It's a phrase we've all heard before -- "Embrace the suck." As in, it's not going to be fun, so just deal with it.
But that's not actually what I'm talking about. I mean "embrace the suck" in the sense that we have to accept that sometimes we're just going to suck as parents.
About a year into solo parenting, it dawned on me that I was failing -- and that I would probably always be failing.
Not an easy realization for a Type A, extroverted overachiever to accept, by the way.
During my son's one-year-old well baby visit, the doctor asked me all these developmental questions like, "Can he grasp an object the size of a Cheerio with his fingers and move it around?"
And I thought, "He's supposed to be eating Cheerios already?"
I left that appointment feeling like I'd just had a parenting pop quiz. And failed.
In every other life endeavor, I'd needed only to try harder, learn more, dig deeper, give it my all -- you know all the cliches -- and eventually I'd achieve some form of success.
But solo parenting simply kicked my ass.
This tiny creature I could lift with just one hand leveled me, day after day. I'd wait until he was asleep, drink a glass of wine, lick my wounds and collapse in bed, determined that the next day would be better. Then I'd wake up, and he'd kick my ass all over again.
This was all made worse by the fact that I came out of the gate so strong. I finished reading the Baby's First Year book and attended two La Leche League meetings before even giving birth.
I brought my newborn son home to a perfectly decorated Pottery Barn Kids nursery, where the 12 matching baskets and their matching basket liners were labeled according to whether they held "Socks," "Onesies," "Receiving Blankets," and what-not, all pre-washed in Dreft.
I free-handed and painted a coordinating mural on all four walls and the ceiling of his nursery. And it looked good, y'all.
I banked umbilical cord blood. I did natural childbirth. I wore all my infants in slings, wraps and carriers until they were big enough to style my hair. I nursed, and pumped, and drank brewer's yeast, and made my own baby food, and, and, and ...
I was determined to take motherhood by the balls.
But then two weeks after my son was born, my husband deployed. And soon after that, I couldn't even remember what day of the week it was, much less which breast my son had nursed on last. And it's been downhill ever since.
My son is bigger now -- almost as big as me. And he has two sisters now -- a.k.a. his assault force. If I was losing as a solo parent when it was just me vs. him, you can imagine how great I'm doing now that I'm outnumbered.
I have three strong-willed kids. They are smart, and they are sneaky. I often feel like I'm a prison guard -- like everyone is trying to get one over on me, trying to escape, trying to sneak something past me, all the while plotting their uprising -- and I have to stay a step ahead of them, 24 hours a day.
And you know what? It's just not possible. Unlike a prison guard, there's no second shift coming to relieve me. I have to sleep on the job. I have to go to the bathroom and leave my post. I have to take phone calls. And my little inmates exploit those opportunities. Every time.
(Also, unlike a prison guard, they draw me really cute pictures and give me kisses that taste like strawberry jam. At least, I really hope that's unlike a prison guard.)
But now I just embrace the "I suck."
I embrace the fact that I am frequently "that mom." That mom who sends her kids to school with syrup on their faces and no socks (sometimes not even wearing underwear).
I'm that mom who forgets to check the homework folder.
I'm that mom who hid behind two dads at football practice when the coach asked for team parent volunteers and I saw my son pointing at me.
I'm that mom whose 2-year-old went to preschool this week in mismatched shoes. I'm that mom who sometimes wears mismatched shoes herself.
It happens. What-evs.
I know that there are parents who see these things and think less of me, who see me as lacking. And that's OK, because I am lacking. I'm lacking a whole other person. I'm doing this two-person job solo, and some things are bound to fall through the cracks.
Embracing the suck doesn't mean that I've quit trying. I still aim for excellence. But when I fall short, which is pretty much every day, I take Taylor Swift's advice and shake it off.