By Meaghan McCaughey
A few weeks ago, I earned money for work that I did at a public speaking workshop– the first time I’ve earned my own money since becoming a mother just over five years ago. It was a big day for me, not just because I felt like I was adding to the bank account instead of being primarily the person who subtracts from it, but also because it solidified for me that I am very good at public speaking and that I have the potential to be very good at teaching the skill to others.
I came home elated and happy, and my mind was dancing with the thoughts of creating something that has market value & potential, as well as a business I would very much enjoy working hard to build. Anyone who has stayed home with children for a time can relate to the feelings of irrelevance outside the confines of their home (let’s face it – it’s primarily the kitchen) and that day I got such a ladle full of delicious individual relevance that my mind was literally everywhere but, well, in the kitchen.
But you see, my five-year-old son Callum had the flu. He is the most active and spirited collection of sinew and muscles and determination and grit that, when he goes down, he goes down hard. And though my heart felt like it was filled with helium from my own big day, his little body was like a lead weight on the couch, bringing me down with his own little struggle.
I poured him a dose of Tylenol and our night carried on as normal. Later in the evening, his fever was still pretty high so I decided to give him some Advil to help get him through the night. But, my heart stopped when I looked at the bottle for instructions. I realized that I had given him nearly double the correct dose of Tylenol a few hours before. I called out to my husband. We assessed Callum with the help of Dr. Google and decided that, while it wasn’t ideal, he wasn’t in any immediate danger.
That minute of acute stress and panic was over now but the clock struck loudly. Look at the time – it’s Mom Guilt O’Clock. I was so focused on myself, so stuck in my own happiness of my working woman experience that I overdosed my kid. I have always been so careful with medicine in the past. Well, crap. If ever there was an argument for mothers to stay at home (in the kitchen) where we belong, this was it. At least that was the story I was telling myself…
Luckily for me, I have been doing a bit of personal growth. We call it raising one’s level of consciousness, and included in it is offering oneself more space to be fully human.
I made a mistake that day. As far as mistakes go it definitely wasn’t insignificant but, it wasn’t the worst either. I’ve made similarly dangerous oversights when sleep deprivation took over that first year after giving birth to his little brother. I’ve made other mistakes when feeling spread so thin in a messy house, longing for a shower, or simply a meal enjoyed while sitting. Sometimes motherhood takes you so far away from the woman you once knew yourself to be.
When I first arrived at graduate school, I had a 3-year-old toddler and a 9-month-old baby. The transition was…bumpy. I needed a little guidance, and my professor offered to meet me at the park so we could chat. What she shared with me that day has stuck with me: working motherhood (parenthood) is less about a balancing act, and more about presence.
Mistakes happens all the time. We all miss things. We all can fall prey to doing something for the millionth time and not being fully present where we need to be.
And there it is – the thing that really matters: Presence.
What happened that day was not a sign that I failed, but rather an opportunity for me to strengthen my skills of transitioning between one job and the other. To refocus when I’m holding a bottle of Tylenol in one hand and a measuring cup in the other: “Hey brain, this matters. Be here, now.”
I am not just a good mother, I am a great mother. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to say this to myself because we are so conditioned to be critical of what we do and how we do it. Part of what makes me great is my pursuit of something that is for me, because working outside the home makes me happy, and the research (and common sense) shows that the best parents are the ones that are happy. Apart from this very isolated incident, my pursuit of a degree and subsequent future career has only brought my boys goodness. They are excessively beloved by their amazing nanny. They have seen their mother work hard while also loving them and parenting them fiercely. Maybe most importantly, they have seamlessly melted into the reality that their father is equally tender and capable and loving as their mama is. Because I work, they see us both as beautifully round characters in the story of their lives, and that’s all that matters because it’s our little family’s truth.
I know that focusing on presence won’t be the magic wand that prevents me from ever making mistakes again, but I’m not aiming for perfection. What I am aiming for is the space to learn from my mistakes and the grace to let myself off the hook from them too.
But, from here on out, I will be present in that kitchen, especially whenever little medicine bottles are involved.