Becoming a Better Mother

Motherhood wins are so few and far between. Everyday is a battle, hard fought, and sometimes lost. Some days are superhuman with a home cooked dinner and laundry folded and put away. Some days are a loss when the kids stay in their pajamas all day and dinner is cereal, Cheez its, and anything else packaged in the pantry.

I think my favorite thing about motherhood is that it is always changing. Every day is different when you are a mom. One day is everything you ever dreamed about, perfect kids, in clean clothes, who eat their dinners without protest. Then the next day, no one gets out of their pajamas, the only thing they will eat is Cheetos, and you realize you haven’t showered in days. Motherhood forces us to change and adapt. Motherhood forces us to put our best foot forward even when we don’t want to, even when it feels like we can’t. Motherhood allows for do overs every single day as soon as the sun comes up. The best part, because of the dynamics of motherhood, it forces us to evolve.

I’m evolving as a mother. I’m becoming a better mother, the kind of mother I always knew I could be.

A week has passed since Caitlin had dance tryouts. Last year we missed the tryout day, so all we had to do was show up to a couple of technique classes to see where she fell based on her skill level. Then she was placed on a competition team. It was easy and painless. This year, since she wanted to try out for multiple competition teams, we went to an actual audition put on by the dance studio. She was excited and understandably nervous. I told her it would be just like any other class, and to do her best. I also took the chance to explain to her that while her tap skills were at the same level as the other girls in her age group, her jazz and contemporary dance skills were not. I didn’t say this to be discouraging, I said this so that she would be prepared when she got there. She understood, she hasn’t been taking jazz or contemporary as long as the other girls, so far she has just been focused on tap.

The audition didn't last as long as it was scheduled. After auditions we found out that there would not be a competitive tap group for her age this year. We were both disappointed, understandably so, since Caitlin loves tap and is very good at it. Caitlin started to cry, and we talked a little, she said she was sad and a little mad. Her friends that were also at the audition, offered her hugs and kind words, and she dried her tears a little as we packed up to go home. I thought we were in the clear, just a little disappointment and a little sadness and minimal tears.

I was wrong.

Once we got home and Dad asked about auditions, the tears started to flow.

“Mom it was awful. I was horrible”, were her exact words.

And my helpless heart broke. Shattered really.

Caitlin told me how the jazz combo they learned was really hard and the music it was set to was really fast. She told me that she was the worst in the group and she was so embarrassed. As we talked, I reminded her that all the other girls in her age group have been taking jazz for close to five years. Caitlin took jazz twice for a total of about twelve weeks. I reminded her that tap was where she was strong, and it was unfortunate that they were not doing tap for her age group this year. She told me it was unfair, and I agreed, remembering all those times I tried out for things and didn’t make them. Caitlin kept insisting that she wasn’t going to be on any competition teams this year, and the tears continued to flow. I did my best to reassure her and offer her comfort. Then I remembered that I had been here before. I had personal experience in disappointment.

When I was twelve and thirteen I tried out for cheer. Both times I didn't make it.

I had a story to tell. I had a way to identify with my child in a way no other could. Yes. This was a moment.

I told my daughter the story of trying out for two different cheer squads and being very disappointed when I didn’t make either of them. I told her that I had dreamed of the uniforms and the cool “letterman” jacket and the pom poms. I told her about how I had my heart set on being one of the popular girls in Junior High, hanging out with the cool kids after the games, getting to wear the uniforms on Fridays. I told her I knew exactly how it felt to be in a situation when you feel like the worst, the most unprepared. I told her that I completely understood what it felt like to be embarrassed.

It sucked, for lack of a better term. No mom wants to sit there and listen to their kid think they are the worst, or that they are embarrassed. As hard as I tried, I realized that I couldn’t make her feel any better. Nothing I could say would change the way she felt about herself in this situation. What could I do to make her feel better, to take away the pain and disappointment? Suddenly my wheels were turning, there were four girls in Caitlin’s age group interested in competitive tap this year. Four wasn’t big enough for a group, but then I remembered that there were a few girls missing from tryouts. Where were they? Vacation, sick, not trying out this year? I grabbed my phone and in a moment of weakness and despair, I was ready to text the mom’s that weren’t at the auditions and see if they were interested in tap. Three more girls would make an acceptable competitive tap team. In minutes I could save the day and make everything better.

I didn’t make everything better. I didn't swoop in like a superhero and save the day. 

I stopped myself, because I realized, just as I was searching for the mothers in Facebook messenger, that I’m not always going to be able to save the day. As Caitlin gets older, I’m not going to be able to swoop in and compile a tap team, help her make a cheer squad, force the cute boy in English class to like her back. This dance audition was the first in a what may be a long line of life disappointments. I know, that sucks to type, sucks to realize. But that's life. And I don't remember all my disappointments as a kid, but I remember the ones that stung. Sometimes things sting. It's best that she learns that now. As her mother, I will always want to make it better, I will always want to fix heartbreaking and disappointing situations. That doesn’t mean I should. It doesn’t mean that I will always have that kind of power. As much as I wanted to make it all better, as much as I wanted to fix it and make all her competitive dance dreams come true. I didn’t. I stopped myself, and instead gave her the best advice I could.

Instead I explained the saying, “Everything happens for a reason”. Super cliche I know, but now that I’m a lot older, and perhaps a lot wiser, I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason. I explained that maybe she wasn’t going to be on a competitive team this year so that she would have more time to participate in a school sport. Maybe by skipping all the hours at the dance studio, it would open up time to do other things, maybe she could join a swim club, or I could sign her up for an art class. I tried my best to explain that when things we really want don’t work out, it’s not the end of the world, even though it feels like it. Then I added for good measure, “And I know that none of this makes any sense”. Because it doesn’t when you are nine, or thirteen, or even 38 and you still haven’t made much of a career in writing.

Off track. I realize.

I remember when my mom gave me the “Everything happens for a reason” speech. It was the first time I tried out for cheer and didn’t make it. I remember I was so excited and so convinced that I was going to make that squad. I also remember being so disappointed that I cried the rest of the afternoon. She gave me the speech again when I tried out for the second squad, when that one boy in Junior High didn’t like me back, then again in High School, and then again in college. My mom has been giving me the “Everything happens for a reason” speech forever, and then somewhere around adulthood, it's meaning finally clicked.

In the end, I don’t think that Caitlin fully understands the reasons why not making a competitive dance team may not be the worst thing ever. I didn’t at her age. The speech didn’t make her feel any better about her audition. It didn’t make her feel any better about not being about to compete this year. It took her mind off of her current disappointment and heartache as I was able to share my own. It allowed me to be the kind of mother I have always hoped I’d be. The kind with sage advice and a kind word. The kind of mother that didn’t drag her own shit and anxieties into the conversations. I was the kind of mother that I had, the one who would appear to have her mothering shit together. Finally.

We are still waiting to hear if Caitlin has made any of the competitive dance teams for the upcoming year. All's not lost, we are taking all available classes over the summer, filling our days with jazz, ballet, tap, and pep. She will be on a competitive pep team in the fall, and I’m sure if that is all we do, it will be plenty. I hope that one day she can see that too. I hope that this is the first in many lessons in disappointment and heartache that we can work through, together, and that I will always be able to keep a level head and not “fix” it. Even though I will always want to fix it.

No matter how simple motherhood seems on the surface, it gets dark and messy pretty quick. There was a time when I thought the baby and toddler years were going to be the death of me. This tween stuff is just prepping me for the real life of teenagers. My girls will always be met with challenges, some of them they will win, some of them they will lose. I hope that I’m always prepared to help them through the challenges that life brings. And if not, I’ll do what I did that day after auditions; take them to Target to buy clothes and ice cream. I’m not even joking. It’s what we did. Mother-Daughter bonding at it’s finest. It’s the best thing I could teach them as a mother: Target and ice cream can fix everything...

And that’s how I know, I’m becoming a better mother.

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