We Shouldn’t But We Do

scha·den·freu·de. noun, often capitalized \ˈshä-dən-ˌfrȯi-də\. : a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.

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I have a friend who is, I think, the perfect mom. She has a lovely house, not too tidy, very spacious and pleasantly arranged. There is always a smell of home cooking, and some creative project half-finished in a corner. Her kids are also lovely, with a range of personalities from shy to outgoing. They aren’t too precocious, neither are they too annoying. They are all pleasant and interesting, and when they have meltdowns they tend to be of the milder variety. (The Bardone/Hobson brand seems particularly tempestuous).

She keeps the most important things the most important. She doesn’t care about them wearing fancy shoes and clothing, for example (even though they are quite well-off) because she would far rather that they be climbing trees and playing in puddles. She also has a great sense of humour, and doesn’t seem to let even the most annoying and tiresome of situations make her tense or stressed. I wish I could be more like her.

Come to think of it, there are lots of moms I could compare myself to. This one is so good at remembering birthdays and being organised in terms of preparing and planning for the day ahead. (I tend to be the one careering round corners with things half-falling out of the buggy as we rush to get somewhere on time.) That one has a spotless house, a knife is cleaned up and tidied away almost as soon as it hits the surface of the kitchen counter (I needn’t tell you about the state of my kitchen). This one home-schools, gets to input into her kids’ lives every moment of every day; that one takes her kids to swimming lessons, ballet lessons and French lessons; this one is always taking them to museums and things; that one has the patience of a saint….There always seems to be someone who is doing something better than I am.

Such is often the case in the worry-laden and guilt-ridden life of a parent. I want so desperately to be the best mother humankind has ever produced, with children who are happy and healthy and perfect all the time. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing pretty well, like last week when we were walking in the park (see last week’s post). And then we have a rager of a day when Isaac and Evie are at each other’s throats, Judah is teething and can’t stop crying, I drop the compost bin all over the kitchen and completely lose my sense of humour, and I think to myself, “I am so glad school starts tomorrow!!” So much for not being one of those kinds of moms.

My own mother always says, “Children are great levellers.” Which I guess means that just when you think you have got it all sorted, your kids will do something to show you and everyone else that actually, you really haven’t.

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Come to think of it, nobody is as perfect as they seem: the one whose house is spotless always seems to be stressed and harried; that one who home-schools never gets enough time for herself; and the one who has the patience of a saint actually has kids that are pretty obnoxious little terrors who could do with a good barking at every once in a while.  We are all in the same boat, all trying our best to be our best. So we really shouldn’t compare ourselves.

All the same, last week I couldn’t help myself. We were sitting on a park bench having lunch and enjoying the sun; Isaac and Evie eating contentedly and Judah watching everything in his chilled, happy way. Then we heard shrieking and angry shouts from across the street. Heading towards us was a family, obviously on their way to a picnic themselves. The smallest child was screaming and crying. They came closer, and we realised it was a girl from Isaac’s class. She was striding ahead, casting off things in a fury as she went. First the scooter, then the coat, stamping her feet and roaring magnificently.

Behind her marched her sisters and mother (a very beautiful, slim woman who is always terribly organised and looks amazing), who was snatching everything up and shouting, “You’re going straight to your room when we get home!” As they passed us she smiled sheepishly and they hurried on, the shouts getting fainter.

We were silent for a while, then Isaac casually remarked, “She was being very naughty, wasn’t she, Mama?” “Yeah,” Evie chimed in sagely, shaking her head, “Naughty.” We carried on eating; somehow the afternoon seemed even better and sunnier than before. I bit into my sandwich, enjoying a satisfying moment. The Germans have it right, I thought. Besides, tomorrow it will probably be me.

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