Only a week worth of school days remain. This reality hit me right in the gut, like my toddler’s bowling ball head when she’s feeling particularly ornery and possibly even a little violent. I’m not ready for what will come after this year is over. For goodness sakes, I haven’t finished what I wanted to accomplish in this year yet!
Somehow, though, school is wrapping up faster than the time it takes the three oldest kids, including one with special needs, to mysteriously disappear as soon as I need help cleaning the kitchen or entertaining the demonic angel of a toddler. Amid all the chaos of our daily routine, I managed to lose the entire middle chunk of the school year. The black hole in my house, hostage-taker of all missing sippy cups, sock mates, shoes, and silverware is, without a doubt, the culprit behind this phenomena.
Truly, I cannot recall the last six months, especially since my son received his official diagnosis. Time passed without so much as a wave, “hello.” It’s just gone.
As I schedule another appointment with therapists and psychologists for my mentally ill son, I’m trying desperately to figure out how we actually made it to summer already. Last September, with all of its back-to-school glory, is now a dying memory.
While on hold with another overworked (and clearly irritated by my incessant questions) receptionist, I’m mentally urging myself to start reading through the stack of weekly school newsletters from my children’s teachers. Monthly principal newsletters, activity announcements, policy change notices, and resource flyers for parenting classes have been overflowing out of the non-urgent inbox for quite some time as I’ve been preoccupied with our newly diagnosed child. “Some time” as in the entire length of the school year. Ooopsies?
Once I hang up and retrieve my glasses from the death grip of my youngest, I grab a snack to busy her mischievous little hands and try to get back to work. I’m ready to tackle the overwhelming pile of things that have been neglected for the past eight months. It’s not very long before the pit deep inside my chest starts aching with melancholy, settling heavily on my heart.
This is the last time that I’ll have all of my school-aged children in one school. They’ll never be all together again. It is my oldest child’s last year of elementary school, after all. Next year, he’ll be off to middle school as a tween, leaving behind the foundation of his childhood and taking with him all of the memories that he’s made along the way- the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I really wanted this year to be superbly fantastic and amazingly awesome and not just great.
My plan going in was to attend every school function possible, stay on top of the boys’ agendas and their younger sister’s weekly reading folders plus micromanage my son’s road to diagnosis. To turn in every medical form, information card, permission slip, and library book on time.
My best laid plans always go awry, though, and it makes me feel as though I’m failing my children. Failing in my role as their mother. Failing in my duty to raise them adequately enough. Failing the child who needs more help than the rest.
With the toddler only momentarily occupied, I set to task again, preparing to sort through the daunting pile of papers. Those resounding thoughts of failure continue to linger. The looming stack of papers on the table stare at me with scornful judgment, silently tormenting the soft spot of my heart. The spot where I hide my deepest, darkest fear.
It’s a fear many mothers know personally, all too well. The fear that I’ll never be a good enough mom and my kids will grow up to hate me. Resent me, even, because I’ve failed them.
The fear is like an accelerant for fire dumped out in the back of my head. It adds fuel to the spark of friction any run-of-the-mill event can conjure up, aiming for explosion. The fear’s harrowing reminders warn me from the sidelines that this moment could be The One which screws them up for life. None of them will ever forgive me. Worse of all, my son will succumb to the pressures of his mental illness, as many before him have.
Those thoughts quickly dissolve as that bothersome toddler starts tugging at my shirt, because, she was “boring” and wanted me to “pway horsies” with her. Her eyes land on the giant stack of forbidden papers, lighting up with the delight of whatever shenanigans she was plotting.
Her hands grab a handful, scattering dozens more all over the floor before I could even finish my thought.
“Let’s make pic-sure for my boys, mama! Pwease?”
Automatically, my mouth starts to reply with a firm “No,” but something in me hesitates. I look around at the papers covering the entire surface of the kitchen table now and swallow down the lump of bittersweet regrets that keep bubbling up.
I hear myself saying, instead, ” Sure! Let’s make pictures for everyone. Let’s cut paper, too. And glue it. And paint it. We can do anything you want with this paper, my love. Anything at all.”
In this moment, I realize that I have nothing to feel guilty about. Nothing to fear.
Those papers alone, no matter how high they might stack, no matter what was on them, no matter how long I waited to deal with them- did not define my role as a mother.
Those papers only hold as much power over me as I want to give them. They are just papers.
So what if I wasn’t perfectly on the ball this school year? Homework got turned in 95% of the time- a new record for us! We only had eight tardies and four absences the whole school year.
We made it to Open House, the Halloween Bash, the Winter Music Show, one family swim night, and the End of Year Awards ceremony.
We only lost two library books, compared to the five from last year, and we only received phone calls from school four times, all for kids being sick and not about behavior, outside the communication over my son with special needs.
Plus, we managed to keep all their grades right on track, not struggling to keep up with any areas in specific as usual – even for my son while coping with the weight of his disorder. That’s like the Miracle of 34th Street, if you ask me.
Reluctantly, I have to ask myself: “Are the kids really going to remember the couple school activities we missed this year?” More than likely, they’re not. I sure don’t remember a single school activity that I missed.
Judging by how easily my kids forget to flush the toilet, brush their teeth, or remember to do their homework, I think it’s fair to say they’re not in the slim group of kids with photographic memories who can recall, in-detail, everything that ever happened in their life.
I also don’t think these kids will determine the greatness of their school year by my lack of knowledge on community playgroups for babies, radon testing resources, and parking lot construction during summer break.
They are going to judge it by the successes we’ve had, the activities we did, and the happy fun we’ve had along the way.
Only that fear of failing is causing me so much inner turmoil. That pile of papers is simply just that- a plain old pile of papers. They’re not certificates of parenting success, licenses to raise children, diplomas for extraordinary parenting skills. They’r just paper. Colorful, bountiful, recyclable pieces of paper, perfect for me and my toddler to color pictures on for those three big kids about to end their school year.
It’s about what I do for them. Not what I don’t, can’t, or won’t.
It’s about staying true to this mom who is more than good enough, despite her organizational, time-crunching, and motivational shortcomings. Who is awesome in her own beautiful, unique, way.
A mom who worries that her child’s future could be ruined by one missed flyer or event. The mom who cares so much, as to think, that she could actually fail her children. With a stack of unread papers, nonetheless.
That mom is definitely me, all right, and I’ll never be anything but her. I’ll always have a stack of unread papers lying around and that’s fine with me, because I’m still a great mom.
Latest posts by Kristina Hammer (see all)
- We Finally Got a Diagnosis and My Husband Doesn’t Believe It - September 1, 2016
- It’s My Fear of Failing That’s Causing My Stress, Not The Failing Itself - August 9, 2016
- To The Mother of the Child with Special Needs - July 7, 2016