The perils of constantly questioning whether you’re the worst mom ever

Being a parent is a tricky thing. You made some kind of choice – either explicit or implicit – that you were willing to bring a child into the world, and then you’re responsible for making sure that child is allowed to grow to the point where it can leave the proverbial nest. As my father (and Bill Cosby?) said, a parent’s responsibility is to civilize a child so they can survive in society. But really, there’s very little that prepares you for the constant nagging feeling that you’ve chosen wrong with just about everything you decide on your child’s behalf.

I discussed some of my concerns when we first put dd into summer camp last year, because she spent the better part of four weeks being utterly miserable. She hated camp. She didn’t want us to go each morning at drop-off. She wanted to be picked up early so she wouldn’t have to endure post-camp. Everything was awful, and she made that abundantly clear. For the better part of four weeks, I vacillated between thinking “OH DEAR LORD SHE’S RIGHT AND I’M SCARRING MY CHILD’S PSYCHE” and “This, too, shall pass.”

Whether by hope or just the passage of sufficient time for her to adjust to the new norm, she settled down sometime in that four weeks and suddenly, dramatically, fell madly in love with camp. It got to the point that she was terribly sad when she finished camp at the end of the summer and headed off to Kindergarten.

Figuring that we’d capitalize on her newfound love of camp, we set about putting her back in the same program this summer, timed to coincide with our return from our trip to DC. She got 1-1/2 weeks of gymnastics camp, then we had vacation, then she went back to her regular camp. And everything was fineFor all of one day.

By the time she’d gotten home from that first day, she decided that camp was (yet again) the worst thing EVER. And this time, with only five weeks of camp in front of her, she was going to drag this out as the worst experience for all of us if we didn’t fix it. The nagging concerns came back to the forefront of my brain again, wondering if we should’ve just left her in the gymnastics camp all summer. It was about the same cost, but the difference in commute (compounded by the fact that the location of that camp almost certainly requires that I’m on the only one who can get her) meant that I’d have to give up any hope of evening workouts in the gym, post-work. So, we all soldiered on.

I made her an advent calendar, of sorts, and challenged her to cross off each day at its conclusion and then write what she liked about camp at the end of each week. When we got to the end of the last day of the last week, I asked her to write down three things she liked about camp and to tell me which camp she wanted to go to next summer: regular camp or gymnastics camp. I fully expected to see her write GYMNASTICS CAMP in bright, shiny, blinking letters. Instead, she wrote REGULAR CAMP.

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.

It turns out, what dh and I were missing this entire time was that the difference between her pre-K camp and her first grade camp was that she didn’t get nap time. And, the difference between her first grade camp and the other camps at higher levels (2nd grade on up) is that the camps for older kids got at least one field trip per week. In other words, first grade camp is a total screw job where you’re trapped in one location and don’t even get a nap for your trouble. OH. It all makes sense now.

Fast forward to Sunday, when I brought dd to her first day of “pre-team” gymnastics training. It’s a 2hr session for girls who are interested in taking their gymnastics to the next level. Girls who really excel are invited to take on a second 2hr session every week, so that’s something to keep an eye out for. She’d been up and down about going pre-team, but she loves gymnastics and has shown quite an aptitude for it. When I finally got her registered for pre-team (no small feat), she looked at me as though I’d just knifed all her favorite stuffed animals. She’d asked for pre-team repeatedly, but that wasn’t the same as getting it. And so, for weeks, she alternated between planting her feet and taunting us with “I WON’T GO” and telling her friends, “I’m doing pre-team!”

{cue a very large palm-print on my forehead}

So, I took her on Sunday, and I was unsurprised that she hung on me tighter than any plastic wrap. I brought her into the gym, and she cried and clawed at me, begging me to stay. I managed to pry her off me, and eventually a coach led her off to sit with the other girls. I saw some sniffling, but it disappeared quickly. The start of class was slow, since it was the first time for this session and there were a ton of new girls (like dd), but this helped her get acclimated. She stretched, followed all the directions, and – amazingly – paid incredible attention to the coaches. She didn’t even gnaw on her fingernails, as she so often does; she was that engrossed in what they were teaching her. As she ran and pranced past me in the whirling mass of 6-13 year-olds, warming up, she would look for me at the window and wave, smiling brightly.

At her first water break, she bounded out for her water bottle and teased me for not leaving it in the gym. At the second break, she pulled me down to the locker room for girl talk while she had a bio break, and as she shut the bathroom stall door, she shouted at me, “I want to compete on pre-team!” I was nearly in tears. The idea that we’d possibly gotten it right was something that I kept in the back of my mind, because the pulling and crying and yelling and denials always end up pushing self-doubt forward and self-confidence to the back. Always.

I wonder if it’s like this for all parents…or just for some of us?

She asked me to take her to pre-team again next Sunday, and I’m looking forward to it. She said that I can go workout elsewhere in the gym, which I’d like to do, although there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to spend the entire 2hr stretch on a treadmill. Really, I want to watch her excel and smile…because sometimes the validation I need as a parent is what isn’t told to me. Sometimes, it’s just seeing the look on her face and understanding that – this time – I didn’t get it wrong.