Some of you had some very sweet things to say about my Good Mother Project the other day. But almost as soon as I posted about it, I had a really hard day with my son. No, wait, that’s not right. There was nothing especially hard about the day, except that I allowed myself to get frustrated and annoyed by something that’s not really a big deal.
I’ll tell you about it, and then you’ll see that, alas, the Good Mother Project is still in its aspirational stages.
It’s noonish, which means it’s about time for my son to venture downstairs in search of something to eat. Sure enough, thump, thump, thump (he’ll never be able to sneak up on me). “Hi Mom!” he greets me, noisy and cheerful. He tells me the news, his version of whatever he heard Trevor Noah say, because that’s his primary source of information about world events. At least it’s not Breitbart.
He goes into the kitchen to make his standard breakfast. He pours himself a bowl of Cheerios with two large handfuls of raisins on top, and then he fills the bowl with milk right up to the very rim. I’m working in my study and don’t notice at first that he takes the food into the living room and plops himself down into the recliner by the window. This means he is expecting a package from Amazon and wants to grab it the second it’s delivered.
When I pass through the living room to get some tea from the kitchen, I see him there, playing a game on his phone. After I’ve made the tea, he’s still playing.
“Aren’t you going to eat your cereal before it gets soggy?” I ask.
“Oh right,” he says. He sets his phone down, picks up the bowl, and drinks milk out of the side of it. I roll my eyes and leave the room. But I can’t concentrate on my work because the sound on his phone is so loud. I return to the living room.
“Do you think you could use your headphones?” I ask. We have, after all, bought him multiple sets of headphones.
Then I see that he set the bowl of milk and cereal back on the side table, half on a coaster and half off, so the bowl is slowly pouring milk onto the table, down the front of the table, and onto the hardwood floor. “Yikes, your breakfast is spilling all over the floor!” I say.
He looks over at it, surprised, then looks at me. “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll clean it up!”
I sigh and grab him a sponge and some paper towels. “Here,” I tell him, “You’ll need to wring out the sponge a couple of times. There’s quite a bit of milk on the floor. Also, can you please take your food back into the kitchen and just eat in there like I have asked you to do?” (sounding a bit naggy at the end there, despite my Good Mother intentions).
I return to my study. But a few minutes later, I realize that I haven’t heard much cleaning in the next room. I go into the living room. The cereal bowl is gone, but there is still milk on the top and the front of the table and under the table on the floor. Also the coaster (handmade by my brother, in wood) has milk on it. So does with a photograph that I have only one copy of.
“Andres, there’s still a lot of milk all over in here!” I am trying really hard to just say what I see, no judgment words. But there’s an edge to my voice.
“Oh, sorry about that, Mom,” he says. He’s always polite to me. But he continues staring at him phone in the kitchen, even after I make a couple of trips back and forth, cleaning up the milk, washing the floor, and trying to pat the photograph dry.
Now I’m seething inside. I know it’s not his fault. He spills things a lot, often breaks things. Half the time, he doesn’t even notice the wreckage he leaves in his wake. He’s superficial, at best, when he cleans up (Case in point: I recently discovered a blanket in the basement that he threw up on at Christmas time. He thought he was helping by stripping the bed, but he never washed the blanket and didn’t let me know it was there. Yuck). It’s just the way he is. Some days it slides right off my shoulders.
And other days I think: I am supposed to be working. I think: Why does he always fill the cereal bowl so full? It’s not like he can’t have a second bowl later. And I stew a bit and ask Why can’t he just eat at the table in the kitchen and Why doesn’t he just ask me to help him clean it up, rather than leave it there, and why why why?
All that wondering is pointless and not in line with my Good Mother intentions. But for whatever reason, today I’m grumpy and on edge.
I remember that I’m allowed to ask for support and encouragement, so I text this story to my friend, Adele. I can trust her to like me even though I’m fretting over my son just being the way he is. Fortunately, my trust is well-placed, and she texts me back:
Even it it’s not on purpose and normal behavior for him, it’s inconvenient and frustrating to have to clean up after someone. Likewise it’s hard to have someone disturb your concentration when you are working. You are allowed to feel that and even express it. I’m sorry you’re having a hard day.
It feels validating to hear that. I mean, I don’t want to be aggravated with him, but despite my best intentions, I’m still a separate person with my own desires and agenda. I summon up a little self-compassion, take a few long slow breaths, and get back to work.
Later that afternoon, I take Andres out to get a haircut. I buy him a belt and a new shirt. He has a job interview the next morning and says he wants to look good. As usual, when we are out running errands, we have a nice time together, and he’s pleasant company. I tell him I’ll give him a ride to his job interview at 9am (he doesn’t drive) before my own work meeting at 10.
That night, I sleep terribly, something that happens several nights a week. I’m pretty used to it and don’t even get that bothered about it unless I have to get up in the morning. On this day, I sleep more deeply after about 6am, but my dreams are all about my son going to a job interview and then being disrespected because his teeth are terrible and his answers to interview questions are awkward. In my dream, I am distressed and somehow trying to protect him, but unsuccessfully.
I set the alarm at 8 so I’d be ready to drive him at 8:30. It is so, so hard to drag myself out of bed. My eyelids weigh about 10 pounds each. I stagger around, getting dressed, making my tea, taking my morning meds. I can’t hear my son moving upstairs.
I’ll drive him if he comes down, I think, but I’m not going to go wake him up. He has to at least manage that if he thinks he is going to work somewhere.
After I drink my tea, I pick up my phone. I see a text from my son, sent at 7:30 that morning.
Mom, they called me from the facility. They have a family emergency and rescheduled for Tuesday.
Argh, I think. My mood goes from sleepy to annoyed. Not only did I deprive myself of an extra hour of sleep, but I don’t believe him. I imagine that instead, he called them and rescheduled because he didn’t feel like getting up. (There is some historical precedent for this, but still, I feel guilty for doubting him, even as I continue to doubt him. That evening my husband checks the call records online and tells me there were no incoming or outgoing calls from my son’s phone that morning.)
Whatever. None of it is important, in the larger scheme of things. My work schedule is flexible enough that some days I can get a nap. I don’t have to work 8 hours a day. My house is not impeccably clean anyway, so what’s a little extra mess?
And yet I have allowed these trivial things to disturb my peace.
I know I can’t be eternally patient and unperturbed. But I hope that, over time, I can be better than I have been this week. I suppose since I called it a “project,” part of me knew it was going to require an on-going effort.
CREDIT: Image adapted from a photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash