By Lauren Gonzalez
I cried at the park today. It wasn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last. Truthfully, there aren’t many places in Missoula where I haven’t cried since becoming a mother. Parenting is hard for me, not because of the loss of privacy, the exhaustion or the tantrums, but because of this unbearable loss of control.
For me – an only child, having grown up with a great deal of say-so over my personal space and environment – life has been one long lesson in relinquishing control with grace and poise. Somehow, I made it through four college roommates (a testament to their character far more than mine), three serious boyfriends, and the joining of time, space and material things with my husband, all of which, I am proud to say, moved me farther along the flexibility continuum. Still, it seems that no matter how far along I get, there are still moments when my kids reveal how very far I have to go.
On a hot, sunny Tuesday in Missoula, I encountered one such moment. After attempting a walk with a dear friend, who graciously put up with the chaos of my children, coaxed my son away from strangers and high speed bicyclists, and even waded into a muck-filled river canal to reclaim the prized water bottle he defiantly dropped, I stopped at the park to try and kill the two long hours remaining until nap time. I set up in a shaded spot, spreading a blanket and finding a comfortable vantage point from which to watch Joey as he climbed up and down the slide. Realizing that both kids needed a diaper change after their Huggies sucked up about twenty gallons of river water and pee, I lured them into the shade for snacks, and did my absolute best to change them both at NASCAR speed. I barely had time to pull Joey’s pants up before he was off and running back into the fray, as I distractedly attempted to pry June’s alarmingly strong grip from the graham cracker box belonging to a neighboring group of kids.
Suddenly, I heard a familiar wail, and looked up to see Joey bawling. I’d removed his shoes in order to speedily change his diaper, and now his bare feet sizzled on the steamy, rubberized ground covering. A nearby mother picked him up, giving me just enough time to secure June on the blanket and run to Joey’s aid. I thanked the woman, taking Joey from her arms, and I booked it back to our blanket as hot tears stung my eyes. I forced more grapes and watermelon into my kids’ hands to keep them busy as I checked Joey’s feet for injuries, replaced his shoes, and, just for a minute, I allowed my emotions to spill out.
Turning away from the crowded playground, I swiped quickly at the tears, breathing heavily and trying to regain my footing. I cried because I was embarrassed, because I feared looking like a bad mom. I cried because two children under the age of three are often more than I can handle, and I know that I did this to myself. Mostly, I cried because I now find myself at the mercy of others – of friends, who help me wrangle my kids and their belongings during outdoor adventures, and of strangers, who help to get my kids out of tight spots when I’m not able to be at their side as I probably should. I don’t like how it feels, depending on others, and needing help. I don’t like it when my loss of control over my kids becomes very apparent to other people, because it looks like weakness, and I feel ashamed.
As I look back on this afternoon’s events, there are two stories that I can tell myself. The first is that I’m a terrible, disorganized mess of a mother, who cannot survive a single day without inconveniencing both friends and perfect strangers. The other is that I am a fantastic mom, because I know better than to refuse much-needed help, and that I am wildly fortunate to be surrounded by such wonderful friends and strangers, willing to graciously lend a hand because they know that it takes a village to do this job.
It turns out that children are quite good at breaking down any illusions of control over your surroundings. They burst into your life helpless and frail, and yet somehow they overtake every aspect of your world. As my kids grow, I constantly find myself struggling to regain my independence in bits and pieces, just as they are fighting to gain theirs, and yet I know that someday I will miss it. This irritating loss of independence and control is somehow also precious, because this is the time that my kids need me the most. There will come a time when I will long for days like today, when I was forced to humbly accept help from so many people as I juggled two small, unruly humans. I will laugh as I tell the story, wishing that I could trade any amount of independence for just one more day like this one.
Lauren Elizabeth Gonzalez is a Missoula-based writer/ blogger, whose kids (both under the age of 3) provide ample inspiration for her short stories, social media posts and articles that highlight the challenges, joys and bare realities of motherhood. Drawing on her master’s degree and background in conflict and dispute resolution, Lauren is also working on a series of how-to guides that will enable parenting partners to build a stronger, more connected team dynamic. Find out more at www.LaurenTheFreeMom.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter for a daily peek inside the head of a nutty gal just free mommin’ it.