As I hear the familiar sound of my son falling down the stairs, my first reaction is not one of concern or even a shred of the protective instinct found in your average ant colony. My first reaction is one of defeat. “Damn, we are going to miss our portrait-sitting again.”
After my immediate response, I recognize my parenting responsibilities and dash off to comfort my son as the screaming starts. Tears are rolling down his face and that accusing look in his eye asks, Mommy, why did you let me fall down the stairs again? I sit at the bottom of the stairs holding him, knowing that he blames me for his accident, as he should.
If I had watched him more closely, William would still be at the bottom of the stairs looking up at me with adoration as I counseled him with cheerful words of discipline, “No son, we don’t go up the stairs unless we are holding Mommy’s hand, which will always be here for you because I never have to go to the bathroom.”
At day’s end, tired and defeated, I corner my husband and start off on a tirade. Exhausted and frustrated, I begin my rant with how I used to be really good at my job and people liked me and promoted me. Then I pass through how I suck at being a mother and to prove my point of just how much I suck at parenting, I end with an exclamatory phrase, “Just look at Williams face!”
Sensing that I am expecting him to say something comforting, my chosen life partner pauses and then cautiously speaks. “Well, I was talking to the pediatrician the other day about child abuse. A professional can tell whether bruises and scrapes are normal childhood injuries or child abuse.” Then my husband clinches it with “so I wouldn’t worry about William’s face.”
I realize this is my husband’s best effort to comfort me and my angst about being a lousy parent. As my sleep-deprived brain slowly digests the conversation, I realize that my husband just tried to console me with the following words of encouragement: “Yup, that kid looks like hell, but don’t worry, DCFS won’t take him away.” I begin to wish I liked women.
Great. All the social workers and pediatricians I see in the park tomorrow will nod knowingly and recognize the signs of a normal childhood accident. Everyone else will think I am smacking this kid upside the head.
Do I need a sign around my neck? “My child’s cuts and bruises are the result of a normal childhood accident: Footnote: albeit one that happened when I was not paying attention as I should.” Of course everyone in the park will probably be more focused on the fact that he isn’t wearing any shoes.
Some days I actually do want to wear a sign around my neck that reads:
I know he is either without shoes or missing a shoe. I put shoes on my son’s feet this morning. HE takes them off. And I left my duct tape in the stroller.
On my back a sign that reads:
I put a hat and gloves on him before he went outside. HE takes them off. Need duct tape.
Perhaps ultimately I should just tape William’s shoes to his feet, gloves to his wrists and a hat to his head and wear a simpler sign around my neck:
I am a good mother.
But surely at this point, with bruises on his face and his clothing duct-taped to his body, my son would be picked up by DCFS.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.