I am a mom.
Every morning when I wake up, I repeat a familiar mantra passed from mother to mother, a rite of passage, or rather guilt of passage that goes something like this; “Well, you haven’t screwed up yet.”
I know it isn’t very Zen or something Wayne Dyer would preach on a PBS telethon, and possibly I should be reciting a mantra like, “You are love, you are beautiful, you are wrapped in the warm light of God.”
But, “You haven’t screwed up yet,” works for me.
It gives me hope that at some point I’ll go a whole day without mucking it up, or an entire morning, or afternoon, or possibly just an hour without disappointing another living soul or myself. An hour would be good. Yeah, I’d settle for an hour.
“You haven’t screwed up yet,” is an affirmation for the realist. By the mere act of getting out of bed, I have not let anyone down. I have traveled from the bed to the door, possibly down the hall and through a tooth brushing, without major failure.
Usually, I don’t even get this far. When I haven’t flossed (which is every morning), I visualize my dentist shaking his head in that uppity, exasperated way saying, “Cavities love that space between your teeth,” and then giving me his disappointed, fatherly look like I missed curfew and came home drunk on some miscreant’s motorcycle. So I promise to be better next time. I swear I’ll be a good girl. I swear. Someday I’ll floss and take a taxi. Even though I know I never will. Because let’s face it there is just something hot about motorcycles and not flossing.
Some mornings I make it to the living room, but never all the way to the kitchen. Because the cats are waiting in the dining room, impatient and indignant that their food bowl has been empty for a entire 30 minutes. They look up at me like, “We were counting on you mom, and you let us down…again.”
I can read the disappointment in their eyes as they look from bowl to me, bowl to me, bowl to me. They actually shake their heads in feline disgust. So I feed them, but it’s too late. They have lost all hope in my ability to be a responsible pet owner. They’ve called the ASPCA and Sarah McLachlan. I’m toast. By the time I’ve crawled to the coffee pot, I have already let my dentist and my cats and PETA down. I’m feeling the blow of disappointment and it’s not even seven.
I pour four scoops into the coffee filter and hear my doctor saying, “Caffeine could be to blame for your anxiety, if I were you I’d switch to green tea.” So I look in the cupboard and stare down the herbal tea box that has a happy Buddha illustration and I slam the door. I hate you green tea. I hate you Buddha. I just want my coffee without the guilt.
I put in another scoop and relish in the sound of that first bubbly chirp of percolation. At this point, I’ve pissed off my dentist, the cats, Sarah McLachlan, PETA, my doctor and now the Dalai Lama.
It’s time to wake the child. I casually walk by her room saying, “Hey sweetheart, time to rise and shine.” She is comatose. Absolutely zero movement. I think maybe she’s dead, the cats having suffocated her during the night, pissed off by their lack of food, and seeking revenge by slowly smothering the one person who means the most to me.
Nope, she’s breathing.
I don’t want to disturb her slumber just yet, so I make my bed.
Who am I kidding? I’m afraid of her, my child who wakes up like pestilence unleashed from Pandora’s box with fiery brimstone upon the world. At 7:15am, my sweet baby, my angel, the love of my life is evil incarnate. With furled brow, she almost moos with hatred for the early hour, her head spinning round like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
I love her, yet she terrifies me. At least before 8am.
So I stall, and make her lunch. “She needs her sleep,” I convince myself, and I need another cup of coffee before rousing the Minotaur.
I open the cupboard and all the fun snacks are gone, we’re down to unsalted almonds, raisins, and a squashed granola bar. I find a prepackaged lunch in the fridge. Score! I know it’s preservatives galore, that there isn’t an ounce of real food in there and her dad is picking her up today, Mr. Organic, grass fed, supplement man who doesn’t pay child support, but rather pays in red dye number 3 guilt. I throw in a yogurt, some carrots, and fruit and know that if she’s survived the cat’s wrath, she’ll survive one bad lunch.
Fifteen minutes later, I approach her doorway, “Babycakes, breakfast is ready.” She hisses like a baby rattler about to strike, releasing all her venom at once. I pull her legs off the bed, wrapping them around me and carry the dead wait of a 63 pound 8 year old into the living room. She is more than half my size and almost as tall as me, but a bad back is better than bartering with Baby Jane.
I turn on the cartoons while making breakfast. Another big parenting no-no. We watch educational programming, but first thing in the morning she needs her Spongebob like I need my coffee. She is in no mood to learn about the cosmos or bononos monkeys. I get it.
In the kitchen I flip bacon like crabby patties, throwing some incredibly healthy Ezekiel bread into the toaster oven. That should make up for the plastic lunch, I tell myself. I add organic berries and yogurt, a glass of milk, and feel for the first moment of the day that I’m not such a bad mom after all. But like all things parental it’s short-lived.
I look at the clock and realize we are already running a half hour behind. Which means we’ll have to sign “The Sheet!” The sheet is an admission before you are allowed to enter the school that states you are tardy, and basically that as a parent you totally suck. You are required to write the time, how sucky you are, sign it, then paste a Scarlett Letter badge to enter school grounds that has a giant V for “visitor,” but might as well say, “VERY, bad, mom.” I wear the badge proud like a scar, and stare down the librarian as she gives me the “late again” look. Yeah, we’re late again. Go complain to Dewey Decimal, we got a lot on our plates.
We walk into the classroom midway through a spelling test. We’ve missed the morning announcements, the singsongs, and are already into the nitty-gritty of second grade. I pull out her homework folder and realize today is Egg Drop Day - a lesson in physics and architecture where students are required to construct a soft housing for an egg that can withstand a dramatic drop from the second story of the school. It is the equivalent of Elementary School prom and I dropped the ball and not the egg.
“Please, go home and get an egg, please mommy!,” my child begs.
I look at my watch. I have a meeting in 15 minutes 25 minutes away.
I have now let my dentist, the cats, Sarah McLachlan, Peta, the Dalai Lama, my doctor, my ex, school administrators, a second grade teacher, the Egg industry, Frank Lloyd Wright, Isaac Newton, the librarian, Mr. Dewey Decimal himself, and now my child down. It’s not even 9am.
I speed home, pissing off the neighborhood safety council, ignoring the signs that say, “Drive like your child lives here.” That’s why I’m speeding, dammit! I grab an egg out of the fridge. It’s expired, from our Easter egg dyeing two months ago. It’ll do. I search the garage for bubble wrap. There isn’t any, so I wrap toilet paper around the rotten egg and place it in a Victoria Secret box, because of course that’s the only structure I have for my child’s school project. I cross out Victoria and write my daughter’s name and rush back to the school. Rotten egg, wrapped in toilet paper, in a lingerie box that now says, “Addie’s Secret.” Voila! She’s thrilled.
I am now very late for my meeting.
“The egg drop was today,” sounds like the dog ate my homework, so I tell my boss, “I’m just running a bit behind.”
He doesn’t have kids or egg drops or cats, and even though he says it’s okay I can hear the disappointment in his voice and that, “Let’s not make this a habit,” tone.
I arrive at work out of breath, looking like a haggard old lady who smells of bacon and rotten eggs, with cat hair on my pants and so hyped up from coffee and adrenaline, my hands are literally shaking like I’m in heroin withdrawal while taking notes.
It is now only 10:30am and I seriously consider going back to bed, crawling under the covers with my pissed off cats and calling it a day. So far I have let everyone down. Everyone, but myself. There’s still a chance.
I throw on some workout clothes and hike my flabby butt up a Los Angeles mountain, also known as a rather big hill. It is my favorite hiking spot in LA, because it is so not LA. People of all shapes, sizes and colors climb the 248 stone stairs that resemble an ancient ruin to a majestic look out. And on a clear smogless day, the view boasts a panoramic snapshot from the Pacific ocean to the San Bernardino mountains, with the Hollywood sign in-between. The traffic and graffiti covered walls are still visible below, but once you reach 150 stairs it’s snails and rabbits, lizards, hummingbirds, monkey bush flowers and sage.
It’s not quite noon. As I look out over our lives, I cannot imagine how many people I will let down before I tuck my sweet girl into bed. I will lose my temper and yell. I will possibly honk at someone in traffic and then mutter the term "douche bag" in front of my child. I will most likely burn dinner and forget to have my daughter brush her teeth and fall asleep on the sofa with dirty dishes in the sink. I’ll lose the permission slip for a field trip and donate a library book to Goodwill. I’ll only complete half of my work because we were out of milk and needed a new leotard for gymnastics. I won’t finish my book for book club or call the friend I promised to call. I won’t write those thank you notes for gifts for which I am truly thankful.
For the rest of the afternoon I will work and clean and run errands and make calls and put out the never ending fires of daily life. And no matter how many things I cross off my list, how many fires I extinguish, there will always be someone standing there with kindling and a spark.
I know all of this standing at the top of a hill overlooking my life. And I think, as long as I can keep my head above water, my feet above sea level, looking out over a very big city knowing I am still above it, I am okay.
I pick up my daughter from school and she is elated.
“Mommy, it worked. My egg didn’t break!”
And her face, that look of, “We did it!” is all it takes.
A rotten egg in a lingerie box full of toilet paper that didn’t break and suddenly I am super mom. Tomorrow who knows, but today I know I haven’t screwed up yet.