that if he is awake, and I am not playing with him, reading to him, or doing something, anything, to make him happy, that I am being selfish. This part, I believe, is somehow related to that first source of guilt. And, I am almost embarrassed to admit, it's already starting with MJ. The other day I looked down at her, content in her bouncy seat, and was struck by this feeling that she must be so bored, and that surely there is something I can do to help entertain her. Of course, I coo and talk to her all the time, but the voice tells me it's not good enough. Perhaps she should be learning her ABC's by now. Ridiculous.
Then we have discipline. Anyone who knows CF personally, knows that he can be quite independent. Well, okay, stubborn. He doesn't always react when we tell him to do, or not to do something. It's hard to be in that situation, especially around other parents, and feel like everyone is watching to see what strategy-of-the-month from Parents magazine you're gonna try. And if it will work. And how composed you are while you perform said strategy. And it sucks to wonder if you are doing it right, or if you are royally effing up your children. I know in my head (somewhere amidst all the dust) that people probably understand, and most likely feel the same from time to time. But at what point do I get to let go of worrying and just do what I feel is right?
With all the times I have berated people (okay, not to their faces) for implying that Charlie and Mallory will be different to me in some way, why should I not be able to handle letting Charlie down? Why can't I realize that it's normal for a pissed off two year old to throw his head back and declare that he 'no longer loves youuuuuuuuu'? Is it adoption? Is it just me and my GUILT? Maybe I will feel the same way when Mallory is older, and that will help answer that question. But I cannot let it go that far. I can't be easier on him, because in my mind, that is just as bad as being harder on him. Either way, I have got to be vigilant in keeping things equal. There is no problem with the love....So much love pours out of me for both of them that I know there will never be any indiscretion there. It's the other parenting stuff, the hard stuff, that worries me.
I just want to learn to be tougher without being a meanie-head. I don't want to worry like this every time he gets in trouble. I don't want to look at the faces of the other parents I am around and try to read judgement in their expressions. I want to be a confident mother, a parent who knows what works for her family and what doesn't. I don't want to go into a rambling rationalization, to myself or to anyone, about what I choose to let my kids eat, watch, play, or listen to.
While I am letting it all out, here...here are some things I know will either do one of two things: confirm the Guilt's accusations that I am indeed, a rotten mother OR bring me to the realization that I am not alone in this, shall we say, relaxed parenting style.
Charlie loves Indiana Jones. He loves Star Wars. Yeah, some parts are scary-ish, and some parents would never, ever let their kids watch those movies. And yes, he sometimes watches more than one (and by one I mean two) hours of television per day. I am every child psychologist's nightmare. I do remember my sister and I happily splitting our time...some days we rode our bikes, and some days we watched movies all day. Ah, the old days. I am sure my parents weren't in the living room beating themselves up about it. I want that, too.
Sometimes I make him Spagettios for dinner.
Sometimes I let him drink Coca-Cola. (caffeine free. I may be a sucky mom, but I'm no fool).
Sometimes we hook up the old school Nintendo and watch in awe as he beats level after level.
Sometimes I use the TV as a babysitter.
Sometimes I skip his bath if we haven't gone anywhere.
Sometimes I just shove Mallory's bottles in the dishwasher.
Sometimes I heat them up in the microwave.
Usually, when we go shopping, I buy Charlie a prize.
Sometimes at night, I am too tired to read to him.
We eat McDonald's.
There is also another, quieter voice that I hear as I reread that list.
It sounds something like this:
"Okay, that stuff is not that bad. What about all the stuff you do right?"
Like keeping them fed, and happy and clean (mostly).
Like making sure that Charlie experiences as much as possible.
Like not making a hair appointment so we can go to the fair instead.
Like finally getting into a routine during the week.
Like letting Charlie stir when you do decide to cook.
Like washing clothes 7 days a week.
Like teaching Charlie all the words to 'Three Little Birds'.
Like getting a minivan!
I have been wanting to write about this for some time, but have been afraid to. I am not looking for pity, or compliments, just maybe...reassurance. That it's not just me living with this big, ugly shadow following me around all the time. I'm looking, mostly, for words of wisdom from so many moms and dads out there that I look up to and admire. I am looking for the way, maybe not to shed the Guilt completely, but to, once in a while, be able to look it in the face and say
"You know what? Screw you."