The question at the root of all tension

I’m in a funk about my dissertation again. I was on fire, and then one de-railed day threw me off track.

It was bracketed by accidents, minor injuries. In the morning, when Dhurata arrived, I had succeeded in priming Illyria to be happy and excited about it, instead of her usual tears. When she heard the door, she ran to open it for D but pulled the heavy door open over her bare big toe, scraping off a dot of skin. She was so distraught that I couldn’t bring myself to leave, and instead suggested she take a bath so I could wash her hair. To my surprise, she acquiesced – and since I’d been itching to wash her hair for more than a week I opted to do that instead of going out. Later, after a thorough grooming (combing out her long hair, cutting her nails, cleaning her ears thoroughly), I took her with me grocery shopping, and then home for lunch and naps while Dhurata focused on Oscar. And that was our day. My day. My work day.

In the evening, as Dhurata prepared to leave, Illyria was spinning happily in circles with a wooden spoon in her hand, her long hair fanning out in a circle around her, when somehow she lost her balance and fell on the spoon. She shrieked in pain and leaped onto the couch, clutching herself between the legs.

It was terrifying to think – to imagine – where the end of the spoon might have gone – but I inspected her for injury and saw a red spot near what I think is called the ischium, if I recall my high school biology vocabulary correctly – the part of the pelvic bone that meets the chair when you are sitting upright. In other words, not the dramatic catastrophe that could have been, but much too close for comfort.

Gimli is always asking me why I’m so tense when we’re hanging out, the four of us. It’s worse in restaurants or public places like that, but even at home I’m rarely fully relaxed around the kids, unless they’re both sleeping, and even then I’m listening with one ear for the first one to cry out and wake up. It’s not just the constant vigilance against potential injuries – the random and unforeseen ones as much as the obvious and anticipatable – although that’s a big chunk of it. It’s the constant self-monitoring. Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing right now? I rely heavily on my routines to suppress this voice, although rhythm might be a better word than routine for how we move through our day. There are specific ticks of the clock that signal to me that it’s time to start thinking about the next beat of the day, and I never leave the house in the morning without a plan in place for lunch and supper. Gimli scoffs at me, finding it altogether unnecessary, but I need it. I’m thrown by small things – going to a new restaurant, for example. The menu, the space, the goodwill of the proprietors – all are unknowns and hold potential disasters: nothing the children will eat, plants or furniture for Oscar to destroy, steps to fall down, unfamiliar bathrooms where Illyria may wet her pants (I always pack spares but it’s still really stressful for both of us when she has an accident – though these are very rare now, and usually involve a misdirected stream from atop an adult-sized toilet).

It’s this question that is always fermenting in the back of my mind: Am I doing the right thing, right now? Am I doing it right? Am I a good mother?


4 Responses to “The question at the root of all tension”

  1. Mel Says:

    I think anyone who asks themselves if they are a good mother, who is conscious of the fact that there is the possibility that they’re not doing a good job, is — by the very fact that you ask the question — doing a good job. Because so much of parenting is just showing up and being present and conscious of the moment you’re in. Not exactly the answer of how to relax, but I can assure you that you’re doing a good job.

  2. Rachel Says:

    You aren’t just a good mother, you are a great mother. It is obvious how thoughtful you are in raising your children. It is clear how much you love them and want the best for them.

    I have a lot of anxiety about the same things. I am working to learn coping mechanisms so that I don’t pass my anxiety on to my children. I wish I could recommend a book or a technique that has helped but I can’t say any one thing other than sheer determination and has helped.

  3. tara Says:

    Great post- echoes a lot of how I feel- especially the whole public forum thing. It was so much easier when Z wasn’t mobile but now that he is- it feels monumental to go out. Although I feel like Wsk is easy now to take out in public so I’m hoping it’s a phase…

  4. slowmamma Says:

    This all sounds so familiar. I think it is very strong evidence that you are indeed a great mother. Unfortunately, the pressure that we put on ourselves makes it incredibly difficult to pull off the ordinarily challenging feat of being both a good mother AND the other things that we wish to be at the same time.

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