"I know why gerbils eat their babies," and other feelings of motherhood failure
Here is my disclaimer for those of you who may not hear the sarcastic tone in my voice, just imagine it: I do not nor will I ever eat my children the way gerbil mothers eat theirs. Also if this pulls at your heart or feel that another mom may benefit from knowing that she isn't a failure, share the love!
"I know why gerbils eat their babies," I said this to a friend of mine on the phone today. At the time both of my children were screaming at me for something. Kendall, the two year old, would do nothing more than shriek, "ah!! ah!" every time I asked her to use her words so I could actually figure out what she needed. The five year old, Brennan, who had just arrived home from preschool had done nothing more than whine and complain to me about going to Target to purchase another toy for his birthday. (Despite the fact that he had his birthday two days prior.) No, "Hello, Mommy. Yes, I'll tell you what we did at school today." Nothing of the sort. Instead this is his response, "No! I want to go to Target! We need to buy the repair Dusty Crophopper." (The main character in Disney Pixar's newest movie, Planes.)
I know why gerbils eat their babies. When leaving a local outdoor sports and farming store, my son wanted to look at the DVD display. The entire time we were at the store I took him from place to place; the toy section, the holiday lights display, the candy section and yes, we walked by the DVD display. You may be wondering why I didn't want to take him to the display itself; if you have a child who can walk, talk and is fairly determined that whatever fleeting thought that he comes up with is precisely what should happen or what will happen you understand my hesitation. I held my ground with my son while my husband and daughter stood in the checkout line, anticipating the meltdown that might occur when he realized that we were in fact leaving the store and not looking at DVDs. I tried exiting the store quickly; however, I question whether the architects who designed the store have any children of their own as the entry to reach the exit doors are quite literally on opposite sides of the store. We had to pass the perfectly marketed display, there wasn't another way, I couldn't avoid it.
Then it happen; he screamed in terror, realizing that his reality was not the outcome he anticipated. He threw himself onto the floor, kicking and screaming wildly. There was nothing more that I could do other than chuckle at the scene we were creating for the crowd standing in 20 aisles of registers. My husband looked on in horror when he realized that the screaming child didn't belong to a stranger but was part of his bloodline. I shrugged my shoulders at him and avoided making eye contact with our on-lookers. If you've ever been the parent of a tantrum throwing child you know the looks I'm talking about. The kind of stares that feel like people are thinking, "My little Johnny would not do that" or "When I'm a parent there's no way I'd accept that behavior from my child." Maybe they aren't thinking that. Hopefully humanity is kinder than the animal world.
My cheeks started to become flushed, my heart started pounding with each step toward the door proving to be farther than the last, a pair of sympathetic eyes looked at me. Quietly a kind woman, an angel surely sent for me for that moment, said to me with affirmation, "You're doing a good job, Mom. I've been there." And like that my mood lifted. Her kind words somehow erased the embarrassment that had encompassed me for the past five long minutes. I stood up with confidence and continued toward the door, knowing that at least one other person had walked in my shoes before and didn't think I was completely messing up my child by not giving into his deepest desires.
I do know why gerbils eat their babies. And maybe you understand too. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, in the beginning of the most epic tantrum the world has ever seen, it's all that we can do as mothers not to criticize ourselves to the greatest extent. Some days, when I'm feeling like all I do can be likened to a maidservant, cook, and nurse whose main job is wiping butts, I'm thrown back to that day in the store and those kind words, "You're doing a good job, Mom. I've been there." I remember that this time of my life, when my children are young and incapable of performing many of life's most basic tasks, may be extremely exhausting physically but surely I am more than a mother gerbil.
And while I know why gerbils eat their babies or at least have the notion to do the same, I also know what separates us from the animal world: In an instant, one look from your child, mid-tantrum, and suddenly your heart is filled with the same love you experienced the first time you held him or her. All of your feelings of frustration, failure, embarrassment and self pity disappear when you hear, in your heart, the words from a kind, older and wiser stranger say, "You're doing a good job, Mom. I've been there."