One Halloween, I felt like the worst mother in the world.
I was still a relatively new mom, and I was trying much too hard to be one of those over-achiever moms like my perfect sister with her perfect house and perfect children in their perfectly hand-made costumes. I felt that it was my job – nay, my duty – to make perfect hand-made Halloween costumes, no matter what.
My daughter’s costumes always turned out well, but my oldest son was another story. Something always seemed to go wrong. He was a hand-me-down pumpkin on his first trick-or-treat outing because I didn’t finish his bear costume; he was terrified of the clown costume I made for his second, and I was faced with the choice of letting him writhe on the floor in abject terror or slapping a Little Tykes hard hat on his head and calling him Bob the Builder.
It was on his third Halloween that I came close to failing him completely.
Wal-Mart had an adorable pattern for a Pikachu costume, and the boy was all about Pokémon at that age. I showed him the pictures, let him touch the fabric, pleaded with him, but to no avail. He just didn’t want it. He wanted Bob the Builder again. I tried and tried to convince him that he needed to let his mother make him a costume, but he just had no interest in anything I had to offer.
Halloween Day arrived, and I hung his sister’s Snow White costume in the living room to show her before I drove her to pre-school. There were no costumes allowed in school; it was called a “Fall Festival Day” rather than a Halloween party.
The Dark Prince and I walked the Princess into her school and then returned to my car for the drive home. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I glanced in the rearview mirror– and I saw the biggest, bluest eyes I have ever seen, shedding huge silent tears.
I should say right here that the Dark Prince has never been my easy child. He was colicky from Day 1, opinionated from his first word, and contrary from the day he figured out how to scowl. He is still a gifted pessimist who can find the dark cloud surrounded by any silver lining. Now, don’t get me wrong; he’s a tender-hearted and generous soul when he lets his guard down, but the boy has always had some serious walls. He rarely asks for anything, so when he does ask, we know it’s important to him.
“Want . . . Pikachu,” he whimpered that day.
It was eight o’clock on Halloween morning, and my baby wanted to be Pikachu. Really, now, what choice did I have?
I rushed him to Wal-Mart for the pattern, fabric, tulle, and trims. I plopped him in front of the TV for a Pokémon marathon, and I sewed for all I was worth. I cut and sewed and swore (and cried, I’m sure) and hated every single stitch I put into that costume, but it was finished by the time we went to pick up the Princess.
He was adorable in the costume. He looked more like a small yellow cow than a tiny electric Pokémon, but he sure made an adorable yellow cow.
I felt redeemed by that stupid yellow cow costume. I felt like it proved I was a good mom. After all, I gave him the costume he wanted, didn’t I? Sewed it with my own two hands.
But later that night, when Pikachu and Snow White shed their costumes in a heap on the living room floor and fought to share my lap, I changed my mind. They both had upset tummies and smelled of stale chocolate, and both fell asleep in my arms while I cuddled them close and worried that I had let them eat too much candy. I should have rationed it out, I told myself; I should have counted it and doled out a mere piece or two. I should have given them baths and tucked them into their own beds in their own room. I should have taken more pictures to show their father, who worked second shift and had to miss the fun. There was an enormous list of all of the things I should have done.
I really beat myself up over not being perfect. I wanted so much to be a good mom who did everything right. Instead of enjoying those two not-so-perfect wonders on my lap, I worried and stressed and second-guessed my every move.
But there is nothing in this world as rewarding as holding a sleeping child, and holding two of them that night was truly what my Aunt Marian always called “one of life’s bonuses.” I slumped on that couch for hours with one child over my shoulder and the other curled up against my belly, just watching them sleep, feeling their warmth seep into my body and my soul.
Sometimes . . . sometimes a mother’s heart gets so full that only a miracle keeps it from bursting.
The Dark Prince turned sixteen yesterday. He is still dark and pessimistic at times, with an edgy and sarcastic sense of humor. It has been years since he could sit on my lap; I barely reach his shoulder when he hugs me good-bye before leaving to spend the week at his father’s. He is a Junior in high school, and all too soon it will be time to let him go.
He is so smart that I haven’t been able to help him with his homework since he was in fourth grade. He is funny but quiet at school, although I defy anyone to try to shut him up when he gets going on his favorite subjects: Nikolai Tesla, Teddy Roosevelt, and Anime. I don’t think he’s had a girlfriend yet, but I could be wrong. Telling his mother about a girlfriend isn’t something that falls within his comfort zone.
I worry about him, just like I worry about his brother and sister. But I worry just a bit more about him because, of all my children, he is the least likely to ask for help or tell me about his problems.
I hope he never forgets that he’s got a mom who will drop everything to turn him into an adorable yellow cow if that is what he needs to make him happy. And I hope I never forget that being a good mom has nothing to do with handmade costumes or being a “perfect” anything. It’s all about holding them close, breaking the rules once in a while, and remembering how much I love them.
It’s as much about knowing when to hold them as it is about knowing when to let them go.
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