I spend a lot of time talking to Lila. I know that sounds silly because as her mother, that’s probably a given, but I don’t mean I spend a lot of time talking at her, or shouting orders, or disciplining, or reciting routine instructions as we hurry about our day. Of course I spend time doing those things as well, but Lila is a cool, even tempered kid, who just loves to chat. She asks me endless questions and teaches me things simultaneously. I often say that she’s smarter than me and it’s not really a joke.
As we snuggled on the couch the other night and I answered a slew of questions Lila had, she asked me this: “Why are mommies so sure?”
I laughed and tried to give a thoughtful answer, but I couldn’t find one. Before I could dwell on it any longer we were onto the next topic. Thing is, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
Sure? Is that how it looks? Because I can speak for all the moms (and dads) when I say we are almost never sure. Before I became a parent, I was sure of everything. I was sure I would breastfeed, but bottle feed once a day, so I wouldn’t be a slave to my little girl. I was sure my child would never sleep in my bed. I was sure I would teach my daughter how to read before she started kindergarten.
In reality, Lila didn’t take a bottle until she started daycare because I had gone back to work and the choice was to finally take a bottle, or starve. Lila slept in our bed for almost a year until she got a double bed of her own. And so far, Lila recognizes the letters in her name and believes every other letter is T.
Somehow, the actual manifestation of parenthood stripped away any sureness. From the moment I found out I was pregnant I was unsure. Even though we had been trying for three years, I felt it was too soon, too scary. I remember ticking off my 35th week of pregnancy on the calendar and thinking, “This was a mistake.” Not because I didn’t want to have a baby, but because I wasn’t sure I could hack it.
I’m still not sure I’m doing anything right, or if I’m any good at what I’m doing.
I’m not sure if cucumbers and grapes will keep Lila from getting scurvy. I’m not sure if it’s okay to lie and tell her it’s chicken when I serve her fish nuggets. I’m not sure if I should be serving fish nuggets.
I’m never sure I’m dressing Lila in the right clothes, the right shoes, or even the right underwear because for the love of all things holy that child always has a wedgie, which distresses her to no end.
I recently made a self-deprecating joke about being a bad mother when I saw a picture of Lila and her daycare friends enjoying a picnic. She was the only one not wearing a hat in the blazing sun because I didn’t even think to pack one. So I laughed it off, but am I neglectful? I’m not sure.
I know I’m not alone. In conversations with other parents, no matter if we know each other well, or are only acquaintances, I end up asking when their child stopped peeing through the night, or how much their child weighs, or where they buy clothes? The questions are reciprocated and we compare and analyze and judge profusely. “Hi, nice to see you. What did Emma have for breakfast? What time does she go to bed? Can she count to 20?”
At Easter dinner, my sister tried unsuccessfully to get my nephew to try her apple pie and lamented, “I just wish Carter would eat more desserts.” To which I replied, in annoying little sister fashion, “Said no parent ever.” The fact is, she wasn’t sure either. The kid won’t eat cake and every birthday party he ever goes to will fill her with questions like, “Is it weird if I send vanilla ice cream?” or “Will he feel left out?”
The cool thing is that no matter how silly we feel trying to act the role of confident parents, our children believe we are sure. They think we’ve got it all together and they want to know everything we know because to them we have all the answers. We know everything. At least in the early years.
The only thing I’m genuinely sure of is that Lila has been alive for 1629 days. I’m sure that all of those 1629 days are infinitely more important than the 10,000 odd days I lived before she was born. I am sure that I love her unconditionally and I’m sure I’ll continue to be unsure all of my remaining days.
So, Lila, why are mommies so sure? We aren’t. Like ever. But we have children who believe we know what we’re doing, so we try to make careful, conscious decisions as we fumble our way through life. I am so grateful you believe in me. Of that, I am sure.