Look at her. Poor thing. Frosting in her hair. Eyes all wild. Calling an abrupt halt to the Christmas tree decorating after her helpers pile all the “special” decorations on one branch and after she cleans up shards of the inevitable. Muttering uncharitable things while baking cookies at midnight for the annual holiday teacher appreciation event, a mood not enhanced by learning too late of the email suggesting that chocolate chip, and oatmeal raisin, would be less appreciated. She had missed the note while closing the quarter/preparing for the board meeting/finalizing code for the human trial/promoting her book/planning her art show/studying for boards/baking chocolate chip cookies for other also truly appreciated teachers. And she keeps forgetting to pick up a teddy bear for the school drive to collect them for sick children. Honestly, woman.
You may know her. I do – all too well. This is the Worst Mother in the World. And this holiday season, I have landed on the best gift for her: time off. For the next two weeks, no matter what, I will not call her into the room. I won’t utter her name, or summon her from that pit where she lurks, preparing her worst. Not even when the tooth fairy fails to pick up her son’s last baby tooth – for two nights. Not even when she schedules a product review meeting the same time as the holiday sing-along. Not even when her Elf on the Shelf fails to report to Santa for days, lazy scout; or when she fails to get the perfect gift for each of her beloved.
I’m sending her away. Heaven knows she needs a break. For two weeks, the Worst Mother in the World will be out of my mind.
This will leave me with…that other one.
The one who is always so quick to point the finger at her opposite number. The one who doesn’t leave fingernail marks in the kitchen table when she bakes with her pre-schoolers, because hers don’t think of flour and sugar sprinkles as the tactile discovery table, the floor their recently washed canvas. Her garlands get red bows. She agrees to be volunteered.
I’ve never met this woman, but I have tried, have I tried! She’s just so elusive. This is the Best Mother in the World. Part of me fears the day we meet, because the comparison will be odious.
So I’ve decided there’s really only one way to enjoy the holidays – they must both go off-site for the rest of the year. On the plane, they can pull out their purse-sized retracting measuring tapes and face off. I hope they get adjacent middle seats.
And then, they will learn a secret: with two seats, there will be plenty of leg room. I suspect that the Best and the Worst are one and the same, a person who loves her children to a depth that defies any measure. It is the effort of trying to match that infinite feeling with concrete demonstrations – which must fall short – that elicits the relentless self-recrimination.
Because here’s the truth: that magnificent word “mother” needs no qualification. It is a noun, and it is a verb, open to any who possess open hearts and generous spirits as often as possible, and not always.
Ah! What a relief. Those two troublemakers are off to Tahiti. Now it’s just me, here with you. And you with me. What a wonderful way to enjoy the season.
I wish you Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and great health and happiness in the New Year. Now, I must go wash out that frosting and invite my children back into the living room to hang candy canes on the tree.
By A.B. Bourne, author of the thriller, The First Secret of Edwin Hoff , c.2011 Watch Hill Books