The Problem Isn’t Having It All — It’s Having It Perfect

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There are two stories I’ve heard about myself from when my kids were young that are pretty disturbing. There is no physical abuse involved, no screaming. I have all pieces of clothing appropriately on myself and my kids. But I still sound like a (non) hot mess.

Scenario One: Flash back to the day of my eldest son’s first grammar school Halloween party. At this point my kids are 5,3 and 1. I’m running my own PR consultancy from home. My nanny of five years has quit and this is the first day after her two week (!) notice is up. I have clients, pumpkins to carve, and no help.

So I do the best I can with the clients. I carve the pumpkins — not simply but using one of those torturous pumpkin design books because that is what a good mother should do. And she should carve three of them because I have three kids so everyone deserves a pumpkin. Needs a pumpkin. But I’m running out of time. So I take the huge knife from the kitchen to get that last eye out and I manage to slice open a good part of my thumb.

I seriously consider stitches. I probably should have gotten stitches. I am bleeding profusely. Since my audience is 5, 3 and 1, they could care less. They remind me that we are supposed to bring a treat to the party. I have not made cookies because I suck as a mother. So the minute my husband comes in the door, I throw him the kids, flash him my bloody finger and go to the store.

While there, I run into a sophisticated French lady from my son’s co-op pre-preschool (why I felt my one year old needed preschool is beyond me — but isn’t that what perfect mothers do even when they work?) Her hair is perfect, she has only organics in her little basket. She is wearing a scarf for style only. She might even have had on earrings — I try to block that out. I know she drives a Mercedes and has a full time nanny for her one child although she doesn’t work. I flash her my bloody thumb, tell her I really should go get stitches but I don’t have time, grab a bag of Cuties (because now I can’t get cookies with food coloring) and run.

Flash forward five years later at a friend’s 40th birthday. Same Frenchie. Same perfect hair. Showered, non-bleeding me. After the usual pleasantries are done, she launches into the story of me in the grocery store. “You were a crazy woman,” she says, drawing a crowd around her. “Your finger was bleeding. I don’t think you had combed your hair! I was like, oh my God, this woman has lost her mind. Her hair is not even combed!”

She was right, but it still hurt.

Scenario Two: Second day of school when my eldest is entering second grade. Kids are now 7,5, and 3. My son has just made a new friend who has recently moved here from Seattle, a boy who is destined to be one of his best buddies and whose mother will become one of my favorite people.

But on that day after school I am chasing around after my younger kids. My five year old is in a K/1 split and having trouble socializing, so she is playing with me while I’m trying to force her on other kids because she should have friends in school. All that comes of it is that I’m the only mother (in a skirt no less) on the slide. My 3 year old is pooping his pants in a corner. I’m trying to ignore this because he should be in big boy pants (or at least pull-ups) by now. I’m on my fifth horrible nanny since the good one left so I’m juggling way too many balls and doing way too much laundry. And my son’s new friend wants his mom to say hi to me.

As my friend recently told me, “I was like, um, no I don’t want to say hi to that lady. You were surrounded by kids, you were a mass of blonde hair everywhere. You were kind of a mess.”

Kind of is of course kind. I was a mess.

Recently, I’ve been feeling those days were past me. I thought it had all just been a lack of sleep. I’ve been feeling pretty good lately. And my kids are all in school so my nanny problems are over. I’ve figured out a good work/life balance, I have an awesome network of sister wives, our kids are doing well and are all happy.

In other words, it was a perfect time to introduce some confusion back into my life.

So, when we got the puppy last month I initially thought my regression to flyaway hair, grumpiness and coffee stains on my shirts was all about lack of sleep. But then I started sleeping ten hours a night and nothing changed.

New Scenario: Puppy escapes from downstairs and runs up our steep steps. Puppy poops everywhere while kids (now 10, 8, and 6) scream — and watch. Husband ignores my screams to come help now. Puppy and I slide in her poop down the steps. Yup, blonde hair everywhere, crazy look in eyes, she’s back.

When I asked my husband why he didn’t come help (beyond his initial lame response that he was measuring the wall for a TV we might hypothetically some day buy) he finally admitted, “I didn’t want to go up there. Why would I? You were all crazy like when the kids were little.”

And I realized he was right. And that the problem isn’t sleep. It’s all about me trying to do everything perfectly, to seem like I have it all together. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the image of what a perfect mother should be, that I forget to actually be a good mother.

Being a good mother means having a sense of humor, helping your kids when they are down, accepting they won’t do everything perfectly either. It means sometimes buying the crappy Safeway cookies, sometimes admitting you just can’t volunteer for anything else, and sometimes doing something for yourself even if it means missing a soccer game.

I do believe women can have it all, but they can’t have it perfect. But that’s OK, because nobody has it perfect. Being a mother doesn’t suddenly require perfection — if anything it requires humanity, modeling for your kids that not everything is always picture perfect but that doesn’t mean it’s not awesome.

So I’m going to be easier on myself.

And I’m also going to be sure to keep my hair in a ponytail at all times.

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