Today was a beautiful day. This winter has had a long and unexpected and not entirely welcome coda this year which has only sweetened the anticipation of spring. Today the sun was out, the sky was cloudless, the temperature was just warm enough for short sleeves but not warm enough for sweat. I got out of work early--I am in the Emergency Department this month, so am working half the number of hours I usually work, though at odd hours--and raced to pick up my daughter early from day care. The thirty minute drive from work to day care has a sweet, crazed quality to it--never am I so eager to reach a destination, never am I so irrationally angry at anything or anyone who causes the moment of arrival to be delayed. After picking E up, I decided to take her to a nearby park in the adjacent but much ritzier neighborhood a few minutes from our house. Instead of the space-age shock-absorbing pseudo-gravel that carpets most playgrounds these days, this playground is carpeted in sand, ye olde original shock absorber. It was E's first encounter with sand and while initially tentative, she was soon letting out excited squeals and hurling sand into the air and by extension into and onto every part of her, including the area between her nose and her mouth in which snot has taken up semi-permanent residence since she started day care. There I was in my barely-nice-enough-for-work-but-certainly-not-casual-enough-for-the-sandbox attire, with a toddler whose face was covered in snot-stuck sand. All I had with me were my keys, my smart phone, and E's hoodie. I did not have wipes.
The playground was full--mothers, father, babysitters, grandparents, nannies. I walked over to someone who seemed to be a nanny--surely they come prepared!--and asked if she had a wipe. "I'm still learning," I said, by way of explanation. "Oh, that's why we're here to help each other," she said, and I felt good about humanity. She opened the child's blue elephant backpack which I could see was meticulously arranged. "Her mom sure knows how to pack a bag," she said, pulling out a travel-size package of all-natural hypoallergenic wipes.
Well, there it was. Her mom sure knows how to pack a bag. I imagined the woman out there in the world of work somewhere, calm in her knowledge that should her child be caked in a mixture of sand and snot while at the playground, there would be a wipe at the ready. As I walked back to my delighted daughter and wiped her face, I thought to myself: Am I ever going to get my s&*t together?
Sadly, it's a familiar refrain. My thank you notes are still not done from E's birthday and the holidays in December. I sent off the ones that were truly socially dire (grandparents, great aunts, co-workers) and now I'm wondering if it's even polite to send the others. Is there a statute of limitations on gratitude? Speaking of the holidays, I just couldn't make a holiday card happen this year, so you won't find my daughter's adorable face on a refrigerator near you. The baby book I lovingly bought when I was pregnant remains half-finished, with only the pregnancy section filled out. When it came time for my daughter to go to day care, we were not on any of the right waiting lists. A year later, we still aren't. When it comes to potlucks, I either bring store-bought hummus and a loaf of bread (from Whole Foods, though, so maybe a couple of extra points there) or I just decline the invitation upfront because I foresee that the guilt of not having made a homemade casserole will just be too much for me. I have even shown up to a potluck with my daughter having brought nothing and proceeded to feed her everyone else's food because she was hungry and I hadn't even brought snacks for her from home. On Valentine's Day, my 14-month-old returned home with a Valentine's goodie bag from one of her classmates and I just had to throw up my hands. Am I supposed to be cutting Valentine's hearts out of construction paper after my child goes to bed to give to her barely ambulatory classmates? And if so, who is going to finish my notes from clinic? Most nights, I go to bed feeling like a there's a bear hibernating next to me -- the bear of all the things I'm supposed to be doing, am late doing, don't know yet that I'm supposed to be doing -- and I just try not to wake it up. Just give me one more day, bear of shame....
But here is what I will not do: I will not waste any of the time I have with my daughter on the bear of shame. Our time together is not an expansive as I would like it to be, so I am going to use it to delight in her and in the world with her. I will try to get better at the thank you notes and the day care waiting lists but I will do that after she has gone to bed and if I'm too tired, I will go to sleep instead. I will probably never show up at a pot luck on time with home-baked goods. Many things will remain undone or not perfectly done. But E and I, we will do lots of fun and interesting things together. I may not have my s*%t together, but at least I know what's important to me. I'm probably never going to get rid of the bear of shame, but it's not going to eat me either.
So the Story of the Mother Who Didn't Have Wipes is actually the Story of the Fun Afternoon at the Playground. Instead of remembering that I didn't have any wipes and some other mother had remembered to pack them, I will remember my daughter's gleeful shriek as she wiggled her toes free of the sand piled on them. I will remember her little finger pointing up at the sunlight seeping in between the leaves of an enormous old-growth tree. I will remember her look of surprise as I blew the seeds off a dandelion and her subsequent earnest attempt to locate and un-seed every dandelion in the neighborhood. And hey, maybe I'll put a packet of wipes in my glove compartment tomorrow, because I may not be perfect but at least I can learn.