When the phone rang at 2 am with a first time mom in what sounded like pretty good labor, I wasn't grumpy. They didn't want me to come to the house yet, but I know from experience that they will call back within an hour, ready for me to come.
So I luxuriate in the hour I have to get everything ready for my 5.5-year-old's day. Lunch is packed-- I add a couple of special treats because I know she does not love the days when I disappear without warning. I make her a red paper heart, covered with "I love you" and hearts so she knows how much I think of her, even when I'm not here. I write Spouse/Daddy a note, explaining the lunch, the clothes, the everything, since he only does mornings with Daughter when I am on a birth.
Before 6 am, Daddy takes her to Friend's house and leaves for work himself. Friend will get her up and dressed and fed, take her to camp, pick her up at the end of the day, take her to swimming, and Daddy will collect an exhausted Daughter after her lesson. Daughter will not really see her parents today, and though she will be a trooper-- she has been her whole life-- it will take a toll and she will not enjoy it.
The phone rings again after 50 minutes, and I am off to the birth. Though this is her first baby, she is fast and the baby is born at home, healthy and beautiful, after a 6.5 hour labor. Then the guilt starts to creep, because now I have choices to make. Do I cancel my day at the office, sleep a bit, pick Daughter up from camp? It would certainly mitigate her unhappiness at being foisted off on Friend in the wee hours. Do I leave her at camp, see my afternoon's patients, and then race to get to her before swimming? This leaves me with no sleep, but meeting all of my responsibilities. Of course, I choose the latter.
I race to pick up dinner from one of her favorite restaurants (a bribe, perhaps, to compensate for not being there this morning, for leaving her having to wonder when she will see Mommy again, because sometimes it is not for a day or more, and she never knows). I scramble to meet her at the park so she can eat before swimming. I agree to go in for family swim after her lesson. During family swim, the fatigue hits me. I slam into the wall of tiredness, and I feel the patience run out of my body. Fortunately Spouse arrives to help, but it is still Mommy who reads the bedtime stories, almost falling asleep myself half way through. I collapse into bed and sleep until morning. I wake still tired from the night without sleep, but feeling better.
Then it starts. If there were a soundtrack, it would be the JAWS theme, as the sharks are circling.
Daughter wakes whiny. Her first question, as on most days, is "who is going to pick me up?" It comes in a whine, and irritates me instantly. I calmly tell her that I will pick her up, but that Friend is taking her girls to Something Fun and she has offered to pick up Daughter and take her too, if she wants to go. It is not the distraction I hope for, however, as the prospect of a decision prompts more whining. Hideous wailing as she says "I can't decide!" and seems genuinely miserable about it. I have little sympathy, though, for this child wailing about the misery of deciding between two things she wants to do.
I go shower, to get away. As soon as I turn off the shower I hear yet more howling. Desperate, miserable, whiny howling. I don't dry off, but run into the room dripping to see what horror has befallen her. She is sitting on the floor. Paper is wrapped around her ankle, one of her favorite games, making a "cast." She has the medical tape and kid scissors, but she doesn't want the white tape, she wants plain scotch tape. She won't get up to look for it, and is howling because she can't make the "cast" stay on.
I am livid. For whatever reason, this makes me so angry with her. I am tired, still, and low on patience, and having her howling about something that is, to me, trivial, whining as if it is a Huge Tragedy, well, I can't take it. I go back and dry off, get some clothes on, and come back. I find the tape, but she is too distraught to use it. She is just crying and crying, over the stupid paper cast that she doesn't need.
Suddenly, I am the Bitch Mommy. I am yelling at her, as I tape the paper around her ankle. I don't know even what I yelled, though I know I ended by yelling how much I hate being the Mean Mommy, and the Angry Mommy, and that I hate myself for yelling at her, but that having her whining about something so unimportant made me very angry. I tell her that she does not deserve the Mean Mommy. Then I put myself in a time out, heading to the front porch to look at the paper for 5 minutes until I am calm.
I apologized. I hugged her. She wasn't crying or whining any more, and didn't for the rest of the morning as we got ready for camp. When I went to pick her up she told me that she had made something for me. She went to her cubby and got a piece of paper, on which she had drawn an enormous heart that she had colored in red. I think she was saying that she forgave me, maybe.
I still feel like a terrible, horrible mother.
Lizard is a Naturopathic Physician and midwife in the Pacific northwest.