by Wendy Bradford
Last night, I received an email, and then a note outside my apartment door. Each made me a little weepy and a whole lot grateful to know even in the ugliest moments when all the masks come off, I am not alone.
But I will back up to yesterday morning.
My son, Henry, has a double ear infection and has to take antibiotics for the next two weeks. We were on day two; the night before had been a bought of screaming, begging, threatening, promising, crying, cursing, and finally my wrestling him to the ground and squirting the chalky pineapple-ish liquid through his clenched teeth. My apartment floors, rugs, and walls are covered in hardened white spots like a post-modern painting gone wrong.
Yesterday morning’s dose was not any better. And my husband and I were trying, at the same time, to get the three kids ready for school. When I say we were a mess, I am leaving out the animal sounds, the throwing of toys, and my husband calling me “demonic.” A “mess” would have been way preferable to what we were.
Finally, bit by bit, Henry downed his tiny dosage and I wiped off all the excess from his hair, face, hands, and feet.
We grabbed backpacks, tossed shoes into the hallway, and the five of us were on our way to school.
When we got into the elevator, I pressed the button for the lobby floor, and—of course—Henry freaked out. I will never learn. Henry grabbed his glasses off his head, screamed at the top of his lungs, and snapped his frames so that one of the lenses fell to the elevator floor.
There were two other families on the elevator with us. My family already looked as if we’d traveled 48 hours without rest or water to make it onto that elevator.
I had not one thought or ounce of self control left.
“DAMMIT!” I screamed when I saw Henry had broken his glasses.
There were three children who were not mine in the elevator, along with the three that are, and two other mothers, neither of whom I know well.
I spent the day—even though that is far from the worst thing I have said in public or private in front of children—feeling ashamed. As a mother of three who spends a great deal of time alone with my children, shame, guilt, and regret are not unfamiliar to me. But it isn't often I have to apologize to children other than my own for losing my barely-cool-to-begin-with.
When we were back in our apartment in the evening, after another dose was fought over, covering me, and finally in Henry’s stomach, I sent an email to one of the mothers. I left a note outside the other mother’s door. I apologized to both and to their children for getting upset and using that word (which is not such a big deal in my apartment obviously, but I imagine other people are teaching their kids better values) in front of their children.
The one mother emailed back to tell me not to worry about it, of course. The other left a note of understanding and empathy. Both told me I wasn't alone.
Motherhood creates wells of vulnerability. At least it has for me. I am often not the person or mother I want to be in a given moment. Sometimes I can’t even pretend to be nice or patient or even normal. There is nothing more human or merciful than to see the worst in another person and to be able to say, “You’re okay.” Even or especially when the behavior was not; I wish I hadn't screamed in the elevator. I wish I wouldn't yell the way I do at my kids a lot of the time. Perhaps there are things you do that you that feel horrible about, and are working to change. Maybe you are embarrassed, like me, when your mask falls off. If we can remove the shame from the behaviors we need to fix, and know that people are supporting and standing with us, it is much easier to move forward and show our faces.