Wednesday, December 01, 2010

First, do no harm

You always hear about "Mother-love." They never tell you about "Mother-guilt."

As anyone who's done this for, oh, about 5 minutes can tell you, the truth is that motherhood is all about the love and all about the guilt. For me it started even before she was born, the day I was so sick and called the OB to find out what I could take for a little relief. Given the green light for an antihistamine, I took the approved dose only to find, much to my horror, that not only did it make me a little sleepy it knocked poor Sara completely on her teeny-tiny ass. Evidently the "Warning: May Cause Drowsiness" message applied not only to me but to my normally acrobatic fetus as well.

As I'm sure you can imagine I suffered through every subsequent head cold without benefit of pharmaceutical relief because, after the terror subsided (no movement? for over an hour? by SARA?), the guilt set in. "First do no harm" may be the physician's motto but let me tell you, Hippocrates' dear mother had to have come up with it because doing no harm is about the greatest achievement a mother can claim.

I know now, and probably knew then, that I hadn't really "harmed" Sara. But that didn't stop me from feeling like I did, or from feeling the guilt that comes along with doing something that hurts your child, even when it's unintentional. Mother-guilt manifests from all sorts of things: The sharp words spoken in frustration, the book unread because of exhaustion, the birthday party unplanned because you just don't have your act together. None of these things, in the long-run, are game changers; Sara won't remember the night I just didn't have it in me to read Pete the Cat, nor will she likely require therapy because I relented and actually bought a cake for her fifth birthday. From Wal-Mart. (Don't judge -- their chocolate cake is the best I've ever had, and though I am bitter about that fact, there it is.)

Enter the balloon.

Sara came home from her visit to Pennsylvania with a balloon. It was from Nana. Heart-shaped. Pink & purple. With Tinkerbell. Can you imagine anything else as wonderful for my five-year-old Sara-fairy? Me neither. But all though the drive to preschool this morning I had to tell her to keep the balloon down so I could see out the back of the car. Over. And over. And over and over and over. A block away from the school I had finally had enough and, out of frustration, let her know that if she couldn't keep the balloon out of my way it would be gone. For good.

And don't you know, for that last block she managed to keep her beloved Tink balloon under wraps. Crisis averted! I parked the car and gathered her gear. It's a cold and blustery day today, with the first snowfall of the Christmas season, so I braced myself and told her to get ready. I did an enthusiastic count down so we could make a quick exit: Ready Sara? Three! Two! One! Let's GO!!

Did I mention that's it's blustery? No, really -- very, very blustery?

You can see where this is going. I opened up my door and stood by hers while it slid open. She hopped out and just as I clicked the button to close her door the balloon -- her much beloved balloon -- was sucked out of the car. It had blown half a block before I registered what was happening, and was all the way to 46th & Illinois before I realized it was too late. There was no way to rescue Tink.

She tried to chase it, then turned to me in a panic. And then the tears came. Sobs, acutally. Real, honest-to-gosh tears and heaves of loss. You'd think Nana herself had blown away with the cold December wind.

I just let her cry it out. Because what can you do? I can't tell her it's no big deal, or that it's OK, or that she's going to be fine (even though all of these things are true). The fact of the matter is that from Sara's perspective it is a big deal, it isn't OK, and that she's not going to be fine. I'm not about to tell her that she's wrong to feel what she's feeling, so... she sobbed. All the way into school, and taking off her coat, and putting away her lunch, and washing her hands.

As for me? No tears, just plenty of guilt. Guilt because we argued about the balloon all the way to school. Guilt because I threatened to take it away. Guilt because I didn't anticipate it's escape. Guilt because I couldn't stop the wind, or move with the speed of sound, or freeze time long enough to allow us both to run after it, another crisis averted.

Motherhood is just a series of these events, small moments of little to no consequence -- certainly to me, and ultimately to her, too. But today, while December's icy wind turned my daughter's tear-streaked face a cold, raw red, Mother-love once again met up with Mother-guilt. My heart broke for my sad little girl and I all I could do was let her feel the loss, because sometimes letting her feel the pain is doing no harm. Sometimes, what seems to be the worst really is the best you can do.

And that is the truth about motherhood.


Teresa said...

Priceless, Amy. God knows how many times I faced the same kind of things with my kids, and you articulated it well. Mother love wins in the long run, but I still have mother guilt memories that show up entirely unannounced to try to bring me to tears. Keep writing. Someone needs to give a voice to all of us Mothers out here!

Amy H said...

I love you.