Guilty as Charged
They were in the living room watching Little Bear in their pj’s still at 11 a.m. They didn’t look up when I came in. I knelt down and called them to me – asked if they’d heard Mama raise her voice, explained sometimes people feel really angry and yell, asked them how it made them feel. My five year old said ‘sad’ and my three year old said ‘scared’. I apologized, kissed them both and made a snack. Depositing goldfish crackers and grapes in front of them, I noticed the wet stain on my younger son Solomon’s pants – that’s when my old archenemy strutted in and sat down on the couch – I like to call her Guilt.
I’m not going to mince words, Guilt is a bitch. Her eyebrows are perfectly plucked, her car is not full of old fast food wrappers and she never yells in front of her kids or forgets to brush their teeth. She is the uninvited guest in every mother’s delivery room. She starts by telling you not to take the epidural, the first night you have your new baby she whispers a reminder that you have no idea what you are doing and then she goes home with you. Her presence is fairly consistent and her daily lectures sound something like this: “Here is the greatest joy and love and challenge of your life and along with the highs I’m going to make sure that you stress over every mistake you make. I’m going to double-check that you never feel that you are giving enough, playing enough, being enough of a mother.”
She raises her eyebrows at you over her Cosmo when you are frustrated at a crying baby, she wags her finger when you turn on Dora so you can take a nap or forget shin guards for soccer practice.
Staring at my little boy’s wet pants Guilt leans over my shoulder and lovingly informs me that I am indeed the worst mother on the face of the earth and should immediately report myself to Child Protective Services. This is the point I usually head for the Ben and Jerry’s or try to remember if my credit card is maxed out because a little shopping therapy would do the trick. Instead I change his pants quietly and move on with my day.
Later that night, I’ve successfully lured Guilt into the guest room with a triple nonfat latte and a book on home schooling. In her absence I remind myself that the day my first son was born mothering became my religion. I think about every game I’ve ever played, trips to the park, spontaneous art projects and living room dance parties I’ve shared with my boys. I think about how I can just look at them and make them laugh. And as I meditate on these little moments my three-year-old approaches with his big brown eyes and cowlick covered head and says with a quivering lip, “Mama, when you were yelling today, I was terrified.”
There is a drop in my stomach, a mixture between those magical first trimester butterfly kicks and a rollercoaster that seems much tamer from the ground. I feel myself reel a bit, and before I call Guilt back in and admit to her that I only ready half of What to Expect When You are Expecting and that a week after Solomon was born I walked into the post office and waited in line for five minutes before I remembered that he was still in the car, I catch myself and take a breath. I glance past his angel-face and notice Guilt is now on the couch, smiling smugly with her shaved legs and designer handbag filled with homemade baby food and signed permission slips. I swallow my confession, smile and face my little boy. “Thank you for telling me that son. I’m so sorry I scared you but sometimes people just get upset and it’s not something to be afraid of. But I really love that you will talk to me about your feelings.”
The lip stops quivering and he hugs me now, hard with his delicate little body and as he draws back he puts his hand on my cheek and says “I love you Mama, even when you’re loud.”
I think of my own mother now and how Guilt must’ve looked in her tube top and platforms sitting in our avocado-green kitchen thirty years ago. I say a silent prayer that I will never allow any disagreement with my children to create eight months of silence between us and decide that tomorrow my son’s and I will have no uninvited visitors in the house. We’ll color and do a little gardening and maybe even watch a little TV. in the afternoon while mama enjoys a much deserved afternoon nap.