I had high hopes for today, I really did.
And at the same time, I thought to myself, “Amy, don’t go setting your hopes too high for today or you’re bound to be disappointed by the end.” And so I was very measured — and simultaneously cavalier — in my actions, trying not to set the bar too high.
And yet, here I am at the end of the day, a little defeated.
Once again, I have been beaten by a 4-year-old’s birthday.
To be fair, I did tell my son all day long that it was his birthday, and I did let him choose the music we listened to in the car, and I let him choose what show we watched in my bed this morning after his sister went to school, and I did cuddle with him and let him put his cold feet on my warm skin. I did buy him a chocolate milkshake and take him to a dinosaur museum and let him pick whatever present he wanted out of the gift shop. (He went with a $6.99 fake fossil egg, which entertained him for about an hour as he excavated two glow-in-the-dark shark teeth from the plaster. Not bad.) I let him watch a movie in the car on the way home, baked him a chocolate bundt cake, served him his favorite dinner and asked his dad to buy him root beer and a helium balloon on the way home from work.
Oh, and I think I also gave him a stick of peppermint gum somewhere in there — all because it was his birthday.
But on the other hand, I gave him a severe timeout for slamming the door and waking up the baby, I squawked at him for putting the beater from which he was licking cake batter back into the bowl, and I hollered at him to get out of the kitchen while I was making dinner.
I see now that I should have made him take a nap, instead of stretching the day out. And I see now that all of the excitement, sugar, no nap and glow-in-the-dark shark teeth may have amped him up to the point where he was screaming in my ear and running around my house like a crazy person.
But that didn’t matter in the moment, when, during a kerfuffle at story time, he elbowed me in the chest and I had had enough. I knew it was only an accident, but I was mad. I stood up, declared story time over mid-sentence on the first page and sent two crying children to bed with no stories on this very special day. (The baby didn’t really care, although, come to think of it, he may have also been crying for different reasons.)
Now, you may read this story and think I’m a terrible mother. Or you may read it and think I’m being too hard on myself. Either way, things didn’t go as planned. And honestly, that’s the story of my life most days. I win some and I lose some. And there are many winning and losing rounds every day — there are rounds on the hour, and rounds on the minute.
Yet somehow, I am convinced that my children will only remember the rounds I have lost. And somehow, I worry that if my children only remember the rounds I have lost, they will not remember how much I tried to win. And they won’t remember how much I love them.
That may be an extreme leap, but that’s the way my brain works. Motherhood for me is very much about making sure my children know I love them. I love them to the ends of the earth and back, even when I’m angry or in the middle of a beastly losing round. I love them.
When I was a little girl, my mother told me she loved me in many ways, but one way was particularly special — and something I’ve carried on. When she held my hand, she’d give it three squeezes, one for each word in “I love you.” It was secretive, subtle and unspoken. But it gave me comfort.
I asked her where she learned such a thing, thinking it was something she picked up from my grandmother. But it turns out it was my grandfather who started the squeezes. Now I pass the same gesture on to my children. When it’s too quiet to talk, or we’re walking from the parking lot to the store, when I don’t know if they’re listening or I’ve lost more than I’ve won, I give them a squeeze. When I see them sleeping, or sitting in my lap quietly, I give them a squeeze. Whenever their hand is in mine, I give them a squeeze.
I don’t know if my squeezes will resonate in their little minds as much as they have in mine, and I don’t know if my clasped hand can scrub out some of my classic failures or help my children forget the times I stormed out of story time.
But I have high hopes. I really do.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.