October 28, 2006

Yesterday morning, I was in a rush. I was giving a presentation at the Motherlode conference that afternoon, I had business to attend to at the university in the morning, I had a paper to review, I had ten trillion things to deal with throughout the course of the day. Many, many miles to go before I slept, my head full of those miles, I fretted and stumbled my first steps of the day.

Husband had already left, WonderBaby was happily settled on the floor with the wonderful young woman, M, who cares for her when I am working, and my mind was spinning in sixteen different directions as I gathered up books and papers and laptop and keys and cellular phone – can’t forget this (check), can’t forget that (check), can’t forget, can’t forget – and fumbled around with my coat and absent-mindedly cooed bye-bye at WonderBaby. A distracted kiss blown from the hand, fluttering fingers tracing a harried goodbye.

Bye-bye, bye-bye, see you later, love you love you, bye…

Out the door I went.

Out the door and down the driveway and across the street to the opposite sidewalk where I kept pace a few steps ahead of an older woman who lives down the street and who, like me, was scurrying to the corner to catch the bus, too tired or lazy or frazzled to bother taking ten minutes to walk to the subway. We reached the corner.

I stopped and turned and smiled at her, a smile of transit solidarity: we’ve prevailed. The bus will not leave us behind today, we’re on pace, the day is good.

She smiled back. She said, “your baby was at the window.”

My smile vanished.

“Your baby was at the window. She was waving. You didn’t see her.”

I didn’t see her.

Every day, when Husband leaves for work, WonderBaby and I perch on the sofa by the window and wave bye-bye. Bye-bye Daddy! When M, WonderBaby’s caregiver, leaves for the day, we perch by the window and wave bye-bye. Bye-bye M! When M and WonderBaby leave for their morning walk to the park, before I head off to school, I perch by the window and wave bye-bye – bye-bye Baby! – and WonderBaby always looks to make sure that I am there, waving goodbye. She always looks. I am always there.

Yesterday, she was there, as I left. She was there, and she waved, but I did not turn back to look. I did not turn to see her there, waving goodbye.

And that, that broke my heart. I could think of nothing else for the rest of the day. Work, the conference, the words that I could hear myself speaking about motherhood and love and citizenship and community blah blah blah, words that seemed to come from a distance, that seemed to be spoken by someone else – all of it was blurred, knocked out of focus by the insistent, painful, lurching of my heart.

I’ll recover. I’ll forgive myself. But I will never forget that feeling – that feeling of having let her down, of having disappointed her. The weight of her eyes on my back – a weight that I didn’t feel at the right time, a weight that I missed (how could I miss it?) in the moment that I needed to not miss it – the weight of her eyes, the weight of her expectation, as I walked off down the drive and out into the street, away from her. The weight of her disappointment, the confused disappointment that I know she felt, however fleetingly. I will never forget the feeling of that weight. And I know that that weight will grow, as I make more mistakes, effect more disappointments. I know that there will be times that that weight will threaten to crush me.

I’ll be able to live with that weight. I must – all parents must. Some measure of such weight is inevitable, I think, in parenthood. I’ll forgive myself. And she’ll forgive me, for the future mistakes, the disappointments.

But that weight is there, now. I’m carrying it. It’s heavy.

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    TB October 30, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    You remind me that it is a blessing and a curse to carry the weight of motherhood. Thankfully, it seems the blessings make the weight worth bearing. But, oh how it must hurt sometimes. I’m a little afraid of that.

    mo-wo October 30, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    Fuck Bad!

    She said the baby was there… not that she was crying or anything, right? Don’t do this number on yourself unnecessarily. Knowing Wonder Baby being smart and all it is quite likely she went “Hmm, there goes Mommy. She looks like she’s thinking really hard. Mommy looks busy.”

    This is nothing but good for her, n’est-ce-pas?

    Last time I checked WonderBaby is an inquisitive BABY… not a triple-thinking-sort-of-nosey-sort-of-snotty-woman.

    And here, I was sure I could just drop a ‘how d’it go?’ comment today. Cause I was sure it’d be a smash! Was sorry I couldn’t go.

    ps.. I heard on Mad somebody (?) calls you Bad and I’m on board with that.

    Rock the Cradle October 30, 2006 at 5:11 pm


    You can only do your best. It’s the misses that let us appreciate the hits, if you know what I mean.

    As soon as she gives you that next big hug you’ll know all is right with the world again.

    Anonymous October 30, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    Only a Mother knows that ache. It isn’t just the *Heavy* that you find here on Earth though, it is Black Hole-Heavy, like all of the weight of the universe is collapsing on your heart.

    Poor HBM. Squeeze WB extra hard before bed tonight.

    CrankMama October 30, 2006 at 6:32 pm

    Oh sweet darlin’.. that’s a horrible horrible way to feel. Just be comforted in knowing that SHE’LL never remember it at all… and you can more than make up for it all the rest of her/ your days. You’ll be the kooky mom waving madly while your college-age daughter climbs into her space-ship and rolls her eyes, but smiles at your adoration.

    Love hurts.

    urban-urchin October 30, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    My heart aches for you. I know this feeling all too well.

    Christina October 30, 2006 at 10:47 pm

    Oh, I know this feeling, and it does suck. I’ve had several moments of feeling like I let Cordy down, and it stings.

    Luckily babies and toddlers are some of the most forgiving creatures on the planet. She’ll still be just as happy when you wave at her the next time she looks out the window.

    Much More Than A Mom October 30, 2006 at 11:54 pm

    My heart was aching as I read this. Only another mother would understand…

    Mel October 31, 2006 at 12:33 am

    Yep, the hits keep coming and coming.
    I have a 12-year-old, and nowadays it seems as if I see that disappointed look far more often than I want to (of course, that’s NEVER). I think it just happens, Catherine. It’s part of the process. As you well know, I’m sure; it’s a hard process, but we live through it.
    And in the end, she’ll still love you. That, that right there, is the beauty part. No matter how badly you blow it, she still loves you.

    Waya October 31, 2006 at 7:48 am

    Oh, that was precious of WonderBaby, but you’ll never forget to look again right?! Guilty things/thoughts that we’ve done/have will stay with us for a while…we’re harder on ourselves more times than none, and we need to give us a break here and there to keep our sanity.

    Ruth Dynamite October 31, 2006 at 9:52 am

    You’re breaking my heart…

    LynnElizabeth October 31, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    I am sure someone else has already posted this, but just remember this story when Wonderbaby has a WonderGrandbaby. And when Wonderbaby comes to you and asks you how you got to be a good mother and how can she ever manage to be a good mother like you. And you will tell her this story and you will tell her that from then on, you always remembered to wave.

    wordgirl October 31, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    I’ve felt that guilt before. It’s excruciating.

    ALI October 31, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    i had to have my in-laws keep will busy so i could sneak out the other day, the first time i tried to leave he burst out into tears on the other side of the glass door wanting me because he was tired. i worried all night at work that he was upset when he figured out i left him like that…i get it…

    Binkytown October 31, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    We spend so much time pining over the little things – I know it feels heavy but sweet Wonderbaby had probably already moved on by the time you realized it. Don’t forget all the glorious mother things you do each day. They outweigh the unintentional slip ups. Mothers are only human. Even bad mothers.

    mad muthas October 31, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    love will tear you apart (as the saying almost goes). did you ever imagine you could love someone so much?

    Kristen October 31, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    It *is* heavy. It *is* heart-breaking. We have to remember, though, not to let the weight of our mistakes crush all the things we’ve done right – as hard as it is to do.

    Sigh. My screw-up weight is getting heavier all the time. But like you said, we *have* to manage it. It’s worse if we don’t, you know.

    Nancy October 31, 2006 at 10:38 pm

    Oh. I am totally crying now.

    Some mornings when I leave day care and I hear Rosie scream, but I have to walk away, it just about kills me. She doesn’t get why Momma has to go to work (she doesn’t know where I’m going, just that it’s away from her).

    It is the hardest, hardest thing. Yet I know I am setting a good example, that she will learn and understand as she grows, that she will be proud to have a mom that works and will want that for herself.

    I know this. So why is it still so hard for us?


    Dana October 31, 2006 at 11:46 pm

    Gawd, that was crushing. I’ve had a similar experience and I too felt like crap afterwards.

    Her Bad Mother November 1, 2006 at 11:48 pm

    Hugs back to you all. Really.

    Shannon November 6, 2006 at 1:50 am

    This made me cry. Whew. Tough.

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