When you fly too close to the sun, you're bound to, like Icarus, grandly plummet to the earth. I have found this to be true with parenting. When you approach parenting with complete equanimity and do everything in service of raising a properly esteemed child, there's gonna be that moment when you're brought back to reality with a healthy dose of humility.
I experienced one of these stellar days earlier this week. I spent the first part of the morning yelling at Darla to get ready for school. Every step of the way, I road and micromanaged her. After telling her eight times to get dressed, I was pleasantly surprised to find her playing with her dolls in her underwear ten minutes before we were supposed to be at school. I yelled at her to hurry up. I threatened to not excuse her absence if she didn't hurry up and put her shoes on.
Once I got her off to school, I felt really happy with how I handled the morning. I thought about it for a moment, then decided that I wouldn't trade in a second of that experience for anything. I then moved onto the next part of my day, which is keeping Jude, who is on vacation, occupied. This required carefully selecting a wide array of TV shows guaranteed to keep him glued to the couch for the better part of the afternoon. Every time he begged to play trains, I'd just pick an even more interesting show. Eventually, the need to play with me passed.
When I felt like he had watched a healthy amount of TV, I rewarded him with my undivided attention for an hour. My eyes glazed over after 20 minutes of watching him push a train around the track. An hour in and I was barely mentally in the room.
I needed to get him out of the house, so I decided to go to the gym (free childcare) and compelled he and his sister to go by promising to let them swim time after. After I worked out, I realized I mismanaged our time and swimming was going to be a bogus affair. We only had 20 minutes left to swim.
The co-ed locker room was packed with men, women, and children who had just finished their swim classes and were getting dressed. I piled us into a dressing room that was only meant to accommodate one person. We wriggled and bumped into the walls trying to quickly get into our swimsuits. I pulled off my bottoms and put on my one piece bathing suit. I left the bathing suit around my ankles. Then, I decided to pull off my sweaty sports bra before I even bothered to pull it up.
"Um mommy," said Darla. "Why don't you pull your bathing suit up?"
I didn't respond, my head still caught in my sport bra. Instead I thought, "I know. I get it. This body isn't a prize to behold, but you're going to deal with it for a minute." As I finally managed to squeeze my head free, I looked over and saw the door to the dressing room had swung open. How long it was opened, I can't say, but I assume that Darla told me to put on my bathing suit because I was on display. It might have been more helpful for her to say, "Mommy, the door's open." All I saw was a sea of small sized and medium sized people before I closed the door. I tried to tell myself it was only women and infants out there, but I'm pretty sure preteens and adult men were in the audience, as well.
I was, obviously, having too good of a parenting day and needed that public humiliation to really ground me. I was getting too confident and self-congratulatory. As I closed the door, I analyzed every part of my body that I can't handle and wondered whether the people outside the door had a good enough opportunity to really see the granular realities of my physique.
Because the kids were promised a pool trip, crying in the corner of that two foot by two foot dressing room wasn't a possible plan I could make for myself. I had to pull on my bathing suit, take a deep breath, and go out of the room to face my adoring crowd. I held back the tears as I averted my eyes from every stranger in the room, noting that there were at least a few dads in the mix. I got in the pool and floated around, pretending I wasn't the mom who exposed herself to a room full of strangers.