Her Bad Mother

Saturday, 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.


Blogger karengreeners said...

oh no, my heart just dropped into my stomach for you.
that is the worst feeling in the world. my heart aches for you.

this happened to us last week when i arrived home with the car and the blueboxes were in the drive, so i got out of the car to move them, and there's bee, with her nanny smiling and waving like crazy out the window. i waved back, and got back in the car to pull it into the driveway.
bee's face changed 180 degrees, and she started screaming, thinking that i was leaving her yet again. i was back in the house 10 seconds later, but she didn't know i was coming back; and oh, that horrified, scared, sad face - i will never forget the look on her face.

i witnessed my own accidental betrayal (that's how i think of it right now), but why did that woman tell you? why?

9:34 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

As the parent of a six-year old and a fourteen year-old, I can tell you that those moments of realization are still hard. They are about different things, different areas in which you realize you made a mistake or got so caught up in life that you missed something important. But the answer is the same as it is when they are babies: bear the weight, forgive yourself and strive to do better next time.

It is a heavy weight, but I hope that in sharing it with us, it is lightened a little.

10:00 PM  
Blogger MrsFortune said...

Oh, damn you! I am crying right now. I'm familiar with said weight from both ends. The good news is the rest of the times lift that weight up. They better.

10:10 PM  
Blogger Mary Tsao said...

I've been there. And with that same crappy feeling that I've somehow betrayed my child. But I'm with the first poster, why did that woman have to ruin your morning?! Old bag.

How'd the presentation go? Would love to read some of it. (You know, the good parts ;)

11:08 PM  
Blogger Run ANC said...

It's the worst feeling in the world, isn't it? You know that they won't remember, you know that other people do the same things, but you obsess about it all day long. The other day, I was so rushed, I sent the Boy to daycare with no water and no extra shirt (he's a messy eater). All I could think all day long was - he's going to be thirsty and shirtless. He's going to be thirsty and shirtless and it's all my fault.

From what I've read, you're a great mom and WonderBaby is lucky to have you.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:26 PM  
Blogger Virtualsprite said...

I know. It's so terrible when we miss things. I hate that feeling. And that bitch for compounding it for you. Good grief.

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

aw man, kid. That's rough.

BUT. you'll catch it next time and always.

11:29 PM  
Blogger ms blue said...

It's all in the timing. If the woman was going to tell you, she should have piped up when she saw WonderBaby waving.

We never want to disappoint our children. These moments are like a piercing tiny pinhole in my heart that opens a bottomless pit of ache.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel my heart is broken! Wow!

but you have to forgive yourself, for you and for Wonderbabay. She will recover.

BTW, I wanted to come and see you on Friday but my campaign is taking too much of my time! Well, on Nov 13 it will all be over.

On Tuesday night, 9-10 pm I will be on Rogers TV for a live debate :D

12:04 AM  
Blogger janjan0000 said...

If it makes you feel any better ...

When my daughter was born, I made the decision to work nights as a bartender, so as to have my days free and not miss a moment of daughter's days. I was tired but it was worth it.
Some one year later, my babysitter (an awesome lady I'd had forever) casually mentions to me "By the way, do you know that Kaitlyn gets up every night at 2am and waits for you?" Yep. She'd wake up and wait. And then go back to sleep, or fake sleeping, when I'd come in to kiss her goodnight.
And she continued that for the next eight years, progressing into looking out of her window until I came home.
So I hear ya. It killed me too. Still does as a matter of fact.

12:05 AM  
Blogger Piece of Work said...

Oh, sucky. Sucky. Sucky.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Wow, totally teared up reading that. It stinks. Big time. But yeah, you'll go on. And next time, you'll look back and wave.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Lady M said...

Oh that lady shouldn't have interfered with your day - I'm with those earlier commenters! WonderBaby will be happy to wave to you tomorrow, and you'll certainly be waving back.

Today, we went for haircuts and I forgot to bring shoes for Q, because I put him straight into the carseat and planned to toss his shoes in the diaper bag. SwingDaddy and I had to take turns holding him the whole afternoon. I felt like such an idiotic mother.

12:24 AM  
Blogger Girlplustwo said...

ooooh...i know exactly what you mean. and it totally hurts. picturing the look on her face, anticipation turning to confusion...(good god i am not helping am i) but i only say this because i am talking about myself. i've done it, and oh yes...ouch.

all the while full knowing it will be just fine.

i admire your deep reaching heart that pierces to the quick.

12:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I know you think it is such a major thing, but it probably doesn't have one third of the effect on your daughter as it had on you. I notice this kind of stuff all the time with my daughter and I sometimes fret over it and other times I just thinks it might make her more realistic about the world. Of course, it could be me just trying to avoid the guilt, that is completely plausible! Great post! It's so often the little things like this that bring out the huge insecurities and mishaps we deal with as mothers. I can totally relate.

1:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know how daycare providers have the unspoken rule of NOT telling you that your baby took their first steps, said their first word etc while they were at daycare? That should probably apply to everyone on the planet, particularly in a situation like this.

I'm so sorry. I know it hurts. It made me cry and WB isn't even my child. But there's always next time. You'll look back and wave and blow kisses and she will be thrilled and won't even remember this. Trust me :)

1:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lord yes. My daughter is thirty and that moment when we were late to pick her up from school, trapped in traffic, the first time ever in her life we were not there. It is still a shaft running from my throat through my belly. The image of her frightened eyes, the sensation of rocking her back and forth in my arms slashes through the years like they were gauze. I am still so sorry.

4:03 AM  
Blogger ewe are here said...

Awwww. Poor WonderBaby.

But guess what. I bet she forgot about it pretty quickly. It's us, the moms, that feel horrible about these things all day. We really need to cut ourselves some slack; we are only human.

Oh, and your fellow-bus-rider? Not nice. There was no purpose to her comment other than to make you upset.

4:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel exactly the same way for you... 2 days a week I get up at 2:30am to go to work. Last week, my son came running into the kitchen as I was making my coffee, rubbing his eyes... i took him back to bed and he was so sad that my husband had to get up and hold him..
he was crying when I left...

It's a terrible feeling--but PPs are right, the babies won't remember it, but we'll always carry the guilt.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

This broke my heart. I know exactly what you're talking about.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know - the weight and the inevitability.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Francesca said...

I know this, oh I do. I think that getting back up is a huge hidden part of motherhood. Not baking cookies, not remembering to wave, not having a regular bedtime. But facing our mistakes and carrying on regardless, resolving to do better.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Bea said...

When hubby leaves each morning it's like a comedy of errors around here - I beckon the children up onto the couch, and they wave eagerly while he's getting into the car, starting the ignition, etc. And then, just as he's looking up to wave back, they get distracted, turn away, while I wave frantically and say, "Bye bye Daddy! Bye bye Daddy!" to no avail. Then, as his car disappears down the street, they turn back to the window and wave excitedly at the now invisible car, calling out "Bye bye!" Every time.

I think that babies have a certain kind of generosity of spirit - the waving is its own reward, a gesture and accomplishment that doesn't have to be acknowledged to have value for them. I bet Wonderbaby enjoyed giving you the send-off you deserved with or without reciprocation.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crying. First thing in the morning and I am crying because I so remember the feeling you are talking about. Since the day I forgot to look up to the window, I actually wave at the house even when my girls are with me!

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once was so distracted by work that I drove on past the daycare and forgot to pick up my son until I was halfway home. Even though I turned around and raced back, I never forgot that feeling that somehow I failed him. He's six now and has not idea that this happened. I know just how you feel.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

Aw. I'd feel the same way. Try not to be so hard on yourself.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Granny said...

I've done it too or much the same thing. We get so busy trying to cover everything that sometimes the simplest things fall through the cracks.

I've beaten myself up over it too.

With my girls (of course much older than WB), it's more not hearing them even though I'm answering. It's a good time to ask for something they know I'd never allow if my mind were there along with my body.

Your other commenters are right. She won't remember and you'll probably never forget again.

12:18 PM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

It's so easy to feel we've failed them for things that are, really, probably not such big deals in a couple of days. But we don't forget it, and it makes us more careful, more ooncsientious, that much better for it. Bet she gave you big hugs when you came home anyhow. Pumpkinpie doesn't see Misterpie most mornings, and two nights a week I come home after she's in bed - but she's used to that now. They are surprisingly adaptable little creatures.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What an awful moment for you. You have my complete sympathy. I think the woman was trying to do you a favor though. As awful as you felt, it acted as a reminder to you to slow down and appreciate those little moments. Maybe this was a lesson she learned the hard way and was trying to spare you that pain. I'm waiting to parent my first child so I can't speak as a parent. I can, however, speak as the child who had a parent that never slowed down to look back and wave and missed out on the childhood of all his children.

1:57 PM  
Blogger Laural Dawn said...

That feeling sucks. When my son was smaller, my husband used to drive me to the GO Train every day and I'd go to the same window and wave at my son. And he always waved back. It was our thing. And then one day I was absorbed in a book and was so excited to get to finish it that I forgot. And sat at the usual window and read.
I just forgot.
Then the man across from me honestly said "you mad at your kid today?" cause there was Matt frantically waving and me paying no attention.
I still feel crappy about it. But, I think it's been a year and Matt doens't remember. But still....
Been there.
That lady was mean though!!!

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awww. I've done the very same thing, and then called from my cell phone and said "bye" again. It seemed to work, according to my husband. My boys are usually at the window when I drive off, and the other day, I was so resistant to turning away and driving off that I almost hit a car coming right at me. I'm sure Wonderbaby was fine, but I know that feeling well.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

You know we wave to my husband everyday through the window when he leaves for work in the morning and leaves from lunch. One time, he forgot to look....well...lets just say, I was hurt...poor Miles. I just reminded Miles that his dada had a lot on his mind...as if he even understood...made me feel better anyways.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Kristi said...


4:55 PM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

Sad. so sad. We have all done it. I felt that ache reading this. The ache of remembering the times I did not do it the way I would have wanted to.

Can you derive cold comfort from the fact that she probably was playing and torturing her caregiver in the next breath?

(Oh, and ya know what, when she is 4 or 5, tell her that story, she will love it, the agony it caused you, and she will forgive you to your face.)

I promise because I know.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Girl con Queso said...

Urgh. I felt that one in my stomach. I get that. Completely get it.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

OMG, this brought tears to my eyes, for you and for all the times I've done something similar and felt that sinking-heart feeling. It sucks. I hope your hugs when you return home will be extra special for you both.

10:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I felt this one--so much! Trust me....you are not alone (clearly, judging from the commentators). One moment of carelessness can lead to so many mommy regrets. But you are a good mother, Bad Mother--every single word you write reinforces it.

11:41 PM  
Blogger Cristina said...

This makes me wonder how many times I have done that to my son. I don't want to think about it. Makes me so sad!

12:04 AM  
Blogger Haute Mama said...

Awww. I think I'd feel the same way. But if that's the worst thing you've done, you should win a mother of the year medal!

Thanks for the reminder to slow down.

12:14 AM  
Blogger the mad momma said...

hmmmm... its hard for a mother to take time to smell the roses. there is just so much to do... we all have these little moments that haunt us for months.... never mind... i guess they teach us to make the most of the precious little time we have them as babies...

4:40 AM  
Blogger motherbumper said...

Dang it, why does the first post I read today make me cry? Because it is familiar. I know how you hung on to this all day and then some because I would do (have done) the same. It's part of our breakaway I think, but that doesn't make it any easier. I'm hugging ya ((hug)) and WB.

9:54 AM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

Oh. ... the forget to look back. I just did this after I told her to go to the window and wave 'bye. Forgot. To. Look. On. My. Way. Out. Just got into the car and left. Lori took a picture of her in the window and sent it to me; she didn't know I hadn't looked. I nearly cried at my desk I was so mortified.

I called. Lori said Annabel didn't even notice. I bet she did, though.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said...

I know that feeling. That one doesn't fade too easily. It kind of takes up space in your gut and then tightens around your heart.

You'll remember next time. That will make that bad feeling go away.

10:32 AM  
Blogger ChicMama! said...

I gasped as I read your blog - because I've felt the same way you did...the aching, the weight. Garcon is much younger than WB, but already I've felt the feeling of coming up short. Like the time Garcon fell, and I wrote about it. In a way, it serves a purpose - we'll remember next time...

10:58 AM  
Blogger Mad said...

We forget, omit, don't notice, and fail. That is part of what motherhood is. I also think it is the very thing our children come to love us for. No one can love a perfect parent. We love our parents because of that slippage between the ideal and the real. When I think of my own mom, it is the quirks, foibles and failed attempts that fill my heart to overflowing.

I know this doesn't help in that moment of heartbreaking omision, but it doesn't change its truth.

BTW, in repsonse to your comment chez moi: take heart, my daughter was as bald as Wonderbaby all along. I have no clue where all this hair come from so fast. By next summer even Wonderbaby could be wearing pig tails. Gasp! Oh, and I have a particular fondness for bald babies. They just seem right to me.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

awghhhh shit shit shit. that would break my heart too. but i think you came off worst from this little ordeal, y'know? i mean, is there *any doubt* in WB's mind who is the center fo your world. nope. no sirreee.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Argh. That 'crack' you just heard was my heart breaking for you and Wonderbaby.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Mommygoth said...

Oh, sweet woman. If that is the biggest disappointment Wonderbaby ever feels from you, you will be a shining star among mothers, truly.

Having said that, of COURSE your heart shattered into a thousand pieces. Bless your heart.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Again, again - you all do so much for my peace of mind.

Especially hearing that I am not the only one who has done this/struggled through this - of course I knew that I wasn't the first mother to *not look back*, but I *felt* alone in that mistake, and that hurt my heart. I felt like a bad mother in a way that had nothing ot do with being able to manage or control or make do - I felt like the worst kind of bad mother, the neglectful kind. And as I said - I knew that I wasn't unusual in this, alone in this, but I felt *lonely* in this experience.

Thanks for giving me company. It helps.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

1:10 PM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

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.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Namito said...


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.

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

5:32 PM  
Blogger urban-urchin said...

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

9:42 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

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.

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

10:54 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

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.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Ruth Dynamite said...

You're breaking my heart...

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

12:43 PM  
Blogger ALI said...

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...

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

3:34 PM  
Blogger mad muthas said...

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

3:44 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

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.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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?


9:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

10:46 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Hugs back to you all. Really.

10:48 PM  
Blogger SM said...

This made me cry. Whew. Tough.

12:50 AM  

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