“He’s got significantly more tartar buildup than the average 2-year-old,” the dentist told me upon inspecting my son’s teeth during his first dental appointment.
And while the comment was probably meant as nothing more than the sharing of information, it felt like I was being chastised or shamed. It seemed to imply that I was lazy or unqualified.
It didn’t help that my daughter, who was getting her teeth cleaned one room over, left the office with two separate referrals to two separate specialists. Apparently, her problem teeth were beyond the scope of the dentist’s expertise.
Afterwards, I scurried out to the car in embarrassment, my head swimming with instructions on how to properly care for my children’s teeth, a simple task I thought I’d mastered. But as evidenced by the outcome of our dental appointment, I had failed.
I was suddenly the mom who was too incompetent to brush her kids’ teeth properly, who had lost control of her children’s dental health.
But it turns out I wasn’t the only one feeling the sting of maternal failure.
Shortly after the appointment, a friend messaged me, bemoaning her son’s refusal to use soap. She informed me that she’d sent her kid to school “stinky” – her word, not mine.
She was the mom who couldn’t control her son’s hygiene.
And later, I witnessed what was quite possibly the most epic toddler meltdown ever while waiting in line at the grocery store. The stares at the red-faced toddler were one thing, but the glares at the blushing mother were quite another.
And I saw a mom who seemingly could not control her child’s behavior (or the uncomfortable side-glances of bystanders.)
There had been a feeling of solidarity with these other mothers. We were certainly capable, just not perfect. But I still felt like a loser.
And the feeling hadn’t changed by the time I picked my daughter up from school, hours later.
I watched her skip to the car, her face aglow, and knew that despite starting the day off by having her gums poked and teeth scraped, she’d had a good day.
As she slid into her seat, I commented on how happy she looked and she excitedly revealed she’d won a prize for collecting the most money during the school’s recent fundraiser.
I was shocked. Not only are fundraisers NOT my thing, but I hadn’t even understood just what exactly the fundraiser was for. I’d handed over a few dollars in change, certain that the other parents were working much harder at raising significantly more money. But I figured something was better than nothing.
And somehow, my lack of effort, totaling just $5.19, had paid off.
The day had started with what felt like a big failure, but ended with a small success.
So often the things I put the most effort into do nothing but prove my inadequacy, and the things I put zero effort into end up being just enough. I don’t get it.
All I know is there is no mastering anything in motherhood, and that the whole experience is full of circumstances beyond our control. It’s a combination of winning and losing and not one of us can predict where we’ll fall on the spectrum on any given day.
Sometimes our kids are dirty. Sometimes they throw their ugliest fits in front of the largest audiences. Sometimes their teeth are cruddy. And sometimes their physical and mental states don’t reflect just how hard we as mothers try.
But we weren’t meant to get it right all the time. Through failure, we learn and we grow – and so do they. And it makes even the smallest successes that much sweeter.
No matter how many times we lose, there is sure to be a win just around the corner. And sometimes it’s the small wins that give us the biggest boost.