“Why don’t you ever give me things like this?” I ask my seven-year-old son as I hold up a drawing from his sister. It is a flower, colorless except for the dark grey of the pencil she used, with a matching grey sun smiling down from the top corner of the page. Emblazoned across the bottom is the declaration, “BEST MOM.”
My boy looks at me quizzically. I can see that he wonders what I mean. Does she want to know why I never make her grey flowers? Or crudely drawn preschool landscapes? Or is she wondering why I never call her “best mom”?
I stand in front of him, keeping my expression neutral, letting him squirm because confusing my kids is one of my favorite things. I see his eyes dart to the “BEST MOM” part, and back to me. He’s beginning to understand how to use white lies, and maybe he’s thinking now’s a good time to bust one out and protect my feelings.
“You aren’t the best mom.” He breaks the news to me with a shrug. “The word ‘best’ means there can only be one, and it’s probably not you.” I smirk, and feign shock. “Whaaaat?!” Scooping him into a hug, I shake him back and forth. “I’m not the BEST MOM?” He begins to giggle, knowing my feelings aren’t hurt. “Well, I don’t know for sure,” he hedges, “but I don’t think so.”
His sister hears the commotion and comes running. “You think I’m the best mom, right L?” I ask, knowing that she’s always good for an ego stroke. In fairness, everything is “the best” for her. A trip to Costco is “the best day.” A crisp apple is the best one she’s ever gnawed on. I’m the best mom. “Yes,” she delivers as expected. “I mean,” she adds, “there are maybe some that aren’t as mean as you, though.”
Uh, thanks? I ignore that backhanded compliment, because it’s totally true.
This exchange could have sent another mother into tears. Not me, though. I know I’m not the best mom, and I ain’t tryin’ to win any awards in that category. I am happy being average, and if we’re being honest here, my kids aren’t the best kids. In the words of my son, “There can only be one, and it’s probably not you.” (Or you.)
Some may say I’m the best mom for my kids, or I’m the best mom I can be. That is kind of them to say, but is absolutely untrue. I don’t give it my all, but I’m not wired for perfection, and I have no desire to reach for that impossibility. I love my children, obviously, and much of my brainpower is spent with their well-being in mind, but make no mistake: I’ve never been a “show your work” kind of girl.
You know what I mean, right? In school, we had to show our work. You can’t just write down the answer, because the teacher needs to see how you got there. So much of motherhood these days is showing your work. Outward signs of the steps taken to show others that we’re trying. For me the answer is that I love my kids. They are secure, and I don’t need to show my work for the answer to be correct.
Here’s the great part, though. They are mine, and I am theirs. We are completely devoted to each other, and wouldn’t trade each other for anyone, even “the best.” Despite my shortcomings as a human, and therefore as a mother, my kids are happy. They are healthy, they are well-adjusted, and they are content. They are funny, they are clever, and they are cool. We have carved out a wonderful life for ourselves, probably just as nice as the lives led by “the best,” wherever they may be.
You probably think you aren’t the best, either, and chances are, you are right. Thankfully, parenting isn’t a competition, because we’re all winning and we’re all losing. Winning hugs and mountains of drawings. Losing sleep and money.
I do look forward to meeting future “best kids,” and by that, of course, I mean my unborn grandchildren, who are perfect, and better than yours.
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