Before you become a parent, you should be given a set of impossible challenges: American Ninja Warrior style. A 55 minute flight with one inexperienced Mom, one run-away toddler, a baby with a poopy diaper, and of course, tickets in all the surrounding rows.
Unfortunately, we don’t get the challenges first because if we did no one would have kids. Instead, we go through them together and that’s the process by which we develop our Mom-DentityTM. By the way, my next endeavor is to launch a fleet of commercial jets called “Mom-Air.” Flight Attendants double as Nannies and there’s a bar near every exit. The bathrooms have changing pads and there’s floor room for crawlers. But, since I haven’t gone into business yet, I struggle with the rest of you. Traveling builds character and not just for us moms.
The challenge started as soon as we walked onto the plane, it was full and we would have to split up. Luckily a family offered their open seat to my three-year-old girl, Hudson. Had they known they would play a key role in the challenge that defined my ability to parent at 10,000 feet, they may have averted their eyes and covered their seat with a bag. But since they didn’t, Hudson sat happily with them as I sat right behind her with Harper, then just six months old, in diapers. Hudson, my ever-exuberant child, pulled out her coloring books and markers and began talking wildly to the strangers in her row. Mid way through the night-time flight, she announced to the plane she would not be coming home with me, giving the word “turbulence” a new meaning. Hudson had found a new family. She said it nonchalantly and kept right on coloring as if a statement like that didn’t demand eye contact.
This moment taught me a lot about the personality of my oldest child. I would never shirk her behavior off as a whim again. Not then at three years old and not today at eight.
There Harper and I sat, watching Hudson happily color with her new family. I could have chosen thoughts of thankfulness that Hudson was safe and within my eyesight, content with someone other than me. But, of course, I didn’t. I chose words like: “My toddler disowned me.” And this is what “on the outside looking in” feels like. I default to self-deprecating and slightly neurotic with a hint of Drama Queen. So. I was a bit panicked having Harper happily on my lap, entertaining the elderly couple sitting next to me with drooly grins and squeals while Hudson, somehow in my mind, disengaged from the family at such a young age. The elderly couple wanted Harper to sit on their lap and I obliged, a little hesitant. But it gave me a chance to listen more intently to what Hudson was telling her new mom—she loved unicorns and she would love to have a new sister. The confirmation of my anxiety was interrupted by Harper’s sudden grunts of discomfort, right in the hands of a stranger just trying to get her baby fix. Suddenly I found myself in a situation of opposites: strangers shoving my baby with a poopy diaper back onto my lap, and strangers in front of me taking my spot. The rest of the plane, onlookers at the hilarity, got to watch the whole thing for free. I regret one thing, and that’s not charging admission for the entertainment we provided on the short flight.
Despite the turbulence, it was destined to be a bumpy ride, as the seat belt sign illuminated and the calm voice of a flight attendant informed us we were not allowed to get out of our seats, not even for baby poop the size of the one who let it out. What else was there to do but continue the comedy show and loudly ask Hudson’s new mom from the back seat how planning her high school graduation and wedding were going? Everyone laughed. Again, the self-deprecation thing works for me. While it’s nice to be funny during public parenting challenges, I mean American Ninja Warrior Mom-style, it truly comes from a place of nervousness, constantly trying to gain approval from everyone, including the strangers on the flight who just heard my child wanted to live with another family. For a new Mom, this felt like failure.
The plane landed and I grabbed my diarrhea darling and stalked Hudson and her new family off of the plane. I remember thinking to myself that surely she would take my hand and we would go our separate ways and that –boy, hadn’t sitting with strangers on the plane been fun?
Nothing could have been further from her mind. I told Hudson to tell her new family good-bye and that we had to go change Harper’s diaper. She told me, I could go to the bathroom with Harper, she was going on to Texas with her new family! I laughed and began to get more stern. I commanded it was time to go. You know, that Mom-voice. We’ve all done it. Like, now. Eyebrows fully cocked to show her I meant business. Sigh … bless my new mom heart. Hudson began crying loudly. She jerked her hand away and continued to cling to her new mom and dad. They were just as shocked as me. People stared. And whispered. Harper stunk. And I was quaking. Hudson’s new family, eager to help me out, offered to walk us to end of the terminal and I agreed unknowingly making the goodbye that much worse. Goodbyes are always hard.
As we walked I played out the ending in my mind. Like playing checkers with a toddler, I tried to strategize each scenario that could happen in the next three minutes. We came to the end of the terminal and my stomach flopped. I just knew I was destined to drag my child out by her hair, deservingly so. I started to cajole her calmly to come to me, but it quickly escalated as Hudson kicked, throwing herself on the ground. I grabbed her hand and pulled her upwards. Then she did the limp thing, resembling a dead octopus. I began dragging her, as I had previously dreaded, walking my pre-determined story. I had told myself so. And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about the people giving me looks of sympathy. Nobody offered to help, but I guess I didn’t need it as I carried one child and pulled the next with my teeth clamped together. My insides turned to liquid and my knees felt numb. My thoughts pinged back and forth between what I could have done differently to how much counseling my child obviously needed about having a new sister, or a mom without a clue for that matter. There was not a positive thought in my head, nor could I shrug it off. On one hand I was gaining “Mom-fidence” by enduring the situation. On another, I was still very far from having secure thoughts amid a stressful situation, I was unequipped with tools and unpracticed at using my brain for anything other than shaming myself. I was simply a mom without my Mom-DentityTM.
Wailing, Hudson continued to disable the use of her feet and I dragged her out of the airport to where Kyle, my husband, patiently waited for us. I started crying as soon as I saw him, my will power gone. Hudson quit screaming, but Harper’s diaper was still an explosion. As soon as we got into Kyle’s truck and I mean as soon as we sat down, Hudson happily told her daddy all about our trip. To this day he still doesn’t’ believe what I told him happened in the airport. As for Hudson, I guess you could say she got the whole story telling thing from her mama. No, I have not taken her to therapy although I suppose my entire family may need it by the end of this book.
Like a fishing bobber I could be pulled under by the situation my spirited child created and sometimes I could sit on top of the water, navigating the tugs of a three year old with enough sprite to pull me under. Mostly, I just survived. I second guessed myself on sending my kids to preschool, bedtime routines and whether I should have let that family on the plane take Hudson home after all.
But as I walked one step at a time away from who I thought I was pre-motherhood, I walked, unknowingly into a season of life I would begin to cherish.
See, having a strong-willed child matched to a mama searching for identity was the perfect blueprint to get “me” back, or forward depending on the way you look at it. It certainly didn’t feel like it at the time, but God does have a plan, for He knew she would force me to find my voice. She forced me to swim when I wanted to sink. Lead when I wanted to follow. And she just may have been the reason I found the fight in me to write Mom-DentityTM, a book for coping, connecting and mentally managing motherhood.
Although it didn’t come to me until years later, this, friends and fellow mamas, is the first step: establish our Mom-Fidence. Begin embracing the opportunity to gain your Mom-fidence, one failure at a time. Even if we don’t win a million dollars at the end of these impossible challenges, we win something much more valuable: our identity in motherhood.