Ever since our fourth child has been born, I’ve kind of been in survival mode, trying to navigate the life of stay at home mom with an extra little person attached to my boob 24/7. My oldest daughter is 5 and our fourth child is 4 months old now, so needless to say, I’m a busy woman! But even though I’m very busy, I always try to make giving each child a lot of attention my top priority, or at least, I thought I did…
It all started one morning when I was talking to our oldest daughter, Ruby, about the kindergarten conference I had had with her teacher the evening before, and I asked her why she only wrote stories in class about her Dad and about how much she loves him. To be honest, I thought this “Daddy love” started because she felt sorry for him not getting enough attention, and I just thought it was cute that she wanted to wear her “Daddy Rocks” t-shirt every day, but I didn’t actually think it meant that she loved me any less.
I mean, come on! I carried her for 9 months, I went through 36 hours of labor to meet her, I nursed her every two hours day and night until she was a year old, I gave up my career to stay at home and take care of her…of course I’m her favorite! …or so I thought.
So I asked her. “Ruby, why do always write stories about your dad?”
“Because I love him more than anything in the world,” she replied matter of factly.
“Well, you love me too, right?” I asked. At that point, I expected a quick, “Of course mom!” and then we would all be on our way and I could stop being paranoid. But that’s not what happened. What happened is that she paused. For a looooooong time. “Oh no!” I thought, “This can’t be good!”
And then she scrunched up her face like she always does when she’s deep in thought and she said, “Well, I only half love you.”
“What do you mean,” I stammered, sure that I had misunderstood her somehow.
“I only half love you mom. It’s just what’s in my heart,” she explained without any remorse.
As the weight of those words sank in, I had no response. “Oh, ok,” was all that I could muster before she rushed off to play.
So of course, I let my world crumble around me and reflected on all of the ways that I was failing as a mother. I thought about how busy I’ve been, and I knew that I had all of the excuses in the world! I mean, we’ve only been living in this new house less than a year and there are still an endless amount of projects to be done, my baby is only 4 months old and there are some nights when I only get a few hours of sleep (and the days of me being able to take a nap during the day are long gone), I spend a lot of time preparing healthy food, and then I have this blog that I love, but which also pulls me away.
And then there’s Ruby, so resilient and so strong. She’s been through five moves in the last five years, adjusted to three new babies in her life, and then after we finally got settled in our new home and new routines, she started kindergarten, moved to a new school halfway through the year, and had to get used to spending the majority of the day away from me, from us.
And then my thoughts went in the other direction, and I thought, hey, I’m the mom, not the friend, and if in doing what’s best for her and meeting her needs in the best way I know how means that I’m not always her favorite, well then so be it. Sometimes a mom’s job is hard because we need to see the whole picture, not just get through each individual moment.
But then my thoughts went back in the other direction, and it just hit me like a ton of bricks how I had been putting her on the back burner because I knew that she could handle it. When she started kindergarten, I gave her all of the attention in the world as she made the adjustment, but then my attention drifted to the new baby as we figured each other out and then our other baby, Ophelia, who is 20 months now, needed me more than ever as she adjusted to having to share my lap. And then there was Elliot who finally got to be the oldest while Ruby was at school and his needs were always in the forefront of my mind as I would think about the ways in which I could challenge him and help him grow in this last year and a half that I get him at home before he goes away too.
So after looking into my soul and seeing all of this, I knew that something needed to change. Not a drastic “scrap everything and do a complete 180” change, but a minor tweak that could bring this family back into balance. I knew that I needed to put Ruby back in the forefront of my mind, and when I did, I almost cried because I had missed her being there so much. I thought about her as a little baby and how I would look deep into her soulful eyes wondering what she would be like when she was older, and then I looked at her now, and she is so amazing and so wonderful and my heart felt like it was about to burst with how much I loved her.
And then I found her playing quietly with her My Little Ponies and I just scooped her onto my lap in a big bear hug. I nestled my nose into her hair and told her how much I loved her. And then we just started talking about everything and she said something so amazing and profound. She said, “Mom, I just don’t know where my heart belongs – at school or at home.” We went on to talk about how yes, she spends more time during the week at school, but when you count up the hours at night and on the weekend that she actually spends much more time at home. And then I explained how you can pack up your heart and take it with you where ever you go, but that when you’re home is when your heart is truly at peace and can breathe a big sigh of release knowing that it is safe and sound.
I told her how sorry I was that I had let her slip through the cracks lately, and I told her how I had gotten a little too busy lately, but that she was always in my heart and that I loved her more than anything in the world. I also explained to her that I thought that we were spending a lot of time together because she was always helping me with projects like sewing or making cookies, but I told her that I would spend some time every day doing what she wanted to do like playing a game or something. I also decided to let her ride up front with me on her way home from school (in her booster seat with the airbag turned off) so that we could have more time to chat.
I could just see her soften before my very eyes the more we talked. It was almost like she had started holding her breath ever since Julian was born and now she was finally letting it out. She hugged me tighter than ever, and I felt so close and so connected to her in that moment. The next morning while her, Daddy, and I had breakfast together, the mood was different somehow. Scott and I both clearly noticed the difference in her.
It’s been two weeks since that day, and I feel like Ruby and I are closer than ever. Our daily chats in the car after school are getting more and more interesting and complex and I am finally hearing about her school day in ways I never did before. When we get home, I take some time to just be with her doing whatever she wants and when her tank is full, she rushes off to play happy as can be.
Being a mom is a balancing act. It’s like I have all of these plates spinning all the time, and I have to know which ones to tend to next so that they don’t all fall. I let Ruby’s plate wobble dangerously close to toppling over, but I was able to get her spinning again just in time. In doing so, I had to let all of the other plates wobble just a fraction of a second longer as I re-calibrated my time, but now we are in a nice comfortable routine where everyone’s needs are being met…for now that is. As we get comfortable in this new normal, I am keeping one watchful eye out for the next plate that starts to wobble, and so the cycle will continue because that is what is being a good mom is all about.