Now that I have a nine-year-old and a seven-year-old, I sometimes forget what it was like to be a brand new mom. But there’s one day that still stands out in my memory, taking me back to that time when I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and struggling to find my footing as a parent.
I was home alone one morning with my newborn and my oldest daughter, who was then just two years old. My toddler needed a change, so I set the baby down on a blanket and went to take care of her sister in the small adjoining room. Stepping away to wash my hands, I heard a door slam shut.
The door to the adjoining room – with my freshly diapered toddler still inside.
I bounded over and twisted the knob. The door rattled on its hinges but didn’t open.
If I hadn’t been so scared and sleep-deprived at that particular moment, I would have laughed. Instead, I felt panic rising in my throat as I tried to coax my daughter to pop the lock.
“Honey, open the door!” I called to my daughter, running through a mental checklist of any sharp, breakable, or otherwise dangerous items she could get into. Like other kids her age, my daughter loved to climb everything. My mind filled with terrifying visions of our dresser — the tall, rickety dresser we hadn’t thought necessary to bolt to the wall — toppling and falling on my child. Anxiety had shut down the logical part of my brain and I briefly considered running outside to break the window. Out of options, I decided to call 911.
A calm voice answered: “What’s your emergency?”
“Um, my two-year-old locked herself into the room, and I can’t get to her.” Tears stung my eyes as the words tumbled out.
“We’ll send a team right now.”
We hung up. A few minutes later, with little fanfare, the door to the small room popped open.
Her hand on the doorknob, my daughter looked curiously at my worried eyes and flushed face, as if to say, What’s the big fuss all about?
There was no time for us to debrief. Someone knocked on the front door, loudly, forcefully. The cavalry had arrived.
Swinging the door open, I saw the fire truck’s flashing lights as three young, visibly muscled gentlemen stepped inside the house. Damn, why did they have to be cute? I yanked my T-shirt further down over my belly, where surgical incisions were still healing. I wondered just how unhinged I appeared at that moment, my hair greasy and disheveled, my eyes wild and unfocused.
The lead guy turned to me. “Are you the mom or the babysitter?”
“I’m…the mom,” I whispered, feeling completely undeserving of such a title. Clearly, I was a fraud who was incapable of raising these tiny humans.
The firefighters were kind. They quickly inspected around the house, locating the thin metal keys that can unlock interior doors in emergencies. In my agitated state, I hadn’t thought of this option. Oops. Meekly, I thanked my visitors, and they left.
The events of that morning left me rattled and ashamed. I’d failed to live up to my own, albeit unrealistic, definition of what it meant to be a good mother: a person who exudes confidence and calm even in difficult situations, a wise and graceful being with shiny hair and unstained clothing who would never find herself flustered by the antics of a curious toddler.
Yet the more I’ve interacted with other mothers over the years, the more I’ve realized that my story isn’t unique. All of us have had those horrible, soul-crushing moments in which we wanted nothing more than to sink into the floor and disappear. At some point, we’ve all wondered when the real mom was going to show up, because there was no way we could possibly handle this. We’ve felt terrified, helpless, and out of our depth.
I know now that these feelings aren’t a sign of weakness or failure. They’re a normal reaction to the fact that this parenting stuff is uncharted territory. No matter how many articles we read or how prepared we may think we are, life happens and will catch us off guard.
If I could go back in time, I’d have a nice chat with my younger mom self over coffee. I’d tell her to keep slogging through it, to hold her chin a little higher, and to not be afraid to laugh more. I’d remind her that the most cringe-worthy parenting moments are the ones that make for the best stories someday.
Oh, and one more thing? I’d tell her to always keep those emergency door keys in a handy place.
About the Author
Gina Rich is a writer and mother of two daughters. She shares caffeinated ramblings at www.lovehopeandcoffee.com.