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Motherhood, Olive

Doubts for Days

This video made me cry within the first thirty-four seconds. And no I don’t typically hide
emotions well – every single thing I am feeling at a given moment is usually written into my face – but still,  thirty-four seconds? That’s a record I think.

As soon as I started watching I immediately recognized that look, that tone, that hesitant shade of self-doubt that creeps into these women’s voices as they were asked to describe themselves as mothers.

I wish I could…

I should…

I’d love to be more…

I need to…

I struggle…

Oh god, did this hit home.

It’s the same look I see when I meet my eyes in the mirror some nights when I haven’t done as much as I would like to. When I question myself and my abilities and my strengths and whether they are enough. Whether they are good enough, not only for me but for Olive.

If we’ve had a rough day where she’s been fussy, or clingy, or she’s snuck in a rogue nap at 7:30 so she’s still rolling around wide awake at 10:30pm, I think to myself,

Someone else would be doing this better. Someone else would have woken up at 7am like a normal person, they wouldn’t have forgotten the laundry in the washer for the whole day, they would have gone outside for more than a quick half-hour dog walk. Someone else would have made sure they had a plan before moving here, so that they weren’t still scrambling six months later. Someone else would be able to stick to a schedule and remember to go to the library and they’d have clean socks and be able to figure out why her diapers are so stinky all of a sudden. Someone else would have their shit together and not be here at almost eleven o’clock p.m. hissing at a one-year-old “Go night-night! It’s time to go night-night!”

It’s not about being a good mother. I am an intelligent, self-aware almost-thirty year old and I have enough experience with the world to know that I am a good mother. That’s fine. I’m not writing this for accolades or testimonials to that effect. I just, I don’t think I ever knew how tough it would be to hold myself to an ever-higher standard of achievement.

I am not what you would call ambitious in the conventional sense of the word. Actually that’s couching it, I am not ambitious, period. I want a small life. I want to have children, and a clean house and a strong marriage, and I want to be happy. That’s about it. It’s embarrassing, really.

I have never been the type to push myself. My teachers were always driving themselves nuts over “potential”, whereas I saw no reason to go to great lengths to get marks in the nineties when marks in the eighties were easy to get, and good enough.

But in this, in being a mother, that distinction doesn’t exist. I don’t have a level in my head that is “good enough”. I always seem to be coming up short in some way or another and it’s ridiculous, I know it’s ridiculous, this feeling flies in the face of all logic or rationale – if there’s never “good enough”, if the bar keeps getting higher, where does it end? Where does the crazy end?!

Still. It’s an odd feeling, devoting so much time and energy – what sometimes feels like all of my time and energy –  to a tiny person who can’t tell me when I’m doing a good job, and doesn’t yet have the language skills or awareness to tell me what effect my efforts are having on her life. If other mothers are anything like me, they tend to brush off the more obvious signs in their harsher moments of self-critique. I mean, all kids hug their moms, don’t they? And constantly clinging to my side is a developmental stage, and she smiles just as big when she sees a puppy as when she sees me.

This is why moms save those shitty valentines you make them, where all you did was haphazardly glue together pre-cut hearts and doilies and trace a teacher-written sentiment. This is why moms make such a big deal about Mother’s Day and why every single husband and father and partner should, too. Because these cliché, prompted, scripted displays of affection or appreciation are sometimes all that stand in the face of the quavering admissions of self-doubt that these women shared in the first few moments of the video. We’re here by ourselves, doing this on our own. These things are all that we have to counter the times we regret words as soon as they leave our mouths, or wish in vain to be more and better, stronger and more patient, with unflagging enthusiasm for repetitive games, and boundless reserves of energy.


Olive is babbling. She repeats sounds and intonations but doesn’t yet speak any clear words.

Today we are walking with Gus, and it is a training walk because he’s being kind of dick lately and so there is lots of correcting and heeling and making him sit at odd moments and with lots of distraction.

“Sit!” I tell Gus, as three yappy dogs straining at their dental floss leashes pass us by. His ears prick and he watches them but he sits, at a glacial pace but eventually he sits, and then I hear a small voice from the Ergo on my back say “Ish!” and I laugh. “Yes, sit!” I repeat. And then I hear her say excitedly, “Oof, oof” as she sees the dogs pass, still barking their tiny heads off.

And as I release Gus from his sit and we continue along, I say to Olive in a sing-songy voice (that voice that came seemingly out of nowhere the moment I laid eyes on her) “I love you” and without any hesitation she repeats, “Eyyuooo!”

I pause, then say it again, louder and more deliberately

“I love you”


And then it’s enough.

It will have to be enough until the teacher-assigned valentines, and the words that finally come tumbling out or her mouth and hitch themselves to meaning.

It is enough until I can sit there like these women and cry while I listen to Olive describe me as a mother, her joy and admiration cancelling out any doubt that still lingers.

Tomorrow we begin again.