Being Good.

When Julia was a baby, I was surprised by how many people spent an hour or two in her company and then pronounced her "good." "She's a good baby," friends would say when Julia slept in her car seat during a happy hour. "Wow, she's good," the checkout person at the grocery store would comment if Julia was doing anything less than screaming. "What an angel," distant relatives would proclaim as I posted her pictures on Facebook.

And she was; the solution to any problem was to breastfeed, so at the slightest sign of distress, I'd put her on, and that was the end of it. But the insistence on her goodness bothered me. How could a baby be bad? I would wonder as I watched her sleep, eyelids fluttering as I held her for hour upon hour in the rocking chair in her room. 

I couldn't know then how Julia would test me just two short years later. I had no idea that two and a half, and then three and a half year old Julia, would evoke such craziness in me.  It seemed impossible to me that she would ever bring me anything except joy (well, and exhaustion. I knew she would continue to bring me exhaustion). But infancy gave way to toddlerhood, and the older Julia gets, the more time I have to say things I regret, to respond with less patience than I mean to. 

And then there's Margaret, gurgling in her bouncy seat, or head-butting me with her cute nose when she's strapped to me and thinks the proximity means it's time to nurse, or smiling while we change her diaper as if it's the best thing that's ever happened to her. I can now recognize "easy" as a dangerous version of "good," and I can see now how children so easily can fall into the roles of "the good child" versus "the bad child."

When I lie awake at night, replaying a power struggle with Julia, I find that I categorize myself the same way: I'm a bad preschooler mom, I will think. I'm so much better at parenting a baby than parenting a three year old. Just as these labels are unhelpful when applied to children, they can become toxic when I use them on myself. Just like Julia and Margaret, I have moments of being really, really good (baking cupcakes at 4pm on a day when both girls are a little sick and Margaret has not napped comes to mind), and moments when I'm pretty bad (standing at the bottom of a staircase at swimming lessons while Julia ran away from me, up the stairs, as I counted ONE, TWO, THREE-- with no idea what I was going to do when I got to three--and then stomping up the stairs and picking her up while she kicked and screamed and stomping out to the car comes to mind).

I've been working on this post for weeks, largely because I'm not quite sure how to end it. It sounds trite to conclude that we are all imperfect, but really, I don't know what other conclusion there is. It's tempting to use binary "good and bad" labels, but they don't encompass the sweetness of Julia in my lap as we read on the couch, however frustrating the moments that came before. They don't quite capture my feelings when nothing seems to work to put Margaret down for a nap, come to realize she's running a fever. Labels don't leave much room for my relief when, both girls in bed, Scott and I collapsed on the couch last night, ready for Friday. I think the lesson here is to notice when I see myself or others categorizing, and to try to change the story. We are so much more than good or bad.