While cleaning up the files on my computer, I came across the image above. It was taken a couple of years ago when I went back to my high school for a visit and sat in on the orchestra rehearsal. Mari was very nervous about all the strangers, so I let her sit on my lap while I played. What a great mom, huh? Yeah, I’m so cool and calm. My kids are behaved, securely attached and well-adjusted. I’ve got this motherhood thing in the bag.
Except I so totally don’t.
Look at Lucas there on the left, holding his adorable tiny violin and looking thoughtful. He wanted to play too, but couldn’t read music yet, so he sat and listened and tried to muster up the courage to attempt to play by ear. That’s the face he’s making there. He’s contemplating whether or not he should try to join in. How sweet, right?
Lucas does not play violin anymore. I ruined it for him by being an impatient, screaming nag. I tried to teach him myself, thinking it would be this great bonding experience for the two of us, and maybe it would like, cure him of his ADHD or something (quick, someone punch me in the face). But yeah. I ruined it by yelling at him and making violin the most stressful thing ever. Ugh.
Lucas has a natural inclination towards music, and I know he could have succeeded … with a different teacher. But now, just the thought of violin stresses him out. And before you suggest it, no, I am not doing that dumb parent guilt thing where I take a situation that wasn’t my fault and convince myself it was my fault because it feels better to blame myself than anyone else. Really. When I say I ruined violin for the kid, I am so damn serious. I was awful. I’ll be on my deathbed still roiling with guilt over how I ruined the damn violin lessons and probably permanently damaged the poor kid’s self-esteem.
Not that I don’t have my good parenting moments with Lucas. There are plenty of days, especially lately, when I am able to take a deep breath and remind myself that Lucas is not intentionally avoiding eye contact and twitching like a meth-addicted squirrel; he has ADHD. I understand ADHD so much better now, and I’ve learned to read Lucas and to recognize how far along the spectrum he’s skittered on a given day. I’ve learned the difference between defiance and distractibility, and I’m starting to realize that there are battles I shouldn’t bother trying to win. There are days better off lost to inactivity, because the alternative–clapping, yelling, encouraging (and failing), issuing consequences (and failing)–is too damaging to both of us. Sometimes the only thing to do is give up. I guess that’s the one thing I did right when it came to those damn violin lessons; I gave up.
Still, I think I will always look at this photo and feel the sting of the dichotomy of good mom, bad mom. I wish I could only be the good mom, but I think, like most everyone else, I am both. And this picture, although it appears to show me only as a doting, loving mother, doesn’t tell the whole story. When I look at it, I see the struggles behind it, the screaming and crying of those awful violin lessons. I see the concerned look in Lucas’s eyes as he tries to be brave enough to join in with the group. And I can’t help it–I see that look on his face and I think that maybe if I had been more patient, if I hadn’t yelled at him so much and crushed his little ego, that he might’ve had the courage to lift his violin and play with us that day.
This year we’re starting Lucas on guitar. But first, I’m going to find him a teacher who has more patience than I do. Recognizing my limitations and giving up control when appropriate? That’s me being a good mom.
Good mom, bad mom.
I am both.