My mother loves to tell the story about how, when I was a newborn, she left the house and went shopping, and when she got to the store realized she’d forgotten to take me with her.
It was no big deal, she’s always assured me. As soon as she remembered, she went home and got me. I was fine. No harm done. She was sure I hadn’t even realized she’d been gone. I was an infant, so she’s probably right. But I always wondered how a mother could do that. I mean, doesn’t a mother’s world revolve around her children? How could she forget me?
Then I had a kid.
For what it’s worth, I’ve never gone shopping and forgotten my daughter at home. Well, not that I remember anyway. There was that one time when I was at the mall, and I was looking at some shoes that were on sale, and when I turned around realized my daughter had disappeared. In a panic, I started calling her name and searching among the racks. Finally, I ran out into the mall and spotted her a few stores away, calming walking along with a young couple, chatting nonstop and regaling them with tales of her imaginary friends.
She was three years old.
My failures as a mother weren’t limited to losing my child while bargain hunting. One time, I was dressing her while getting myself ready for work. We were late, and I was trying to do ten things at the same time. I didn’t realize that her little jacket had gotten caught on her shirt, and that the zipper was now lying against her bare skin. As I rushed around trying to get myself dressed and get her dressed and then get us both out the door, I quickly zipped the jacket, taking a strip of her soft belly flesh with it.
She cried. I cried harder. She had a scab for weeks. I’m still scarred.
Managing kids is tough. Moms are juggling work and home and these little creatures that demand our attention 24/7. It’s not just exhausting; motherhood can push you to the brink of insanity until you do what you need to do to avoid a meltdown. And then you beat yourself up for it later.
Take Janyce, who was so overwhelmed by her three toddlers she escaped to the driveway to sit in the car, just to get a few minutes of peace and quiet. The kids were inside the house, watching her through the front door, tears streaming down their faces. Janyce said a prayer for strength and then, guiltily, went back into the house to face the crying horde. They probably don’t remember the incident, but she does.
My friend Roberta told me about the time she lost her daughter Hannah in a department store. She searched high and low, crying and becoming increasingly frantic, until she heard over the loudspeaker, “Will Roberta Banana please come to the service desk?” Nope, Roberta’s last name isn’t Banana. But since the family always called her daughter Hannah Banana, that’s what the little girl gave when asked for her name. So she didn’t know her last name. Big deal. In a crisis, Hannah knew how to get her mom’s attention.
We moms fear that these Bad Mother Moments, done either accidentally or on purpose, have traumatized our children for life. The truth is that our kids probably don’t remember them the way we moms do. If they even notice them at all.
I was at the grocery store the other day and as I checked out, the cashier asked me if I’d found everything I was looking for. I said I had, and amazingly had even remembered to get everything I came for. She laughed and said she’d once gone to the store for milk and forgot her kids. It was only when she got home that she realized she’d left them alone.
In the dairy aisle.
She rushed back to the store and found them right where she’d left them. They hadn’t even noticed she was gone.
[5/7/16 NOTE: My mom clarified last night that she didn’t actually get all the way to the store without me. She only got to the end of the street before she remembered that she’d left me home. Not that it mattered to me. I don’t remember any of it.]