Someone told me that once I had my son, I'd forever be afraid that something bad would happen to him. Whoever it was -- and I can't remember her name because most of my pregnancy is lost in a haze of hormones and blissful amnesia -- was right. So, I was prepared for the parade of horribles that sometimes takes root in my brain and have found a broom closet at work where no one can hear me cry. I'm OK with that. What I had not anticipated was the guilt. The guilt. The never-ending, constant and exhausting guilt. If I lose my temper, get impatient, don't spend 37.5 minutes a day playing with my child, if I want some time to myself, if I actually take some time for myself - I'm awash in guilt. It isn't always serious or earth-shattering, it's not debilitating, and sometimes it's just silly.
But it's there. Always.
In the past twenty-four hours alone, I've felt guilty because:
1) I let my son eat a brownie even though he ate a lousy dinner.
2) I let my son eat a brownie that I didn't make myself and that I couldn't guarantee was organic.
3) I played animal bingo with less than stellar enthusiasm and let him win, depriving him of the opportunity to learn good sportsmanship
4) When researching preschools, my husband and I never even looked at "THE" school in town. We chose a place we liked, that was close to our house and that had the hours we needed. Although I'm fairly certain this won't affect my son's ability to get into college, maybe we should have at least checked it out. (Although it's turned out to be an incredible school).
5) I stopped taking prenatal vitamins about 4 months into my pregnancy. They are horse pills and I have an inimitable gag reflex. I'm not sure why I feel guilty about this today, but I do.
6) I want and need more sleep than I can get as a working mom.
7) I failed to speak to my son with Stepford-like calm when he pitched the mother of all fits before bed tonight I wouldn't let him stay up and play, so he ripped off my necklace and started screaming like a wounded animal. I lost my temper, told him to stop his ridiculous behavior and "get it together" and made a hasty exit.
8) I chose the path of least resistance when it came to anything educational this afternoon - meaning, I let the boy have a bunch of pretzels without having him count them first.
9) I was that mother yelling her child's full name across the playground to get his attention - the one with the bulging vein in her forehead that all the other mothers stare at uncomfortably.
10) Succumbing to the cold I've been fighting all week, I made my husband do all the parenting this morning while I went back to sleep... until noon. The fact that I feel guilty about this is clearly a sign of greater psychological issues.
11) Even after getting a morning off, I was less than enthusiastic about getting out of bed to play fire trucks.
12) Chardonnay is my friend.
13) My son thinks it is charming to try to do whatever I've just told him not to do. And sometimes I think it is charming too. This means I overindulge him. This drives my husband crazy, which I also find occasionally charming.
14) I haven't signed my son up for swimming or soccer lessons for the fall. To be honest, I've never signed my son up for soccer lessons, and my son's success with swimming lessons has been dodgy at best (which is probably attributable to the lack of prenatal vitamins).
15) I envy other mothers who seem to do all of this more easily, with more grace and more calm than I do. Today, instead of seeing them as powerful sisters-in-arms in the marathon of motherhood, I hate them a little.
16) I'm impatient.
17) My parents don't live close enough to see their grandson on a regular basis. Or, even worse, to babysit every Friday and Saturday night.
18) We don't want to have any more kids, so my son, while lucky enough to have a spectacular older brother in my stepson, won't have a sibling close in age to play with or fight with. But, now that I think about it, I can't see any downside to the lack of fighting thing, so maybe I should take this off the list.
19) I'm spending time writing this blog that I could be spending playing with my son.
I'm not saying that guilt doesn't serve a purpose. I should feel guilty about losing my temper with my son, even when his tantrums set my teeth on edge. He deserves patient, loving, generous and present teachers to help him navigate the world. The most important part I can play in his life right now is to be one of those teachers. Guilt motivates me to be better than I am.
But guilt also gets in the way. I don't know that it really serves me, or my son, when I feel guilty about wanting time to myself to sleep, relax, get some exercise, or have five minutes of silence. I can't say that I know where the balance lies (somewhere between hedonism and self-flagellation, I suppose), but I'm fairly sure I'm nowhere near finding it. I might as well add that to the list.