We were still crunching our bagels when Norah asked if she could paint. I think it was Mommy Guilt that made me agree–after all, I’m probably way too regimented as a mother and my children will grow up with inflexible personalities if I am not careful. So I let her skip the next two steps of morning routine (getting dressed and helping out with the daily Tidy Up) and the paints were out by 8:02. I couldn’t supervise her as closely as I usually like to because I needed to change Harriet and do the dishes and so on. I felt vague Mommy Guilt about that, but after all painting is creative and I feel even more guilty about not having as many creative activities prepared this week due to a persistent and miserable chest infection and sinusitis. I’m probably crippling brain development, I thought and the names of mothers who seem never to lack creative activity options rolled through my head.
I washed the dishes and Harriet played in the living room. I thought Norah was painting but after a few minutes I went to admire and found her ripping up her paper and submerging it in her paint water, creating a slodge of painty wet mess that was somehow spread over a four-foot radius. We had a short talk about What Painting Is and What Painting Isn’t. At that moment, I heard a wet, slurpy sort of sound coming from the loo. I dashed around the corner and found Harriet in the act of dipping a toy tea cup into the toilet–for the second time. When she saw me in the doorway she threw the cup and splattered toilet water all over the walls and floor. What kind of a mother am I? asked my inner Guilt Goader. I allow my eighteen-month-old to refresh herself from the toilet. At least I haven’t taught her how to drink from an open cup yet: more of the first draught apparently landed on her shirt than in her mouth. She’ll probably get really sick from that.
I suggested to Harriet that this was not a good place to play, stripped her, wiped her down, and dropped her in her bed (pack & play) where she couldn’t get out. I then returned to the table and sopped up the painty mess. Norah was game to try What Painting Is instead, so I set her up with a big bowl of fresh water, some new paper, and fresh squirts of paint. Then I dressed Harriet and we hurried back to see how it was going. Norah had created a lovely picture–and added fire-engine red highlights to her hair. Despite the guilt, I decided painting time was over. As I began to gather the supplies for rinsing, Harriet reached up lightning-fast and grabbed the big bowl of thick, dark paint water and dumped it over her head and all over the floor. As I grabbed the drenched Harriet and dragged her back from the catastrophe, Norah leaped down from her chair and began to dance in the puddles, splattering painty drops everywhere. I stripped both girls, wiped them down, and plopped them in their beds. While I mopped up the mess my Guilt Goader had a hey-day. So much for a calm, clean, and orderly environment. It was 8:21.
Looking back I’d change just one thing: my own sinking feeling of defeat. (And I’d close the toilet lid.) May I suggest we’d all be better off if we could silence that little voice, refuse the temptation to make comparisons, and carry on doing our best?