The Mother I Was Going To Be

Parenting is full of “I never thought I’d have to do/say/clean that” moments. “Don’t touch […]

Carrie Willard / 1.27.17

Parenting is full of “I never thought I’d have to do/say/clean that” moments.

“Don’t touch your brother’s pee.”

“Please don’t put that necklace on the dog.”

“How did these fingerprints get there?”

A mother and daughter walk down the Fifth Avenue in Manhattan at the Easter Bonnet Parade in New York April 4, 2010.

I was not going to be the mom that made a separate meal for her kids. I cook delicious food! And it’s kid-friendly! They can eat what we eat, or go to bed hungry!

And then I had a kid who would not, could not eat, and woke us up all night long because he was hungry. And so, with torture like that, I surrendered, and my white flag was in the shape of a peanut butter sandwich, sometimes with M&Ms tucked into it (Thanks, Grandma).

I was also not going to be the mom in line at a craft store at 7:30 pm on a weeknight because my kid had a project due the next day. I was partially right about that one – the kid’s project was due that day, not the next day, so it was already overdue.

The project: a family heritage map, tracing our family’s history from Europe through New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and finally, Texas. The teacher supplied a world map a few weeks ago, but no instructions, and no due date (until it was too late – but I’m blaming the third grader himself for that one). The school’s Heritage Week wasn’t until the next week, so didn’t we have time? There was a note written by the teacher in his student planner: Bring in the Heritage Project.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I need to do that.”


“By today,” he said at 5:15 pm.

“Why didn’t you tell us earlier?” I asked him.

“I forgot.”

560_Mother_s_Day_1960_Color_ReducedThat became the standard answer to the next series of questions: Why didn’t you write it down? Why didn’t we talk about this last weekend, or the weekend before that, or that day last week when you stayed home with Daddy when school was canceled? Forgot, forgot, forgot. There wasn’t a whole lot I could do with that.

All of the moms inside me were competing in my head.

The Tired Mom, who had been awake since 5:00 am, had worked nine hours that day and was about to spend two hours at church for the kids’ choir practice, and then would bring kids home alone while her husband finished up at church.

The Teaching-A-Lesson mom, who wanted her kid to know the value of other people’s time, the value of deadlines and instructions, and the need to respect those things.

The Compassionate Mom, who knew that the kid probably already felt a little bit embarrassed that he hadn’t turned it in yet, and maybe didn’t tell me right away because Tired Mom (see above) might get crabby about it.

The Confused Mom, who wondered if maybe the kid thought the whole project would disappear and he wouldn’t have to do it if he just “forgot” about it.

The Embarrassed For Being Frustrated Mom Because She’d Already Fussed At The Kids The Night Before And Still Felt Bad About It.

The Worried About Middle School Already Even Though He’s Only In Third Grade Mom.

The Mom Who Remembers What It’s Like To Be That Kid And Remembers Not Wanting to Disappoint Anyone.

The Mom Who Kind Of Resents The Heritage Project For Vague Reasons Loosely Having To Do With Adoption But Really Don’t Apply To Us.

All of those moms came out of my mouth in some form or another that night. The third grader was sorry. Very, very sorry. The kindergartener who went along for the ride to the craft store (see: Daddy’s still at work, above) was a good sport, and got the best-little-brother award for the day.

We worked together and the result was a somewhat wonky but finished project that reflected our heritage in a very honest way: we are a messed-up people who sometimes forget things. We cut lines a little bit crookedly. We are now people who stock up on poster board. We are the people who own seven glue sticks, but only one of them works. We care about our work and want to get it right, but we are people who know it’s not going to be perfect. We are evidently people who know exactly where photos of our great-great-grandparents are located, and can make a color copy of them lickety-split (who knew?). We are people who can find our family’s history on a world map, but we don’t always trace our history on maps.


I didn’t feel very grace-full in the moments that we were squabbling, and then working on, the project. I didn’t feel like grace was flowing through me and to my children. I felt like a failure for getting frustrated, I felt like a failure for helping him, and I felt like a failure for raising a kid who forgets things. Oof. Most of all, I felt tired, and tired of the damned-if-I-help and damned-if-I-don’t treadmill that all of those moms in me were running on.

Motherhood has caused me to feel great pride and deep, deep humility. All of those things I never imagined myself saying have stretched me out into a person I sometimes don’t recognize. I’m counting on grace and forgiveness to see through all of those many moms in me. I’m relying on a deeper heritage than one that can be traced on a map or shown in photographs. I need to be reminded – constantly, it seems – that I’m forgiven for all of this, and that I am loved, deeply, no matter how many moms are competing inside my head.

The mother-I-was-going-to-be wouldn’t need much forgiveness, because she got it all right. Her kids ate her food, cheerfully, and never forgot a project or a deadline. She would keep her house tidy and lose all the baby weight in six weeks, because how hard could it be? The mother-I-was-going-to-be was going to be better than this. But the mother-I-was-going-to-be didn’t need forgiveness because she doesn’t exist. I think my husband and my kids are relieved that she doesn’t. And so, I’ll take forgiveness and grace, and I will say thank you.