Today was my son’s 30 month check up. We were ready; we had filled out the six page (I’m not kidding and I wish I was) survey of his categorized skills ( motor, social, ninja, and other) (also, the fact that I kept track of this packet for SIX months and I filled it out should make me eligible for a cash prize) . We had prepped the boy for his check up, we even brought Baby Monkey along.
And in truth, I was looking forward to the visit; it would be the first time in a long time that we weren’t at the doctor’s office for a high fever calamity of the strep variety, and I was excited to show off my son’s skills ( I had not figured out how to casually work in the boy’s counting ability or letter recognition-but I figured I could improvise) . I see the well checks as a parental grade card. I know that’s not the purpose of them, but the teacher in me needs feed back. And it was going well until we learned that our son had lost two pounds since July.
On a Thursday in late June, Lincoln woke up up with a fever of 103.4 – high, and scary, yes. A new situation, no. Linc has had strep three times in his two years, so when the fever got high and he stopped eating I took him to the pediatrician and they ran the rapid strep test: positive. I requested the antibiotic shot, as we had done before, and we were on our way. I figured he’d feel better by the next morning. Except he didn’t. And he didn’t feel better Saturday either. By Sunday morning, he’d stopped drinking and hadn’t had a wet diaper for 12 hours. After a trip to Children’s Hospital, an IV, and several tests later, we were back home Sunday night. But when Monday rolled around, he still wasn’t drinking. By five o clock Monday afternoon, he was admitted, and we didn’t leave till Friday. Five days in the hospital, two in contact isolation. It took him three days to eat anything, and four days to drink on his own without an IV. In between all that, my poor toddler was poked, evaluated, and quantified nearly every hour. It got so bad that he cried as soon as anyone walked in the door. Even when he started feeling better, he couldn’t get any sleep because of interruptions. I know how hard that week was on his body and his little heart.
So when I found out he’d lost two pounds, my reaction was mixed:
1. I wish he hadn’t lost the weight and 2. I can’t believe he only lost two pounds.
But his doctor, who I like, wasn’t pleased, and now we have to go back for a weight check in two months.And I’m devastated.
This isn’t even a big issue. There are children who have to go to the doctor weekly because they have serious medical problems. But still, I was totally wrapped up in this information.
All I kept thinking about what was else am I supposed to do? I can’t force feed him, I give him quality, nutritious food, he gets vitamins daily… I’m not sure what more can be done. I spent an hour whining on the phone to my Mom and for every suggestion she offered, I felt more and more defeated. When I mentioned it to my husband, he reassured me that Lincoln is hitting all his milestones-we’ll just throw some avocados into his diet. It sounds great; I’m stuck on the weight loss.
But it’s not the weight. Or rather, it’s not JUST the weight: I have to get my own stuff figured out because something like this shouldn’t cause me to question my ability as a parent. Two pounds, 16 ounces does not determine whether he’s a healthy boy or I’m a good mama. He’s going to be fine. He’s had weight issues since he measured in the fifth percentile at birth; we’ve handled it when he’s measuring in the 20th percentile now, and we’ll continue to handle it.
Every day I put all I have into this boy. Even when I’m tired, when I’m sick, when I have no patience, when I have all the patience in the world- this is a 100% job, and it takes its toll. When you give that much of yourself, you eventually end up depleted. And being depleted, I was depending on some applause from the doctor. But that’s not his job. It’s not anyone’s job. And, despite the fact that it sounds like it, I’m not complaining. I love mothering. I love being Lincoln’s mother. But I resent the pressure I’ve accepted and put on myself to do this job perfectly; it can’t be done. We are parenting in a time where motherhood is supposed to be a completely self-aware, spiritual experience. Every interaction is supposed to be a moment, and I’m supposed to be fully in it, while simultaneously having perspective of the moment. I feel like I’m constantly underachieving because I can’t keep up with the rules : put the kids first vs put your marriage first, free range parenting vs helicopter parenting, stay home vs work, punish vs disciple, vaccinate vs delayed or refused vaccinations, “babies don’t keep” vs washing dishes and clean underwear. And now, I feel like I’ve failed at a basic: feeding my son.
The actual issue is that between Pinterest and parenting experts and “having it all” while doing it all, we are supposed to be experts with only a few years in on the job. And it’s impossible. No one is an expert after a couple hundred days.I don’t expect myself to be an expert wife or daughter or sister, so why do I think I have to be an expert mama?
To me, “expert” means that I’m doing it right. It means that I have it figured out. There is black and white safety in expertise; there is gray fear in novice. But I can not pretend to be an expert; parenting isn’t black and white. As much as I don’t want it to be, it’s perfectly acceptable to not know, to follow your instincts and not know whether you’re doing the right thing half the time. Parenting is a feeling, a yes or a no that lives in your gut and speaks to your heart. That instinct allows you to flex and bend according to the situation, the day, the hours of sleep, or the force of the wind. As a mother, instinct is synonymous with love and grace and mercy.
Love and grace and mercy aren’t measured in pounds or milestones. Love and grace and mercy are not quantifiable. They are present in the day to day – each time my son throws his food on the floor, I have a choice to focus on the two pounds or the beautiful, button-pushing boy in front of me. With love and grace and mercy, I’ll ignore the pounds and see my son.