Pumpkin seeds and falling short

The roasted pumpkin seeds were beautiful, but I felt like they were taunting me anyway, telling me, “look, you’re still falling short.” Parenting can be a rat race these days. Maybe it always was. There are birthday parties to throw and attend, there are swim lessons, soccer practices, gymnastics, karate. There is classroom volunteering to be done, classroom donations to be made, and homework.

It began that first Halloween for me. With three newborns at home, I began to have the confidence that, yes, I could feed, clothe, bathe, and love these babies, but not much more. I didn’t have the enthusiasm for taking photos, the energy for leaving the house, the patience to take babies out of pajamas and put them in clothing for no reason. Then October came and people began asking me, “What are the babies going to be for Halloween?”

Twenty-four bottles a day, twenty-four diapers a day, ninety minutes in between feedings to get the next round ready, to try to get babies to sleep, to care for myself. What are the babies going to be for Halloween? The question was asked by enough people that I realized it wasn’t rude, it wasn’t inappropriate, it wasn’t an anomaly. It was what was expected of me as a mother.

It came to me like a billboard saying, “Welcome to Parenting. You’re Falling Short.”  I began to see I couldn’t answer the question the way I wanted to. “We’re not going trick-or-treating. They’re babies. They have no teeth. They don’t eat candy. I barely leave the house. I’m not going to leave it to buy Halloween costumes they will only wear once, and that will make it hard to change their diapers. I’m barely making it through each day.”

The following year, somehow, costumes were assembled and babies went trick-or-treating in that way that babies do. We pushed them to the door in strollers. We collected some candy. They looked cute. We were exhausted, but we knew it was expected of us, and we were prepared.

I wasn’t prepared to be asked that year, “What about a jack-o-lantern?” Toddlers love putting their hands in the gooey pumpkin and pulling out the seeds, I was told. “The seeds are so good, you can roast the seeds. It’s what Halloween is about.” Again, the goal line had moved.

My favorite parenting moments seem to come when other parents—other moms—tell me it’s okay to fall short. I once asked a friend how she managed to juggle the school schedule for her three girls and to get them to their extracurricular activities like soccer. “We don’t do soccer,” she said. “I can’t do soccer and have a job. How could I? The practice is after school. I don’t get done with work in time.”

It was the first time I’d heard another mom say to me, “We don’t do that.” It was the first time I’d talked to a parent who had opted out of soccer. It was a relief to hear another mom say it, and I still think about it.

This year, I had the time to do the costumes, to carve the pumpkin and roast the seeds. I washed them off and dried them, put them in the old cast iron skillet and moved them around with a spatula until they toasted. We salted the seeds and ate them while they were still warm, and they tasted good. Even so, I didn’t feel like more of a mother than that first year when I hid with my babies in the house with the porch light turned off, dreading every time I heard footsteps on the sidewalk, hoping the doorbell wouldn’t ring and wake the babies up. That feeling of falling short starts early, hangs around and seems to be here to stay, no matter how many pumpkin seeds get roasted.

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