We have all been here. “Can any parent volunteer this week to help the kids make snowflakes for the preschool holiday party?” Says the innocuous e-mail to the parents of my daughter’s preschool class. My response; a snowflake building art project with preschoolers? An hour of my time? A chance to look good in front my daughter and her teachers? Of course I can do this! So up go my expectations. What a supermom I’ll be this week, juggling my kids’ schedules, balancing my job, checking in with my husband and sneaking off on Thursday to be a hero in my front of my daughter and her friends. Who needs my VW wagon when I can just fly into her classroom on my purple supermom cape?
It all starts well. My daughter is eagerly awaiting my arrival – she gets to be my ‘special helper’ and invite a few of her friends to start the amazing snowflake building project. Suddenly there’s a flutter of popsicle sticks, glue, white buttons and simple instructions from teachers on how to help the kids build their snowflakes. Sure. No problem. How fun! I’m helping my daughter be creative, getting to know her preschool friends, offering up oodles of praise to the little munchkins and trying to not make an entire mess of the art table. Slowly, I noticed some red flags of trouble brewing. My daughter finished her snowflake (actually it was barely complete but she said she was ‘done’) and insisted on standing next to me, clutching my leg like a puppy, and looking longingly for my affection. Then comes the barrage of questions, “Mommy, where are we going next?” “Um, honey you know you are staying at school and mommy is going back to work.” “But mom, I want to go home with you now.” “Well, we talked about this and you know I’ll pick you up after school.” “But, but…”
Okay, my hour is up. Half of the popsicles are finished. Kids’ hands are covered with glue. Buttons are scattered on the floor. And I now have a koala bear attached to my leg. And on cue, here come the 3 year old waterworks – the outreached arms searching for a hug, and of course a big, heaping mound of guilt thrown around my neck as I pry her little chubby hands from my body. Gingerly, I turn her around and usher her to the sweet open arms of her preschool teacher. Head hung low, feeling beyond disappointed, I had nothing left to do but send my husband a fleet of urgent texts. “Can you leave early and pick her up?” ”I don’t think she’s feeling well and she could use some extra attention from one of us.” ”I can’t leave early because I just took a really long lunch for this flipping volunteer project and now I think she really needs one of us soon.” Aaaaahhhh! What happened? This was supposed to be a supermom moment and now I feel awful, totally in reactive mode and letting my guilt and sadness of seeing my girl break down in front of the whole class drive my erratic thinking and decision making.
Slow down. Take a breath. Well, maybe I should check in with her teacher first and see how the glob of tears that was my daughter’s face is doing now. Thank god for the unobtrusive means of communication that is the parent-teacher e-mail exchange. An hour later I get an update, “Not to worry, she is just fine, pulled herself together and led a group of her friends out on a walk.” Big exhale. She’s okay. No, she’s great. Of course she’s great, she’s three and her mom showed up at school and she got excited. Then she didn’t want mom to go and had the most authentic, emotional way of expressing all of her feelings. So what is the take way here?
First, drop all expectations. If you sign up for something, do it because you want to do it – not because of some vain (but totally human) need for validation of being a supermom. If cramming one more thing into your already busy schedule might throw you and your emotions into overdrive, don’t do it. And if and when you decide to do it, just know that whatever the reaction or response is you can’t control it. Just accept it for what it is. Know you and your child will recover. And there is always another chance to have your supermom moment. And it usually happens when we’re doing something uneventful like cooking dinner, listening to a funny story, wiping away a tear or kissing a forehead goodnight. Our kids worship us just for being us. No cape needed, just plain old us, reminding them that they are safe and that they are loved.