Act I, sc i
[in my kitchen, two years ago. I’m making a grilled cheese for my then 3 year old.]
Me: Are you hungry, sweetheart? Do you want a grilled cheese?
3 yo: Yes.
Me: Great! I’ll make it now.
3 yo: Don’t forget the cheese.
Me: Got it.
3 yo: Don’t forget the bread.
Me: I’m making grilled cheese, how could I forget cheese and bread?
3 yo: Sometimes you forget things.
Me: (whispering to myself as I light the stove) I am good enough. I am smart enough and, doggone it, people like me.
My friends who get a little squeamish about food safety might want to skip this blog post. If you’re still reading, you might be more like me: willing to play fast and loose with expiration dates on egg cartons or known to use your car as a refrigerator on days that fall below 49 degrees (going home takes time, dear reader, and preschool is short). But last week, even for me, I pushed things kind of far. In my typical hurried-school-morning distraction, I took two jugs of milk and a large tub of yogurt out of the refrigerator and forgot to put them away. I came home four and half hours later to discover everything was sitting on the counter in a ring of condensation, sweaty and lukewarm. Annoyed with my carelessness, and lamenting the potential loss of, like, $18 worth of dairy products (why are they so expensive?), I did what seemed totally reasonable at the time. I opened each container, I sniffed, I tasted, and I put everything back in the fridge. All was fine, until the next morning. As I sipped my coffee with milk, I became concerned that my stomach might be hurting me. It wasn’t actually hurting, I just sensed that it might be. I poured my coffee down the drain and wondered, “Why do I do this to myself? Why do I second-guess my decisions?” The milk was fine, and yet I couldn’t be completely sure that I was right. My indecision was making my stomach hurt.
I accept that self doubt is part of the messy human condition, but did I have to experience it with even my simplest choices? And did it have to sabotage even my morning coffee? I came to a startling realization: Are most of my problems self-inflicted?
Of course, I did a number of things to derail myself that morning. I could have been more organized, spent less time looking at my phone, or put away the dishes the night before. I probably shouldn’t have been reading articles that I did not have the time — nor patience, quite frankly — to read. Less media, more putting away perishables. But the thing that was literally making me feel sick wasn’t my disorganization, it was my inability to trust my own decision. Doubting myself may seem like a manageable character trait, except that most of what I do is make choices for the well-being of others.
If motherhood is a house of cards built by each of our decisions, then second-guessing ourselves is the gentle, steady breeze. The options start before the baby even arrives — pain management vs natural? Midwife vs doctor? — and only get harder from there. Breast vs bottle, sleep train vs family bed, pacifier vs self-soothe. When to potty train? When to move to a bed? Public vs private school? Is this school right for them? Is this class right for them? Are their friends right for them? Do they need extra help in reading? Am I pushing too hard? Not hard enough? Why do I lose my patience so easily? Are they old enough to bike alone? Shit, where are they? Why did I ever let them bike alone? If you consider the cumulative effect of belaboring each decision I’ve made over the years, well, that’s some major agada.
As the children have gotten older, it’s not just my voice I hear questioning my choices. One of the charms of having both teenagers and a preschooler is everyone’s brutal openness with their opinions. It’s expressed with body language using eye rolls, tantrums, sighs and steely silence. It’s spoken and persistent: “Why can’t I go to my friend’s house? Why do I have to join that club? Why can’t I play that video game? Why are you cooking chicken again? Why are you laughing?” And, just this morning, “Why are you wearing rain boots? It’s not raining.”
With the kids, at least, I can resort to the age-old precept, “Because I said so.” Convincing myself of that, however, may take a little longer. If we’re running late again today, it’s because I didn’t change my ways. I answered one too many texts, decided to make a few edits to this post, or started to fold just one more load of laundry. Double-checking that everything is put away before we leave the house, lest I’m left to wonder if anything is spoiling, takes an extra minute or two. And, of course, I had to change out of my rain boots.