“I’m going to get married to my friend Sadie and my sister,” my 3-year-old daughter Petunia announced not long ago.
“Terrific!” I exclaimed. “Can I come to the wedding?”
“No,” she replied flatly. “I’m going to California, and you’re going to miss me very much.”
If I wasn’t sure before then that I’m a bad mom, that seemed to be as good a sign as any.
Oh, sure, lots of moms will tell you dramatically or gleefully about just how miserably they’re failing at motherhood. There are TV shows, films and websites, not to mention entire sections in Barnes & Noble of how-to kits dedicated to teaching, unlearning and spotting bad moms. For instance: A good mother doesn’t ask her older daughter if she minds skipping the vegetables she specifically requested at dinner because she doesn’t feel like washing the carrot peeler.
Usually the moms in question are bad in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, and their badness almost always ends with the kids loving their moms anyway, you know, because moms are, well, moms, for better or worse.
But when I say I’m a bad mom, you can rest assured it’s the truth: I am a horrible mother. Besides my older daughter leaving me off the guest list for her wedding, I know for certain that I am flunking due to the astonishing quantity of dried pea vomit in my 6-month-old daughter Peony’s eyebrows late on Saturday night.
My husband and I left a new baby sitter at home with both girls, who were both asleep before we went out. We had just tucked into the first course at the restaurant where we were happily dining with friends when my cellphone rang.
“I think Peony threw up,” the baby sitter said.
“Threw up?” I asked. “Or spit up?”
When you’re a baby sitter, it’s probably not a big difference. To a mom on a rare and highly coveted childless evening, on the other hand, the distinction is like the one between Obama and Osama — they’re only separated by one letter, but you are keenly aware it’s a pretty significant letter.
“I don’t know, exactly, I guess. It’s green, and it kind of seems like there’s a lot of it.”
“Well,” I said, dreading the thought of leaving my alcoholic beverage, hot food cooked by someone not me and Dora-less conversation to go home and mop up baby puke. “She had peas for dinner, so that explains the green. Is she asleep or awake now?”
I brightened considerably.
“Great! Then just throw a burp cloth over the spit-up, and it’ll be fine.”
When we got home a few hours later, it was fine. Except that Peony was coated in dried pea puke. It was e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. And by everywhere, I mean cleaning it was a two-person job that involved new sheets, a sponge bath, a nose suctioning and an air freshening. At some point I wondered if it might just be easier to move houses, skip the state or get a new baby.
“But she’s still breathing,” our friends from dinner texted me after I lamented to them in a text how awful I felt for not getting home sooner. “So that’s all good ‘n stuff . . . ”
It’s always nice to feel supported by other parents, although that particular pat on the back did happen to come from a set of adults who boast that it’s as if their youngest child is being raised by a pack of wolves.
I might have redeemed the situation — and just barely — by bathing Peony on Sunday morning. But on Sunday morning I finally reasoned that she was, in fact, still breathing. And I had just bathed her on Saturday afternoon. Was a second bath in less than 24 hours really necessary since I still hadn’t received a wedding invitation from my older daughter? I mean, the damage was already done. Some warm water and Mustela Bebe Foam Shampoo wasn’t about to undo what I didn’t do the night before.
Besides trying to literally break dried vomit from what little hair rests on the head of my infant daughter, I know I’ve been an especially bad mom when I’m not the go-to parent following an injury.
Like the time a few weeks ago when I picked up Petunia from preschool and figured out right away that she wasn’t in the mood to play nice. Which rendered me not in the mood, either. Fast forward a few hours when my husband came home, at which time Petunia stubbed her toe.
“Ow!” she cried. “I got an owie!”
If there’s one thing that’ll melt my hard candy shell immediately, it’s a legitimate injury. So I rushed over to scoop her up.
“Nooooo!” she screamed, turning away from me as if I had conspired with the coffee table to reach out and bump her foot. “I want Daddy to kiss my owie.”
Even Debra Winger allowed Shirley MacLaine at her bedside when she was at her sickest in “Terms of Endearment.” Clearly I’ve got some work to do.
“You know, if I’m not invited then I’m not going to pay for it,” I informed Petunia a few days ago while she was discussing her packing list for her California destination wedding.
She thought for a moment.
“OK, you can come,” she said begrudgingly.
I might be a bad mom, but at least I’m a crafty one.
More at www.meredithcarroll.com.