Ben, my almost-17-month old, is face down on the floor, wailing. He’s been teething for three days, sleeping six of the twelve hours he needs at night, refusing to eat, and being generally non-responsive to children’s over-the-counter pain medication. The frustration is compounded by my temporary helplessness: his needs are met to the very best of my ability, and yet in this moment I have, on some level, failed him.
It was part exhaustion, part par-for-the-course toddler tantrum. The trigger (this time) had something to do with me trying to cook myself a quick breakfast. I stood over him, cooing gentle and supportive words while he shrieked so loudly I couldn’t actually hear myself speak. He would occasionally look back up at me to make sure I was still audience to his display.
This is bullshit, I thought. I dropped the cooing. Sometimes silence is the only way to handle a tantrum.
I bear the brunt of his moods because as many a toddler will tell you: only mama will do. Only mama is fit to be the target of their literal infantile rage. My husband looked at me and shrugged — not just shrugged, but gave me that “I’m doing what I can, but I don’t know what else to do” look that looks like defeat mixed with confusion and maybe a small hint of failure.
“I’m going to write a book about all the bullshit they don’t tell you about parenting.”
(Hi: this is that thing. This clearly isn’t a book, but it’s… close enough.)
Parenting, I’m learning (I’m new at this, please be cool and fuck back off to your perfect Instagram life before you pass judgment), is a lot of bullshit. Yes, my child has become the thing I hold most dear in the world. Yes, my world would be shattered and it would take years to regain some sense of rightness with the world if anything ever happened to him. If I could trade But there’s a lot they don’t tell you about, like the endless screaming fits or seemingly inborn death with or how some people will tsk-tsk you for getting frustrated, like, ever, or for not matching their socks or whatever. They don’t adequately warn you how much pressure you will truly feel: is he happy enough? Is she hitting her milestones too slowly? Why can’t I get him to sleep through the night? Why did they allow me to reproduce without passing a basic competency check*?
They also don’t tell you how gross and adorable it will be when they start giving big, sloppy, open mouth kisses fifteen times a day because they feel like it, or how you will become the center of their world and that this small human will, at least for a few years, become the world that the sun rises and sets on. They don’t tell you that naps will become your second or third favorite thing ever, or how much your view of the world and the people in it will shift. How your taste for media will rule out anything that shows small children in any kind of peril (maybe that’s just me). How you will suddenly feel compelled to be a better person, even just slightly, because you realize that how you face the world is also how your child will learn to face the world.
This mom thing is bullshit. Or maybe, more clearly, the facade of motherhood in the internet age is bullshit. Perfectly curated lives and pristine white-and-gray iPhone photos and kids that never, ever get sick or messy. Twenty ways to clean your house completely while your kids are napping (because one thing you aren’t is a human that just wants to sit down for a fucking minute. Ten (completely unhelpful) tips for parents that don’t get enough sleep. Three ways to do the years of emotional work you neglected before the kids get home from school. Keep up, they tell you. Be super mom. You aren’t human, are you?
There’s a lot of bullshit. The internet — a central component of many of our lives — is full of it. But those big, sloppy kisses and giggle-filled screams of hello at the end of the day? Man, they almost make it worth it.