A couple of mornings a week I drop Molly off at childcare. I call it ‘childcare’ because the word daycare makes me feel weird and technically Molly isn’t in preschool yet. No matter what you call it, Molly regularly goes to play with other kids while I look forward to the drive home that will not involve the repeating track of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
I drop her off and get coffee and then force myself to sit at the computer and make clicking sounds with my fingers.
This is the routine. Molly loves it. I love it.
She comes home exhausted with ketchup stains on the front of her shirt, and I pick her up a better version of myself for the three hours we spent apart. It costs a little bit of money and a little more laundry.
It’s totally worth it.
There was a time I was uncertain about paying someone else to watch my kid, like it was an admission of my underwhelming capacity as a mother, especially as one that primarily stays at home. I was certain that other moms were never apart from their children, that they never turned on the television, and easily cultivated a home that was clean, bilingual, and free of toy plastics made in China.
In theory, I wanted to be this mom. But let’s be real: I’m totally not.
There’s a good chance nobody is.
Honestly, the first time I put Molly in childcare was not hard. I didn’t even cry. I drove away beaming with the radio blasting and the windows down. It was like graduating from high school all over again.
Even so, when we first started this routine, I regularly overexplained it to others. Namely to people that did not care. For example, a grocery store cashier would ask how my day was and I’d answer by defending the three hours of it I’d spent alone. My tone was apologetic, somewhere short of a stammer, as if I had been caught doing something outrageously selfish or perhaps illegal. I didn’t personally feel like my choice was wrong, but I thought the cashier might. And for some reason I misunderstood her question as an audit of my parenting decisions when really she was just making small talk in the awkward moment before my receipt finished printing.
This is how insecurity manifests, doesn’t it? Our biggest insecurities are the things we feel compelled to defend when no one is trying to take them from us.
There have been times I’ve overexplained how much or how little I exercise, what I spent money on, or why I’ve wore the same outfit three days in the same week. I’ve sent a zillion follow up texts after dinner conversations overexplaining what I meant by a joke, apologizing for talking too much, accidentally cursing at the punch line, or for brazenly crossing over the line of too much information.
And those tendencies still come up from time to time. I’ve found that insecurity doesn’t disappear, really. Usually it just warps and changes over time. But the thing I tend to wrestle with most these days is giving myself permission to parent Molly personally and publicly—- without apology or explanation.
I’ve made progress in a lot of ways. Now I drop Molly off at childcare without regrets or explanation. It’s taken nearly a year, but today when the Starbucks cashier asked how my day was going, I simply said, “Great!” as I held my wallet with two free hands.
But there are other triggers. Say Molly hits another kid at the park. Or I ask her to do something in public and she responds by shouting “Never!” then laughs hysterically. Say she dismantles an entire display at the grocery store by pulling the middle apple from a towering pyramid. Say she loses her beloved teddy bear in the worst possible retail location, in an actual labyrinth of confusion.
Say she loses it at IKEA.
This has all happened. It happens often. Because she’s two. And also, I suspect, because she has red hair and a great sense of humor.
Nearly every time something like this occurs, it’s challenging for me to respond with concern for her well-being over a concern for my own self-image or efficient use of time. I get embarrassed, annoyed, inconvenienced. In cases of public disruption, I have an impulse to prove to others that I’m a responsible citizen. You know, the sort of person that at least considers buying organic and is serious about car seat safety.
So sometimes I’m harsher than necessary. Or more passive than I should be. I alternate between wanting to set a precedent and not wanting to cause a scene. Occasionally I parent as if I’m auditioning for strangers, as if their looks of approval or dissent are the final authority on what I’m supposed to do next.
It’s no secret that parenthood trains parents as much as kids. And I’m finding one of the big lessons is no matter how ill-equipped I feel, I’m actually the right person for this job. I’m equipped and purposed and assigned. And I’m allowed to function with the confidence that I am.
So this might sound crazy, but everyday I have to give myself permission to set the rules. To enforce boundaries. To let the grocery store display come crumbling down and respond with grace for accidents that happen. To enforce a timeout in the center of the playground, even when it involves very loud screaming. To view her strong will as leadership potential, her coy response as sharp wit, to not misunderstand these as bad things, but tools for good. I have to remember that living in passivity or apology or even overreaction is either a response to fear or consent to insecurity.
And now it’s time to just get on with it. It’s time to read my kid, not the audience.
Because here’s the thing. I’m allowed.
Sometimes I’m even good at it.
LOOK WHAT I FOUND: