It was worth having a kid just to know that Oprah didn’t lie to me. I thought she was pandering her ass off when she’d stare into the camera at her audience of stay at home moms and tell them, “You have the hardest job on earth.”
C’mon, you’re better than that Oprah, I’d think to myself. Eye rolling became one of my Favorite Things.
Here’s what I didn’t know: Whether or not you like gambling – and I never have – when you’re a mom every hand is all in. The stakes are painfully high and there’s no leaving the table. Ever.
If I tune out at my radio job, maybe I mispronounce Fallujah or Jermajesty. I make a mistake on baby duty? My kid drowns in a bucket of water and I end up on “Dateline.” They replay the same thirty seconds of footage of me from happier times over and over in slow motion, laughing and kissing what used to be my baby. A grave and deliberate voice-over will introduce the grisly tale, which will be titled something like “Drowning in Guilt.”
At work, maybe I say something spectacularly mundane, at worst, maybe I slip and drop an F bomb and get fired. That’s bad, sure, but not as bad as turning my back for a second at the park just long enough for my son to shove a leaf in his mouth and asphyxiate.
Every moment, I’m one choking hazard away from a cautionary tale.
I get distracted as a mom, and next thing you know I leave my baby in the car thinking I’ve dropped him off at daycare, he overheats in a tragic and stupid accident, and I’m right back on “Dateline.” One sloppy baby-proofing job and my boy is guzzling nail polish remover and chomping fistfuls of Ambien thinking, “These Skittles are kind of lame. I’m tired. Nighty-night forever.”
Aside from the unimaginable pain of losing one’s child, I’ll be that lady – the lady whose baby drowned in two inches of water in a bucket. For life, I’ll be the mom who let her kid choke on a leaf because she was checking email on her iPhone. There’s nothing worse you can be in this life than a bad mom, so if you let your kid overdose on Ambien, you have a serious PR problem to go with a lifetime of guilt and loss. And it’s going to be hard to get another prescription.
As a working mom, I can honestly say that going to “work” is like a vacation, because the worst that can happen there really isn’t that bad compared to the ever-present possibility of turning my back for two seconds as my son flips off the changing table into a long-term coma. Working is quarter slots, sipping a watered-down drink, just killing time until the buffet opens. Being responsible for a human life, the one nature has designed you to love and protect, is being pot committed, every second. You may have a pair of threes, but you just keep sliding chips into the pot until you’ve mortgaged everything you have and pawned your gold teeth to stay in the game. You may have to hit the emotional ATM all night long, but you have no choice, nervous as the size of that pot is making you. You can sweat and fidget all you want, but you just can’t leave. It’s like an awful Eagles song.
Sorry I thought you were pandering, Oprah.
I just assumed you had to suck up to moms, that you owed it to them for their boundless devotion, for their categorical embracing of a tycoon with a pack of Cocker Spaniels and servants.
I assumed Oprah was just making moms feel meaningful as they defrosted chickens, vowed to get to Curves to lose those last 20 pounds of baby weight, ordered diapers in bulk online, vacuumed partially masticated cheese puffs out of couch cushions, poured capfuls of detergent on mounds of laundry, and prepared to climb into the mini-van for either a grocery run or to drive into a tree.
Yeah, yeah, I would think. I know it’s probably dull and trying being a mom. I know you have to shape young minds and the children are our future and all. I know you have to set boundaries and make rules and be a bummer and please and thank you over and over and eat your vegetables. I know. But is parenting the hardest job? Wouldn’t that be running a Fortune 500 company, sitting on the Supreme Court, dismantling bombs, air traffic controlling, or being a theoretical physicist, chess master or cellist or something?
Now I get it. The stakes. That’s what I couldn’t have understood before. Cellist. Cellist, my ass.
Sure, the average 23 year-old mom might not consider every grim possibility, cause she hasn’t watched as much Oprah as I have, but I do.
Yes, There’s something about the combination of aching boredom (at least at the baby stage, sorry, newborns aren’t that scintillating all the time) punctuated by moments of transcendent parental joy, all coated with a thick paste of danger and shellacked with a coat of exhausting hyper-vigilance that is unmatched by any other “job.” Coal mining, yeah, that’s boring and grueling and dangerous, but if you screw up, you don’t kill your kid. So parenting is basically like coal mining without the lunch break.
And this is why I shouldn’t write Mother’s Day cards.
That is so much darker than I mean it to sound, because only if you have something of value does the losing of it haunt you.
Being a mother is everything great I thought it would be: I don’t sweat the small stuff, my priorities are reshuffled in a good way, I don’t waste as much time worrying about who likes me or whether or not I’m good at things, I’ve experienced the refreshing lack of self-involvement that comes from total focus on another human being. It still feels foreign, like a play princess outfit I’m trying on at the store every time I say it, but “mom” really is the title I’m proudest to have, and when the kid clings to me because he’s scared and I’m comforting, I do feel a rush of achievement, because I’m that person for him. I just have to get used to the idea that while I used to see myself as a nickel poker kind of girl, I’m a high roller now.