Today, I spent a lot of time on my knees with my head bowed low, and I could not help but think of you. I realize you don't know me, but I think I owe you an apology.
I moved into your house nearly fifteen years ago. It was a four-bedroom Cape Cod with a fenced backyard we knew our dogs would love. I found the dormer windows with the little closets on either side appealing. A couple had begun to remodel the house, but there was a lot of work left to do, which meant this large home was well within our budget. We hoped to put a little sweat equity of our own into the house and sell it at a profit in a few years.
As part of that process, we had our air vents cleaned. A nice man and his grown son showed up one morning and began vacuuming out our vents. At the end of the day, the man laughed as he said he had found crayons, army men, Matchbox cars, Barbie doll heads, candy wrappers and thousands of Cheerios. I was appalled.
I could not understand how you let such things happen. Some of those things could not easily fit through the vent covers. Somebody clearly had to open a vent to drop Matchbox cars down! I thought of the countless broken toys I had found under piles of leaves, behind bushes and even buried in the ground. I just knew you were a terrible mother to let your children break so many toys. Worse yet, the children tried to hide the broken things from you. The poor dears must have feared unfair punishment!
My boys were 3 years old and 6 months old. Neither of them even had access to the regular-sized crayons that were found in our ventilation system. I would only give preschoolers the chunky toddler kind. Our elder son did have Matchbox cars, but he only played with them in his bedroom and those vent covers were screwed into the wall. There were no Barbies in the house. Of course I never gave such young children candy and I always swept up the Cheerios they accidentally dropped on the floor.
I assumed you allowed your children to run wild. Not only were you clearly a lazy mother, your housekeeping was appalling. I knew the source of the odor in that upstairs bathroom with the outdated yellow fixtures. Clearly your children had peed on the floors and you had never cleaned it up. I hated to think what the house might have smelled like if we had been forced to live with all the carpets you had failed to maintain. I remembered the green shag carpet we saw at our first visit and cringed.
I'm sorry. I truly was young, naïve and clueless. I had all sorts of preconceived notions that I now know are totally wrong.
I thought good children never did bad things. Now I know that even a loving 7-year-old can do unpredictably crazy things like throw his sister head-first into a door frame because he didn't realize how light she was. I had to explain that to a doctor and was grateful she knew me well and trusted that I was not beating my children.
I never knew children were so destructive. I had no idea they could break their toys so easily. I now know children can even put holes in walls, tear gashes in linoleum and dent doors. All that destruction can occur while the children are behaving themselves!
I was not familiar with the propagating abilities of Cheerios. We chose not to adopt a particularly sweet dog because she has grain sensitivities and living with us just might kill her. This morning I spent half an hour carefully sweeping and then mopping my kitchen floor. I turned around and found a lone Cheerio lying where there had been nothing before. Nobody but I was anywhere near the kitchen. We obviously host a self-pollinating breed of Cheerio plant somewhere in our home. Clearly you had one too!
I had no idea how messy children could be. In the past four years, one of my children has smeared poop in the Pack n Play, blood on the carpet, and snot on the wall. Another child has drawn all over the walls of three rooms. These crimes were stealthily committed while the offending children were supposedly sleeping during nap time. Candy wrappers are no longer offensive to me.
I know for sure my downstairs bathroom floor gets mopped at least once a week. Yet, as I bent down to pick up a piece of paper towel near the sink, I smelled urine and gagged. I spent the next hour wiping down all the walls, the inside and outside of the sink and toilet, the baseboards and finally the floor. It was disgusting and it made me think of you.
I looked at your house and yard and made an assumption. Now I glance at my own yard and know that anyone could make the same assumption. I'm older now and if I'm not wiser, at least I am gentler. Who am I to see one small glimpse into another mother's life and decide I can label her a good or bad mom? We are both moms, but I have no idea what her job description includes. She may be a single mom, have a child with special needs, or be struggling because of any number of things. Goodness knows there have been times I looked like the worst mom on the planet when I was just having a very public bad day. I now know being a great mom is based not on one moment in time, but rather a summation of our many selfless acts and the fact that we love our children enough to get up each morning and try again.
Please accept my apologies and my hours spent scrubbing the bathroom floor as an act of penance.