Some days I feel like I’ve got it all together.
As a mom that is.
Some days I really feel like I’ve got my head in the game.
I stuff my kid with a hearty breakfast – spinach and sausage in scrambled eggs, organic fruit slices arranged into a smiley face, almond milk sprinkled with fairy dust, a napkin made from Egyptian cotton.
Instead of letting him watch Woody Woodpecker on YouTube, I read him a library book that espouses the kind of morals I bend every day.
I remember to wash his face.
I insist he do his business on the toilet. And when he does, I give MYSELF a sticker because let’s be honest, potty training is a bigger pain in the ass for parents than it is for children.
I do not turn on the TV. I refrain from answering emails. I refrain from Facebooking. I earmark nap time for doing laundry, dirty dishes and sewing torn clothes, the way I imagine my foremothers did in the Time Before Internet.
In the afternoon, I take Henry to a park. We play soccer. We chase squirrels. We study clouds. We watch bees pollinate clover. We talk to well-meaning people and pet well-behaved dogs. We run like wild horses.
On these days, when my head is in the game, the air smells like cut grass, salt water, lilies and peace. The enormous strain of living on (mostly) one paycheck dissolves in the wake of watching my son in the shade of an oak tree pretending the stick he’s holding is a weed-whacker.
(Note: His weed-whacker noises are so authentic I wonder if Joe wonders if I had an affair with a landscaper.)
On these days, I can’t stop smiling. I feel as light as I did when I was a child. I live and breath the present. I have no agenda. I have no worries. I’m not hungry. I’m not thirsty. I’m not plotting the future or longing for the past. I’m OK with every choice and mistake I’ve ever made, which is an eerie feeling that sneaks up on you when you’re content.
My son hugs me. He tells me he loves me. I feel validated. I feel like Buddha. I feel like the love child of Buddha and Oprah.
It’s not always this way.
Parenting, as I’m coming to understand it, is the art of fucking up and learning from it.
Seriously. How colossal a responsibility is parenting?
It’s COLOSSAL. On the days I’m not chasing squirrels, watching clouds and singing Kumbaya with my son, I’m doing what most parents do when tasked with managing a volatile and unstoppable force of kinetic energy: sweating.
On Saturday, we lost Henry at a birthday party. We lost him as in he LEFT the birthday party while we were STILL THERE.
We estimate that this happened somewhere around three minutes after we took our eyes off him to participate in a friendly conversation with a group of parents gathered around a snack table in the backyard.
Let me explain:
It was a two-year-old’s outdoor birthday party. The yard was spacious, but not enormous. There were a dozen children, many of them toddlers, some of them on a swing set, some of them in a sandbox, some of them assembling sea critters at a craft table, some of them engaged in combat with foam swords.
The yard was entirely fenced in, consequently we were not trailing Henry’s every move. He’s at an age where we’re easily tricked into hovering less partly because he’s exerting his independence and partly because we think we know when it’s safe to take a breather. (Accent on we think we know.)
I was mid-chat with a group of dads when I noticed Henry was no longer in sight. The topic of conversation was so ominous it gives me goosebumps just to retell it.
Me: “You’ve gotta watch Henry’s every move.”
Friendly dad: “Yeah. They’re at that age where they just wander.”
Me: “Wander! Ha! Hank will thumb a ride to California without a second thought.”
(Cue my scan of the party. Cue Joe leaving the conversation to look for Henry in the house. Cue my realization that Henry was no longer outside. Cue spike in blood pressure.)
Me: “Joe, where’s Henry?”
Joe: “He’s not in the house.”
I combed the backyard for possible hiding places as Joe, 10 steps ahead of me, searched the front yard. In my panic I hadn’t noticed that the side gate was open. Joe had noticed. Henry had escaped.
Cue quiet panic. Cue scattering of adults throughout a quaint neighborhood.
Joe went in one direction. I went in the other, accompanied by a young dad, whom I had never met before that day. In the distance I heard a woman ask, “What does he look like? What color is his hair?”
My heart fell to my stomach. My arteries turned into knots.
“He has blonde hair,” I said. “It looks like mine.”
I ran. I yelled his name. In a matter of seconds I envisioned unimaginable horrors.
Henry will thumb a ride to California without a second thought.
It seemed almost impossible for him to disappear that quickly without having been KIDNAPPED. Just as I was about to enter cardiac arrest, Joe yelled from his end of the street.
“WE FOUND HIM! He’s OK.”
He was in the yard next door playing in a toy car, oblivious to the fact that he was no longer at the party, that his father was hyperventilating on the street and his mother had aged 20 years in five minutes. Or was it 10 minutes? It felt like 10 years.
The adults rejoiced. Joe and I shared an anguished look. Relief wouldn’t set in for another 24 hours.
Henry, on the other hand, was unperturbed. He didn’t run into Joe’s arms. He didn’t tearfully reunite with his mother. He had no idea he had even left the party. His disappearance wasn’t his fault. It was our fault.
Our heads weren’t in the game. We had failed him.
What did I say about parenting? Oh yeah. The art of fucking up and learning from it.
I love my son’s natural curiosity. His fearlessness and wonder can be inspiring. His trust in all living creatures is beautiful and pure. I pride myself in instilling a little bit of that. But as his fallible mother I see now that I must police these qualities, endearing as they may be.
I can always get a child leash, but since he felt that his baby monitor was an infringement of his personal privacy, I can’t imagine how poorly a leash will go over.
PS. To the friends and fellow party-goers who formed Saturday’s search party – THANK YOU. I kept my cool because of you.