Nobody’s Perfect

Nobody’s Perfect

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Nobody’s Perfect

Give what you have. It may be better than you think.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

After I discovered that the real life of mothers bore little resemblance to the plot outlined in most of the books and articles I’d read, I started relying on the expert advice of other mothers.

Most of their useful survival tips were too insignificant for the pediatric “experts” to bother with, but for those of us stationed on the front lines, they saved countless lives. I remember trying to talk with my friend Joan one afternoon while my older son fussed in his playpen, flinging his toys overboard and then wailing loudly. Undoubtedly recognizing the homicidal glint in my eye as I got up for the fiftieth time, Joan asked if I had a roll of cellophane tape. I immediately thought she was going to tape his mouth shut—a thought that had begun forming darkly in my own mind—but instead, she gently wrapped it, sticky side out, around his fingers on both hands. For the next half hour, he was totally absorbed, testing the tactile surface on his shirt, nose, hair, toes.

“Where did you learn this stuff?” I asked Joan, who possessed a wealth of small but effective techniques for preventing child abuse.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess after five kids, I think like one: ‘What would be fun?’”

I also relied on my friends whenever I needed a sanity check. One year, I’d completely lost my bearings, trying to follow potty-training instructions from a psychiatric expert who guaranteed success in three days. I was stuck on step one, which stated without an atom of irony: “Before you begin, remove all stubbornness from the child.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Joan asked one day. At the rate we were going, I confessed, my younger son would be ten years old and still in diapers.

Joan laughed, deeply familiar with “the guilties.” Mothers breathe guilt on the job every day, like germs in the air. She recommended I accept stubbornness as a fact of childhood. (“Powerlessness corrupts,” she often said.) She then taught me a game using toilet paper rolls: Darren found it so amusing, he practically moved into the bathroom— and mastered another level of civilization.

Every time I told Joan what a terrific mother she was, she would respond with the story of a “bad-mother” day. She told me about waking up once in the middle of the night, foggy-brained, unable to remember putting her two-year-old to bed. She got up and was horrified to find the baby’s crib empty. Racing frantically through the house, she finally found Patty in the kitchen, sound asleep in her high chair. “At least I’d strapped her in,” Joan said.

Nobody’s perfect, we knew, but mothers are somehow expected to exceed all human limits. This ideal is especially preposterous since mothers are likely to have more bad days on the job than most professionals, considering the hours: round-the-clock, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, no sick days.

Given the punishing rules—and the contemptuous labels for any mom who breaks them—mothers are reluctant to admit having bad days. We all have them, of course, a secret that only makes us feel more guilty. But once my friends and I started telling the truth, we couldn’t stop.

One mother admitted leaving the grocery store without her kids—“I just forgot them. They were in frozen foods, eating Eskimo Pies.”

Most of our bad-mother stories didn’t look so awful in retrospect: some, however, looked much worse. Every one of my friends had a bad-mother day somewhere in her history she wished she could forget—but couldn’t.

But however painful or compromising the reality of motherhood, we preferred it to the national game of “Let’s Pretend,” the fantasy in which we are all supposed to pass for perfect mothers in perfect families.

Once I’d given birth to my sons, there were no guarantees. That first burst of love expanded over the next two decades, along with the growing realization that I could not possess them for long, keep them safe, insure their happy lives. Joy/pain . . . joy/pain . . . the heartbeat of motherhood.

Mary Kay Blakely

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