I feel incredible pressure pretty much all of the time. Being a mom is like that, I guess. When my son went on an overnight student council camping trip and decided it would be a funny prank to squirt shampoo into one of the teacher’s overnight bags (that ended up actually being a laptop bag) I felt that I was at fault. Like, I never explicitly said to not empty a bottle of Dial for men into any container belonging to anyone else. With five kids, of course there’s a lot of talking about what belongs to who, what is shared and what isn’t, how would you feel if someone took/broke/threw away something of yours. But still, he somehow thought this would be the prank of the century. Instead, they brought him home early, kicked him off student council and wouldn’t let him attend any off campus events. (He was also in band but gave it up after that year.)

I guess it’s probably also hard being a single mom because there wasn’t anyone for me to talk to about what had happened, no one I could spitball punishment or strategies for prevention. “Single mom” so often is used to indicate a disadvantage for the kids involved. No one can tell by looking at us how we got to be here, a family of six. One adult versus 5 kids. I knew I wanted out of my marriage the day my ex got pulled over and arrested with the kids in the car and I had to go pick my kids up from jail. But you can’t see that part of the story looking at us.

But today, I decided I am not going to play that anymore. I’m not saying that I’m leaving pinterest and am no longer packing school lunches in funny shapes or anything like that. That was a thing that never was. I felt like the removal of pressure, of just...not feeling like we have to get it perfect or even all the way right would be helpful to us. I am extraordinarily hard on myself. When you’re a parent and a single parent AND a single parent of five children, you hear enough from other people that you don’t have to work too hard at coming up with ways you fall short. And now that I’m sick...it’s all magnified. Before, I could manage a weekly picnic at the park, weekends at the lake, maybe a movie once every fiscal quarter. (Not just because of the prohibitive cost, but because taking 5 kids to the movies is a mighty pain.) (Especially the ages they are: 14, 8, 6, 5, and 3.)

But tonight, I broke my connection to not feeling good enough. I don’t care anymore. (*salutes Phil Collins*) It’s not that I don’t care for my kids or myself or our life. I want to smash the expectation of perfection to pieces. I want to be separate from the part of my brain who has a running list of all the things I could be doing better.

I took them out for ice cream for dinner.

I really threw the gauntlet down. We sat for awhile in the sunshine. They were so happy. And sticky. I don’t know how they manage to get ice cream all over the lower half of their faces and then maneuver their hair into it, but they did. But that’s what baby wipes are for. (And why I carry them everywhere.) Then I took them to the park to play as the sun set. I kept them out there until we had just enough time to drive home, give them showers and read a story before bed.

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The book they brought me to read was some sort of Barbie Super Hero book, I think it was called something along the lines of Princess Sparkle Squad. When I finished reading it to them, I told them that that story is very much unlike what being a princess actually is. I told them a little about Tsar Nicholas II’s daughters, how when the country turned against them they had to take what they could and go into hiding. (I didn’t tell them about their gruesome deaths. But one day I suppose I will.) Although I am a mom and have come back here to write about the things I think, I’m not a Mommy Blogger. And if I was, I don’t know what kind I would be. Maybe I’m the truthful one. Or maybe I’ve set our standards so low that I’m like a scary type of Mommy Blogger. (Like, who finishes a bedtime story like that?)

But when I start thinking about that I realize I’m trying to reform the connection to constant judgment of myself and even the imaginations of other people’s judgement of me. Like guessing how I seem to other people. That can’t be a good use of my time. So, every now and then, I suppose I’m going to have to do something like that; have ice cream for dinner to free myself from the inner voices that say I’m going to make all of my kids morbidly obese and their teeth will all fall out and years from now they’ll be telling their therapists about how they never had a sense of stability because sometimes Mom would throw caution to the wind and give them ice cream for dinner. Or point out that princesses usually don’t get kissed by sparkle butterflies who have imbibed a secret sparkle potion that gives people super sparkle powers.

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There’s a shelf on my bookshelf that I’ve devoted to things the kids have given me. It’s an odd assortment of things, there’s a pickle jar full of sand, shells and seawater from our favorite beach, there’s a rock we found while camping...it looks like charcoal painted with silver glitter. There’s a pinecone, a number of dried up flowers, a Hot Wheels car, an Oklahoma Rose Rock, a keychain with a colorful dinosaur. It’s also where I keep my incense burner. I’ve been burning a lot of incense trying to relax, not even bothering to brush the ashes away until they accumulate to the point that I’m convinced they’re a fire hazard. The shelf is weird and messy looking, especially compared to the five other shelves of books, aligned by author and subject. But I like it. It reminds me the most of our life together. Lots of pieces coming together, lots of love, lots of chaos. Lots of other stuff. I am thinking about the shelf tonight because it’s pleasing even though it is in disarray. I’m telling myself “Go easy.” That’s not a thing I normally do. But I think (hope?) that over time, if I can be more of a fan of myself as a parent, that things will become...easier. Maybe I don’t have to hold my own feet to the fire. Maybe I’m doing OK. It would be life-changing to find out that what I’m doing for them is enough. I hope. I will. Go easy.