The downside of these big-little (or little-big) kid years is the nagging sense that everything I do really counts now, that Felicity is filing away (consciously or not) the myriad ways that I'm messing up on a day-to-day basis for future reflecting in her scribbled teenage diary or on a therapist's couch well into adulthood.
Look, I am not the world's most confident person about a lot of things, but I think I am doing well at being a mother. I am almost excruciatingly attuned to my daughter and her emotions, wants, and needs (and the ways in which the confuses the latter two when confronted in a store with a stuffed animal of any kind). I try very hard at being present with her even when I'm plagued with work stress or a bad mood or post-election existential dread. We have a close relationship and she trusts me with her fears and anxieties and tales of injustice from the playground. That said, I sometimes wonder what I'm getting wrong, probably without even realizing it.
I'm of the opinion that children should see their parents as human: flawed, emotional, complex, beloved humans. They should see that we don't handle everything perfectly, that we throw hissy fits over ridiculous things sometimes, that we're grumpy in the mornings, that we cry. Of course, they should know above all that we love them no matter what -- and part of them is giving them unconditional love even when they, too, are total disasters. Hopefully in those acts of acceptance, they learn to accept us too.
The other night, I got home later than I'd intended and I needed to make dinner before I could get to the bedtime routine with Felicity (she eats dinner before I get home; Joe and I sit down together after she has gone to bed). I'd bought one of those meal kits that has all the ingredients and a little photo-illustrated recipe, and it turned out to be more time-consuming than I thought (NEVER AGAIN; turns out that what I want is not a meal kit, what I want is a full-time cook, and possibly a lady's maid). Felicity was in her nightgown, freshly bathed, and she sat with me in the kitchen as I toiled over the stove, still in my suit and heels. I may have had a tiny meltdown about how ridiculous it was to have to feed people (including, uh, myself) after a full day, and why was life so terribly unfair and all I wanted to do was to snuggle in bed with her and read The Long Winter (Felicity is loving the Little House books, although some of the later ones go a bit over her head; I'm not sure she understands all the narrative about claim-jumpers and homesteads and Uncle Sam, but she does think it's hilarious how often "Pa's blue eyes twinkled"). I sort of went on a rant that was childish and unnecessary, and Felicity felt sad and cried a little, and then I just felt like an idiot for letting my martyr flag unfurl in front of her.
I also have a certain...frailty about being late. If we leave the house five minutes behind our ideal departure time for school, I start to come unglued. "We are going to be LATE. I HATE BEING LATE. Why are we always running LATE??!" (This, despite our house rule of never using the word "hate.") Not being able to find something also drives me right into a state of mental disarray. Felicity still makes fun of me for a time when she had lost some small piece of a toy, and I stormed around her room saying, "You HAVE to keep TRACK of your THINGS!" (Of course, I found it, because that is one of the maternal superpowers that manifests immediately upon the introduction of a small human into your life.) We all have our hair-triggers, right? (RIGHT??) Certain things just make you go to pieces, and I find that my reaction in those moments is nearly impossible to control.
On those occasions, I have later apologized to Felicity and we've had a talk about how I was upset but I shouldn't have raised my voice or slammed things around, about how everyone gets upset sometimes and it's ok to feel upset but we have to find ways to express it that are more productive (and less melodramatic, I want to say). She is very understanding, of course. She has empathy to the ends of the earth and back. But still, I wonder how all of this might affect her. Maybe it won't; she'll just have an accepting viewpoint that yeah, Mama acted like a damn fool sometimes when she couldn't find her keys but, eh, we all go a little mad sometimes. Or maybe we'll just find ways to laugh about it, like how she every once in a while says to me, giggling, "Hey Mama: You HAVE to keep TRACK of your THINGS!"
(This is not high on the long list of reasons I enjoy having a single child, but it does occur to me sometimes that without a sibling, she won't have anyone with whom to make fun of me behind my back. At least when she does it to my face, it's out in the open and I can choose to be self-deprecating and lighthearted about it (while I scream internally).)
I also worry all the time, given this child's tender heart and perfectly calibrated moral compass, that she's going to become disappointed with me and disillusioned as she gets older and sees that I can be a hypocrite, mean-spirited, lazy, etc. Everything is so simple to her: people are hungry and homeless, so let's plant fruit trees in city parks so that they can have free food to eat! Let's also carry extra snacks around to give to people we see on the street!
(I will never forget the day we were walking up Fifth Ave after having lunch at the American Girl store (a vivid display of capitalism and excessive consumption at its finest, but we sure had a good time), and we passed a man sitting on the sidewalk near Trump Tower (sigh) holding a sign asking for help for him and his three-year old son. Felicity grabbed my arm and asked if I had any snacks for her, and when I handed her a bag of crackers, she ran over and gave them to the man and talked with him a bit. As we walked away, she waved back at him. "Bye!" she called cheerfully. "I think his son will like the crackers," she said to me. Having passed homeless, hungry people thousands of times and only occasionally offering money or food, I felt so ashamed at how easily she sees solutions to these things that I dismiss as too complicated for me to help with even on a micro-level.)
Anyway, even things like the commandments we talk about in Sunday school -- she is constantly correcting me and others, "Say 'gosh' not 'God'!" and I, the Sunday school teacher, feel lame for needing the reminder. You know? There are all these ways in which she is such a better person than I am, and I worry that she'll realize it more and more, and feel dismayed and betrayed. (In a more frivolous context, it's like the time I completely whiffed on the tooth fairy and she caught me trying to sneak money into her room in the morning, ugh. Way to kill a treasured childhood myth! I am sort of dubious about her belief in the Easter bunny, too, since she seems to be hip to the fact that her Easter gifts rather closely align with the seasonal offerings at the Duane Reade on our corner. I am pretty sure Santa is still intact, though.)
The election went a good long way toward crushing some part of her worldview. She had absorbed -- I can't imagine where -- the idea that a certain candidate did not seem like someone who would care about her fruit trees idea. And she was staunchly -- again, not sure why -- pro-HRC, and incredibly excited that a woman would be president. When she learned about the history of the presidency she said, "Did you know that a girl has NEVER been president? Isn't that CRAZY??" She was stupefied, but here at last was a chance to remedy that odd omission in our leadership. Joe and I took her with us to vote and she was thrilled to wear her "I Voted!" sticker all day. That evening she chatted excitedly about how there would be a new woman president the next day! And then....you know. So the next morning, I went into her room and, completely keeping my cool, I burst right into tears and told her bright and eager little face that Hillary had lost and wasn't going to be president. She started SOBBING and said, "But...but Mama, he's NOT A NICE PERSON!" She (we) still cannot quite believe it, and I want to weep every time I think about the hope that was squelched in her that day, even if it has mostly bounced back (such resilience in these children).
I probably sound like I'm being hard on myself, and I don't mean to be. I'm not going around beating myself up on a daily basis or anything. My less flattering moments are fewer than the good ones. I know Felicity loves me and admires me; I just want to live up to the standard she sets for herself, for me, and for the world.