I think I’m probably pretty similar to a lot of moms in that guilt is my constant companion. There are times when I can turn my back on guilt and go on with life as if it isn’t really there. I’m like a toddler who’s afraid of the scary monster that comes out when the lights are off. As long as the lights are on, I’m okay. Turn the lights out, and that scary monster named guilt haunts me.
Well, this week my lights went out and the monster was right there waiting for me. Avery has been having a hard time at school lately. She has been going to the same preschool and has kept the same wonderful teacher since she was 20 months old. It has been one of the best experiences of her life, and she has loved every minute of it. Until she didn’t.
Things began to unravel after Christmas break. She started asking me if she could stay home from school. My response was always lighthearted and matter-of-fact: “Mommy and Daddy go to work. You go to school. You can’t just stay home. Everybody has to do something.”
Then, she started to complain about her dance class at school. She always loved it before, but now she wanted to stop. So we stopped. Then, she didn’t want to go to extended care anymore. The child who previously scolded me for picking her up too early because she didn’t have enough time to play with her friends was desperate for me to pick her up. Then, last Tuesday she cried for two solid hours before school. I thought she’d adjust once we got there. She didn’t.
It was naptime, she said. She couldn’t handle staying at school through naptime because she couldn’t sleep and kept getting in trouble with her teacher. When I went in to talk to her teacher about the naptime issue, though, I was completely thrown. “Avery isn’t getting in trouble at naptime,” she said. I was perplexed. Why would she tell me she’s getting in trouble when she isn’t?
Her teacher did say, though, that there has been a change in Avery. She’s crying a lot at school, crying over things she normally wouldn’t. She gets upset easier and is harder to soothe. “It’s just not like her,” her teacher said. As we stood there in the classroom, I was paralyzed, not quite sure what to do. Avery started to cry again. She looked at me- sad, desperate, fearful- and said, “Mommy, I just need more time with you.”
I scooped her up and walked out to the parking lot. I told her we could have a Mommy date. I didn’t end up going to work as planned. Instead, we went to Starbucks (her choice- she’s a sucker for cake pops and chocolate milk) and the public library and we talked. She said she misses me and that she wants to stay home with me. She needs more Mommy time.
What she said and what I heard were two different things, though. She said, “I need more Mommy time.” I heard, “You are not doing a good enough job.”
We have had a new baby in our house for six months now. My time and attention have been divided, and she has felt the strain of it all. It’s not easy nursing an infant and taking care of an energetic 4-year-old. Their needs are constantly at odds with one another, and it seems like most of the time, my words to her are:
Stop doing that
You’re not obeying
Go find something to play by yourself
You are about to go to time-out
It felt awful to come to the realization that the time I am spending with her hasn’t been quality time, that I’m expecting more from her than a 4-year-old can handle and that I am frustrated that she can’t make it easier for me. It’s easy to forget that she still needs me because she often seems so independent. And yet, here is this little angelic face telling me she needs more of me, and as she says it, a wave of sheer panic and fear sweeps through me. I feel incredible guilt that I just don’t have any more to give.
Can I really handle having her home all the time? Absolutely no time at home by myself or even with just one kid? I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread as it is, and now I’ve got to do more? And the big question: does this mean I have to drag two kids to the grocery store because that might just kill me. Really.
So, here’s the scary monster I’ve had to face: I’m not enough. I’m not enough, but I have to be okay with that.
I decided to let her stay home from school indefinitely and give her the time she needs, even though I’m afraid it might be too much for me. I try to remember that God loves that little pumpkin one million times more than I ever could. And even when I don’t do things perfectly (or even come close), He’s going to fill in the gaps. He has to. It’s her only hope because I am destined to fail her.
The scary guilt monster still lurks in all my corners, but I try to turn the lights on whenever I can and realize that I will never be everything I want to be for my children, and I’m not supposed to. I’m supposed to do the very best I can and trust God with the rest.
That and possibly go to the grocery store on the weekends, because DEAR LORD a person can only handle so much.