If you've been worrying about how you rate as a mother, I have good news for you. You are not the Worst Mom Ever. That honor goes to me.
What, you may ask, did I do to earn this dubious distinction? Did I serve my children my patented Cream of Brussels Sprout Surprise? Make them study their times tables or write a report on War and Peace? Shut them in their rooms with a command them to clean until they passed the white-glove test? Please. That's amateur stuff.
No, what I did was far worse. I sent them to summer camp today. My daughter was excited; now out of kindergarten, she'd be joining the "junior" group for the first time. my son, however, has been bestowing the worst-mom label on me ever since he found out - last winter, mind you - that this would be part of his vacation schedule.
Now, before you judge me too harshly, they've been going to this place for the last couple of years and had a fine time every time. It's a day camp just blocks from home - no fears of sleeping away or being in the woods - with activities and field trips galore. But Son was adamant that this was not how he wanted to spend five weeks of his precious vacation. For weeks, every time I brought up the subject, it was, "I'm not going. I don't care what you say."
I thought perhaps time would soften his view, but it only made it harder. This morning, when he was still in bed at 8:00, I knew we were in for a fight.
"I'm not going," he announced again, glaring at me from his pillow. "I don't care what you say."
I could have given a command or dragged him out of bed by the ankles, but I suspected that would do more harm than good. "Is there something you don't like about camp? Something you're worried about?"
"No, there's nothing."
"Then why don't you want to go? Your sister is all dressed, and she's had her duffle bag on her back for the last half hour."
"It's so boring! It's the same thing over and over again!"
"Boring? Trips to the pool and indoor playgrounds? Running through the sprinkler? Making crafts?"
"I just don't want to go! I want to do my own thing."
"Well, why don't we talk to the counselors about that and see what they have to say? You have to come with me to drop off your sister anyway."
He exploded. "I'm still not doing it! Don't I get a say in this? You never ask my opinion! You never asked me if I wanted to go!"
Now it was clear. This wasn't about arts and crafts or boredom; it was about respect and autonomy. At eight, he knows his mind pretty well, and it frustrates him that not only does life not always conform to his expectations, but that he doesn't have as much say over his plans as he'd like.
I sat him down. "I understand. You feel like you're being railroaded into going to camp, that we didn't ask if it was okay before we signed you up. Maybe we could have done a better job of talking it over with you beforehand."
"Yeah," he agreed.
"But there's something you need to understand, too," I went on. "Much as I love being with you and doing things with you, I also have to work for a living, to earn money to pay our bills and to treat you to things like books and toys and amusement parks. And my work happens to involve writing on the computer at home, which takes time and concentration. You may be on vacation, but I'm not. I need time during the day to get my work done, not to mention running errands and cleaning and cooking - and that's hard to do if I'm also busy watching and entertaining the two of you."
Wham! New justification for that Worst Mom Award. I just said the thing no mom likes to admit out loud: There are times I don't want to be with my children. What message was he hearing? Would he now think of himself as an inconvenience, secondary to work and clean bathrooms? Was I being unreasonable in asking him to go along with plans he had no part in making?
"I can entertain himself," he offered.
"I know that you'd try. But I'd hate to think of you staying in your room on nice summer days like today. I wouldn't be able to take you to the park or the beach as often as I'd like. And -" I paused before the final blow - "when I'm working, I can't concentrate with the TV or xBox on, so you wouldn't be watching shows or playing games."
He considered that for a moment.
"Wait...they show movies at camp, don't they?"
"I think they do, later in the day when the campers are waiting for pickup."
"Okay, I'm going."
And that was the end of it. He was dressed and ready to go in no time. He even put aside his big-brother grudges to stay with his sister while they waited for their group assignments in the junior division, saying, "Don't worry, Sis. I'll show you the ropes."
I can't say I'm thrilled that the deciding factor was the promise of TV time every day, but at least the war seems to be over for now. There'll be time later for discussions of future summer plans. And maybe a little part of him was gratified that Mom took the time to hear him out.
I won't surrender the Worst Mom title just yet, though. They still have to clean their rooms.