|Ready for school.|
When I went to a Buddhist temple in Ann Arbor, Mich. in the nineties, we washed our feet before entering the meditation room. It seemed one of the many odd and foreign things I did in that place. I came to love it, however.
It took me an hour to get there. I'd either go after I'd spent the entire day in school or I'd go after working the whole day. I'd drive across all that pavement on all those freeways to get to the meditation class on Thursday evenings. It was winter and my boots were covered in a sludge of salt, mud and snow. I pulled off my boots. I peeled off my socks. I crept upstairs to sit on a small wooden stool. And then I'd wash my naked feet in a stranger's house and feel somewhat ridiculous.
But something miraculous happened every time. This simple act stripped off the layers of my day. I felt the warm water on my tired feet. I enjoyed the feel of soaping up and rinsing off my feet. It felt good. And yes, I liked the ritual of it. I left the bathroom refreshed. Slate cleared. Ready to concentrate.
My daughter just started preschool. The decision to start her at 2 1/2 years old instead of 3 1/2 wasn't easy. She seemed ready. The time was right. Of course she's my daughter and I have a biological imperative to consider her brilliant. But she is a smart cookie. She is a learning sponge. She craved more. More experiences. More lessons. More friends. Clearly she was ready.
But was I?
So my tiny baby is now a preschooler. Her father drops her off in the morning and I pick her up in the evening. I rush across freeway miles to get there, hands gripping the wheel, heart palpitating at every red light, every orange construction barrel. And no matter how hard I try, I am always the last parent to get there.
I feel like a failure every day.
She loves preschool, but she hates being the last kid there. She doesn't shed a tear all day until the second-to-last child leaves. It is then that my child asks: "Where's my mama?" I dry her tears and curse myself for being the worst mother in the world when I get there. Sometimes I feel the bitterness seep in. It isn't fair that I have to work. It isn't fair that everyone else works closer to preschool, or works fewer hours, or feels less pressure, or does something more conducive and somehow better for their children than I do.
Defeated, I drive her home. My mind spins a web of what a failure I am. Being a working mom means you get to do both of your jobs poorly. You fail at everything. Surely my daughter will wind up in therapy because her father and I don't want her to have to get student loans or pay for our retirement.
Try explaining that to a two year old, I think.
And so we come home and I take off her shoes. Every day I forget that she loves the sandbox most of all. Every day I forget as a pile of sand pours out onto the floor. Every day I pull off the second shoe a bit more carefully than the first and dump out the sand through the sliding glass door. Her sweaty feet are covered in sand, with sand clustered between her toes.
"Let's wash your feet," I say and lift her to the sink.
So there we are. Her feet in the sink and me washing away the sand from the day. In my heart I know she feels good. I know the water is warm and the soap is slippery. I know when I put her down on the floor to play, she will run off on fresh feet. I know she's ready to settle into home. Into something new. To start over on this part of her day.
And maybe I'm not the worst mother in the world. Maybe despite the imaginary list of her future complaints about me that she'll recite to her therapist, she'll pause and say:
"But my mother washed my feet."
It will be good. She will feel loved. And perhaps I won't be a complete failure after all.