Mama Forgets

There’s nothing more painful than the moment you’ve been unfair, hurtful, unjust, or unkind to your child and you know it. It’s that sinking feeling and suddenly a darkness comes over you and you think, What have I done?

When Olivia was a baby and up until recently, it was firmly fixed in my mind that she is an infant, a child, with a brilliant mind that is capable of soaking up everything offered it. When she played in her food, I let her do it believing that it was great for her learning experience. When she made messes and spilled things I may have been weary, but in my mind I always knew that she is learning how to coordinate her body. She is just a child. When she began to walk I was infinitely patient with her, lavishing her with praise to boost her confidence. When she fell, I was there for her to see if she could learn from that also. Everything she did or did not do, I was understanding.

Olivia has always been a fast learner. She was up on her hands and knees the day before she turned five months old. She understood both languages very early. She was up on her feet at 6 months. She was putting together words long before her peers. Around 12 months old she was quickly transitioning into a toddler as the remnants of babyhood melted away. At 18 months she was bright, intelligent, but still my little baby. When she turned 2 years old she really began to change. I used to think of two-year-olds as big babies. Olivia changed my mind on that. She was a mini adult. She was as clever as some adults I know. I stopped thinking of her as a child and thought of her as a small person, a tiny human, a mini adult.

It wasn’t until recently when that sickening feeling of guilt and shame fell onto my shoulders that I realized I had been expecting too much of her. It wasn’t that it happened overnight. It wasn’t that it was in one instance. It was a progression over the past few months. The epiphany was set off by her latest trend of intentionally knocking things onto the floor. Yes, exactly like a cat does. For no apparent reason, if an object was on the table and she deemed its presence a nuisance, slide…crash! Just like that. She did it with toys, books, food, drinks, dish ware, clothes, makeup, vitamin boxes, phones, anything that she could watch fall to the floor. It was annoying in the beginning and then it got downright intolerable. Eventually I got to the point where I was almost disgusted, “Olivia! You KNOW this! You may not throw food on the ground. You’re too big for this.”

After an exhausting day filled with emotional pain for both Olivia and I, I finally managed to get her to sleep only by cradling her in my arms as we listened to music. She has never liked to be cradled, but for whatever reason that night, that was how she slept. It’s been so long since she fell asleep in my arms. Words from the song were playing, “I give my all to you, you give your all to me…” I thought about how much of myself I’ve given to this little being and I thought how she wholeheartedly gives her everything to me, the good and the bad. She completely loves me and trusts me and hides nothing from me at this point in her life. She knows nothing else. I sat there in the dark, long after she had fallen asleep, watching her. Looking at her tiny face. My child. This perfect gift. My arms were tired, my back was hurting, my body fatigued, and still I held her. How many times would this happen again? How will I miss these moments when I am old! Something in me stirred and felt sorry, felt like apologizing, but I wasn’t sure why. It was a hard day for both of us. I just held her, kissed her, told her I loved her and laid her down in her bed for the night.

I’m not sure exactly what it was that turned the lightbulb on in my brain. It wasn’t one of those “hit by lightening” moments where I was suddenly struck with the realization. It crept over me slowly, stealthily, quietly consuming me until I was sitting there, alone, at night, after Olivia had gone to bed and I was paralyzed. Minutes passed by, I was perfectly still. I was staring at the wall in front of me. From the outside, I could have been zoning out, but on the inside, my mind was a whirlwind. Images and scenes were flashing through my moments of motherhood. Moments of Olivia. Moments from birth until now. Moments, memories, words, tears, laughter, pictures, flashes of us together. “What changed?” I asked myself. “Something changed.” Something in me remembered the short story Father Forgets by W. Livingston Larned. That flashed in my mind. When those words and that story came to me in the stillness, I hung my head.

“What had habit been doing to me? …I have asked too much, too much!”

I had held Olivia to expectations that were beyond her and I had lost all patience and grace. It’s painful to think about. The most painful is that you’ve hurt the most innocent party. This child has only been here two years and I had expected her in her two years to use her brain and knowledge in the way that someone would who has been here 20 years. I had stopped accepting her tantrums and objections as normal developmental behavior. I had expected that because she understands language so well that she would also understand and do everything else logically. I had expected her to understand me the first time I say something. I had expected her to do the thing I asked immediately, when I don’t even do that for Luka. I had expected her to not be a child. I had rejected her shortcomings, her failures, her faults. I had had more forgiveness for others than for my own child. I had rejected that she has her own thoughts, ideas, and imagination. I hadn’t accepted that she is her own person. And I wasn’t going to do it anymore. I will be more tolerant. I will be more understanding. I will not raise my voice at her. I will be calm in the midst of the storm. I will fail, but I will try again. I will do my best. I will treat her with respect. I will love her actively even when she is throwing food on the floor. It has been a powerful reminder and a painful lesson, but one that I’m very glad I learned now and not when she moves out.

“Instead of condemning and criticizing others, perhaps it would be better to try to understand them, to try to figure out why they do what they do.”

If you are or are not a parent, PLEASE read this short story: Father Forgets