I’m a much better mother in my imagination than in reality.
That imaginary mother has casual grace and unflappable calm. She doesn’t speak in funny accents or talk to inanimate objects. She also has the confidence to wear a bathing suit. In public. Without scuttling around using a small hut as a beach wrap. But I digress.
In my imagination I sparkle with enthusiasm for trigonometry and better yet, can explain it. I drive everywhere for everyone without grumbling about contributing to global warming. In fact, I am the mother my teens long for. I tell them I’ve secretly been saving up for one son’s trip to New Zealand to study spiders and another son’s year long trek along the Pan-American trail. As they leave I wave goodbye cheerfully.
The real me doesn’t sparkle unless craft supplies get loose.
I’m guilty of excusing myself to hide in the bathroom when my offspring go into lengthy monologues about topics I’ll never fathom. I ply my family with goodies in a not-so-subtle way of getting them to watch the documentaries I want to watch, even though it is entirely necessity after that endless German film about Mongolian salt miners. The stories retold with great hilarity by my kids usually feature my tendency to trip over invisible objects and my exaggerated startle reflex.
In my imagination I cook using recipes instead of improvising. When my children ask, “What are we having for dinner?” I’m able to answer with the names of actual dishes. This reassures them that someone, somewhere has taste-tested the food before them. This also spares me the daily trauma of watching my offspring tolerate meals made with home grown vegetables, dark scary grains, spontaneously seasoned sauces, and no names for anything.
“Why,” my son once asked, “can’t we try the kind of macaroni and cheese that comes in a box? It’s really bright yellow!” He regretted the question instantly, because unlike that imaginary mother who laughs sweetly at such questions, the real mother explains things. Or according to the daughter in the family, she rants.
In my imagination I am never preoccupied, never busy. When sought out I’m fully attentive. When my children look up from their pursuits they find my adoring eyes, but not often enough that they think I’m creepy and plot to institutionalize me. My wonderfully creative life inspires my children to live their own dreams (while still getting their omega-3 fatty acids and sufficient rest).
The real me falls terribly short.
I kvetch. I get tears in my eyes easily, even from poignant long distance ads. I juggle obligations badly while tossing out sarcastic asides like a performing seal. I plot giant world-saving accomplishments while forgetting to water the plants. I fuss and grumble and speaking of short, I’m also shorter than everyone in the house. That can’t be right. In my imagination I am tall.
In my imagination our family spends every evening together as we used to when the kids were small, back when we snuggled on the couch reading books, making puppets out of our socks, and making up games out of nothing. Although now we wouldn’t all fit on the same couch and the kids would suffer withdrawal symptoms away from glowing screens and friends.
But still, the vision of togetherness keeps the imaginary mother in me happy. She is able to hold on to every moment of the kids’ earliest years. She builds precise memories of each squabble and laugh and each child’s way of drifting slowly toward his or her larger self because she knows the actual mother, me, never could have imagined how fast time would go by. For real.