July 18, 2012
By Ekta R. Garg
As Four greets me on her birthday with a huge grin, she throws herself into my arms.
“You’re the best mamma in the whole world,” she states with confidence.
Her declaration makes me pause, however. Is it possible? Could I really be the “best mamma in the whole world”?
Dozens of times a week I doubt my ability and my claim to the title. When I let go of a full-throated scream about eight inches from her face because she’s decided to dig in her heels over some trivial issue, I walk away feeling guilt rise in that same throat. Tears will roll eventually that night, and Four might end up crying too. And I wonder whether holding the title as the world’s best mother affords me a little bit of leeway in losing my cool and my self-control for those moments when I’m yelling.
But when I turn around at a random moment of the day and see Four has taken the initiative to clear all the papers and toys from the coffee table, or when she runs to the bathroom to wash her face all by herself “like a big girl”—both without an adult’s direction—I reflect that possibly I’ve done something right.
Just what does it mean, after all, to be the “best mamma in the whole world”? Could it possibly mean continuing to tickle your kids long after their protests have dissolved into laughter and delighted shrieks? Could it be encouraging them with all the might of one’s former cheerleader self from the sidelines of the swimming pool as they eye the water dubiously? Could it have something to do with getting as excited as they do when we spot a rainbow or a butterfly flitting from one bush to another?
Maybe it comes in talking the kids off an emotional ledge when they’ve reached their limit of frustration because they’ve tried tying their shoes what feels like hundreds of times and still can’t get it right. Maybe it means negotiating with the outwardly calm demeanor of a mature person (all the while mentally pulling out tufts of hair) when the kids are screaming because neither of them gets to use the green crayon right now. Maybe it happens when you stand your ground as your children gain the ability to reason their way out of apologies to each other or the adults in their lives, and you inform them they don’t have a choice: they have to apologize.
Is being declared the “best mamma [or papa or grandparent] in the world” something you earn over time? Am I old enough to hold this title? I know many parents who have done this much longer than me and probably deserve it more than I do (my own come to mind as an immediate example.) What, then, constitutes one’s candidacy for the position of “best in the world”? Don’t children know that in order to be the best at something, you have to work at it day in and day out? Don’t they know that you have to spend years toiling and practicing your craft, exercising your skills and proving yourself with mettle against the greatest of life’s challenges?
Maybe they don’t know these things. Maybe for them it’s enough that you remember to buy cheese sticks when you run out because you know how much they like the snack. Maybe it’s sufficient to sit down and color with them, discussing the merits of coloring a girl’s hair blue versus a color more naturally derived by genetic means. Maybe it’s acceptable to spend a few minutes every day convincing your children not to be afraid to gently pull out their own tooth if it’s hanging by the tiniest corner, reinforcing for them the idea that bravery and courage are defined by feeling fear and continuing with one’s task anyway.
My girls often come to me with a hug or state with simple confidence what Four did, and in those moments when I yell at them or when I punish them I marvel at the ease with which they come to me a day or a week later and say, “You’re the best mamma in the whole world.” But maybe that’s just it. Maybe for children, if we balance the positive with the negative (remembering that it takes way more positive to outweigh the negative)—maybe that’s enough to constitute a vote (or two) for “best in the world.” Maybe for children, the old song really states it best: “All we need is love.”
I might have a chance to win that title yet.