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Mother of the Year

Last week, I finally had my chance to shine. On Sunday night, just before bed, my daughter announced to me that she really wanted to win the ice skating finale Easter costume competition. Normally, she does a fantastic job of using her own style to put together something, and I had just expected that I would in the last minute help her with some make-up or tying a scarf to be the typical Swedish Easter witch.

No, this time, she decided she wanted to be a chicken. A super sweet Easter chicken that was yellow, with feathers, and she really wanted to win the competition. This of course came Sunday night at bedtime, not earlier in the day when I had some time in my studio anyway.

With some quick thought, I realized it might still be possible, so I convinced her to go to bed, hopefully with super sweet chicken costume dreams. After she went to sleep, I started thinking. Unfortunately in the past five years, most of our local fabric stores have gone out of business, as even the Swedes have moved to buying lower cost manufactured items from abroad. And yellow and orange weren’t colors I had in my inventory.

After some thought, I realized that towels might be possible to find in those colors and quickly got out the iPad. Ikea saved me with inexpensive yellow bath towels, but unfortunately did not have orange. Rusta, across the street from Ikea, had another shade of yellow, but no orange. Jysk, down the street, luckily had a very satisfyingly bright orange that could even be reserved online for pickup within three hours.

With a plan, I tried to sleep. It took a while, as chicken patterns and designs were dancing in my overly active brain, instead of visions of sugarplums.

The next day, we were off to work and school, with promises of a slightly early pick-up to accomplish our mission.

At 16.00, I picked her up from school and we headed to Ikea. While I chased yellow towels, which of course had run out over the weekend in the large size, so I had to compromise on several of the medium size, my daughter finished her meatballs. No time to cook, and she would rather have the meatballs anyway.

By 16.45, we were at Jysk, picking up the orange towels. I was a bad mommy at that point because I didn’t get ice cream at Ikea (the queue had 20 people and there was no way I was waiting THAT long) and the McDonalds drive-in guy apparently took a fika after he wrongly interpreted my ice cream order as a bacon double cheeseburger menu and I tried to correct him. He disappeared for three minutes, and I finally drove over the curb and left. The clock was ticking.

At home at 17.20, we ran down to the studio and got to work. By about 18.30, we had the body of the costume done and the pants without the feet, it was “only” to add the arms and tail to the body, and the feet to the pants.

Ha, at 20.30, I finished up the arms. Already past bedtime, but there was no way my daughter would sleep until she tried it on. At 20.45, the tail was done. At 21.00, I thought the feet were done, but realized I had sewn one foot on the back of the pants instead of the front.

Tried the seam ripper but realized the towels were so cheap that I was shredding the towel and not ripping out any seam. My Gütermann thread was much stronger than the towel itself.

Finally, I cut off the foot and sewed it to the right side. If someone would look closely, the would definitely see that one foot was about an inch shorter than the other. At that point, I really didn’t care.

At that point, my daughter asked where the mask was, that would go over the helmet and have a functioning beak. Ha.

At that point, I broke out the packing tape, with a construction paper crown, a couple of leftover towel “feathers”, and a construction paper beak. At 21.30, we took a picture and I managed to get her to bed.

The next day, she indeed won the prize and of course managed to get a lot of looks and comments, as it was definitely not a “lagom” costume for the ice skating finale.

I felt like “Mother of the Year”.

The thing is, that feeling doesn’t come very often. At best, most of the time, I feel like “An Okay Mother”, or “A Half-Assed Mother”, or even the “The Social Authority is About To Take My Daughter Because I’m an Extremely Absent-Minded Mother”. Thanks to my wonderful coach, I don’t spend much time in the last phase, as I have learned to stop those thoughts with the extremely relevant question of whether the social authorities really would take away a child because you get them late to school once or twice a year and forget their homework about the same number of times.

And I know some really amazing mothers. I have stay-at-home mother friends who of course are fabulous at caring for their families, involved in their children’s schools and activities, making wonderful, healthy food, in great physical shape, and maintaining beautiful, warm homes. And even starting successful small businesses or teaching part-time.

I also had an amazing stay-at-home mother, who used her elementary school teacher education to help my sister and me develop a love of learning that has stayed with us for life. And she also had a big garden, canned a lot of our food so we ate locally-produced, non-GMO, organic food before it even became trendy.

I have working mother friends who either have great careers while still managing to run neighborhood association social networks, decorate their homes to the hilt for every holiday, and supporting numerous after school activities, or who have good careers while spending their evenings and weekends supporting their children in extra-curricular activities at elite traveling levels. Or doctors who are also hockey mothers, dedicating nights and weekends to the child’s sport.

They are definitely “Mother of the Year” type moms. And I know a lot of them.

The sad thing is though, a lot of them look at me and see me as the “Mother of the Year” type mom. Not just for the chicken costume, either.

The sad thing is that most of us mothers spend a lot of our time feeling pretty inadequate, especially when we compare ourselves to a shining moment in another mother’s life.

One year, I actually managed to get out Christmas cards (before Christmas even) and to my entire team at work. I had a super cute picture of my daughter up in Lysekil on the rocks in the summer in a Santa outfit. After Christmas, one of my colleagues came up and said that his wife was so impressed that I had planned ahead so much to get that picture. I laughed, and I asked him to please tell her the real story.

The real story was that my daughter had woken up that morning and didn’t want to get dressed to go on a walk. After much arguing and persuasion, she agreed to get dressed, but only in the Santa outfit. At that point, I persuaded my husband to “pick our battles” and let it go. We got her out the door for a walk, but in the Santa outfit. And I happened to take a picture, as I do on almost every walk we take there.

But of course, another mother saw that moment, and saw another mother who probably was much more organized than she was. A mother who would think to have her child dress up and take a picture in June for the Christmas card in December. There are surely mothers out there who would do that, but I couldn’t perpetuate that myth with me. I pleaded with my colleague to tell his wife the truth, that it was a lucky moment in yet another of the many crazy compromises we make as parents to survive.

For all the things I love about Sweden, the fake mask of motherhood is most probably the most awful, and something that almost killed me. Sweden women are, on the surface, some of the worst perpetuators of the perfect mother fantasy. Even in pregnancy, it is supposed to be perfect, and magical, and wonderful. And being a mother of a newborn is even more magical, breastfeeding is deeply spiritual, and everything is described through rose-colored glasses.

I am daily thankful for my dear American friend who wasn’t afraid to say that it sucked. I quite possibly might have taken my own life if it weren’t for her, as I was overcome anyway with severe post-partum depression, physically drained from two major hemorrhages, and severely sleep-deprived. I already felt like a less-than-adequate mother, and I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t find everything spiritual and amazing. I was terrified of screwing up that perfect little human, and didn’t feel the supposedly inherent calm and confidence as a mother.

But the funny thing, as soon as I dared to say to a Swedish woman that breastfeeding actually was hard and, no, I didn’t particularly find it spiritual but was actually darn bored for the 45 minutes my daughter had to eat in complete silence, she agreed and said it was such a relief to hear it. This was the same woman who had previously raved about the wonderful experience. When I asked why, she said that she felt she had to say it, that it wouldn’t be ok to admit it wasn’t amazing.

Ok, the Swedish mothers were the extreme on that, but almost every mother I meet everywhere around the world in some way feels she isn’t enough. That all the other mothers out there somehow have their stuff together and she doesn’t. That there are so many other “Mother of the Year”‘s out there, but she herself isn’t.

We look at our friends, our children’s friends’ mothers, and we compare. Meanwhile, others are looking at us and thinking we are the benchmark.

But the thing is, to all the mothers out there… at least once or twice a year, you too are “Mother of the Year”. Most of the time, we are just “Pretty Darn Good Mothers”.

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