There we were at storytime at the Southwest Branch of Durham County Library when that moment that all moms dread happened. No, not a poopy diaper or spit up all over the place. Elisabeth wasn’t even crying. It was one of those “other” moments. The ones that occupy less physical space and more emotional space. The moment of: wow, how did I not know this?
Thankfully it doesn’t happen very often. Maybe that’s why it stings all the more. Elisabeth is sitting there, looking at the toddler to the right of us, desperately trying to catch her eye. She didn’t even notice. But I did. Miss Margaret started with the fingerplays. I knew “Wheels on the Bus” (well, most of it) but unlike my Denver sister who was a professional nanny for decades before nursing school, I didn’t have that much experience with any other fingerplays. I knew the words to “Itsy Bitsy Spider” but, I suddenly realized, I didn’t know how to make my dumb fingers climb up the water spout. And that was the moment. It seemed easy enough and yet, my hands didn’t look like any of the other smiling moms’ did.
The silent, internal self-bashing began. Why didn’t I know this? How is it my daughter is 10 months old and we have only been to a few storytimes? I know the words; was I not taught the fingerplays? I don’t usually feel like a total failure when it comes to parenting but this was one of those moments where I just felt hopeless. Not hopeless like “without hope” but hopeless like pathetic. Sneaking looks at the other parents just confused me more. I don’t know what the word is but I have never been able to learn something physical just by watching someone do it. Yoga videos? Nope. Fingerplays? Same thing: nope.
This was a classic #momfail. I’d read about them, of course, but hadn’t experienced one myself. I’m a pretty confident person-a confident mom even-and since Elisabeth is still too young for me to publicly embarrass her at this point, I haven’t yet been in many situations where I felt like I’d totally momfailed. But this was definitely one of them. The #momfail signs were all there: shame and guilt coupled with blazing self-doubt. In the moment, it felt real and terrible. And yet…was it that bad? Elisabeth had no idea that I didn’t know the fingerplay. She was engrossed elsewhere which meant that I was absolved of her disappointment. As the day wore on, I began to realize it was less momfail and more momveil.
Mom veil, a lesser known term which loosely translated means that mom hasn’t actually screwed something up, it just initially appears that way…from her perspective, her veil. Mom veil is like a hallucination; it’s not real. I used to tell my hotline advocates in training that there was very little that they could actually do to screw up a call that came in. I’m starting to feel like parenting might be a bit like this. Yes, abuse and neglect will screw up a child. No one doubts that but this is far from the reality for most well-intentioned parents, like myself. We do the best that we can and many times (I’ll say it) this is really good. Between the time I spend with Elisabeth, the food that I make her, the play that we engage in, the engaged talking that I do with her and to her, I’m doing a pretty bang up job.
I’ll try to keep in mind momveil instead of assuming momfail next time. It’s not easy because I hate to think I’m giving myself a pass on anything. We’re always our own worst enemy of course. But it’ll come down to another new way of thinking: do I want my daughter seeing momfail? She’s growing and at some point, she’ll sense it when I start to berate myself for failing at something. I don’t want her to see that, just as strongly as I don’t want her to ever see me disparage my own body for its flaws. They see, they learn. But not that, not from me. And not these imagined failings either.