The assignment seemed pretty simple so I assumed I was mom enough to handle it. Each student would recite a poem for the first grade poetry festival. And each child would wear a baseball cap designed to resemble some aspect of that poem. That was my job—to help Jackie create her hat.
Jackie was given a poem about a kid who imagines what it would be like if she could be the one in control. She'd drill the dentist's tooth; she'd give the teacher a test; she'd make her parents clean up their room. Why? "Because I said so!" Jackie yells at the end.
So about week ago, Jackie and I headed to Michaels, our local craft store, and bought a bunch of patches and letters. We ironed on "I said so!" to the front of the hat in sparkly letters. Then we added a few patches of screaming faces.
Brilliant, I thought. I was proud of my work. None of the letters fell off and the patches were perfectly aligned—a success in my eyes. Actually, an enormous success. When do patches ever stay on—at least for me? Larry, my husband, snapped a few photos of Jackie smiling proudly as she modeled our creation.
A few days later, we sat in Jackie's classroom eagerly awaiting her poetry recital. Each child would take a turn, entering from behind a makeshift curtain. Jackie was number six on the roster.
The first child emerged—wearing a nearly life-size snowman affixed to the top of her hat. Very clever, I thought. Her mother must be a talented artist.
Then the next kid came out. And the next.
It hit me with a wallop the snowman wasn't some fluke. As each kid stepped onto the stage, each kid wore a better, more elaborate hat. Perched atop these kids heads were renderings of cityscapes and outerspace, baseball diamonds with astro turf, botanical gardens with exotic flowers , an aquarium with moving fish! The snowman quickly seemed amateurish. These hats looked like they'd been designed by architects and landscape artists, a team of Martha Stewarts, Pixar, the window dressers for Sak's Fifth Avenue and Barney's.
Each time a child appeared, I silently prayed some child—any child—would have a hat that looked a bit minimalist, a bit not-so-fabulous. But it didn't happen. Every mom had gotten the memo that this wasn't supposed to be some ordinary hat. Actually, it looked like every mom was hardwired to know that the hat was supposed to be spectacular.
Every mom but me.
How could I not have known? What was wrong with me? Last week, Time magazine's cover asked, Are You Mom Enough? It reported on strict adherents of attachment parenting—moms who breastfed their children way into toddlerhood. Are you as mom enough as they are, the magazine asked.
Forget breastfeeding, I wasn't mom enough for hat making! I was so clueless I didn't realize that a simple school assignment is always so much more than a simple school assignment. A simple school assignment is a message to other moms, to the teachers, to the world. By failing a simple school assignment, I had failed my child.
Jackie was behind the stage, so I had no idea if she had realized how pathetic her hat was, how inadequate her mother was, how not enough mom her mom was. Of course she had to notice! Jackie is the most observant person I know. Much more observant than I am—so if I noticed, she noticed too.
I wondered if she was upset. I wondered if she'd be able to perform her poem while wearing such an unspectacular hat. I wondered if a teacher had come in last minute and rescued us with a some digital gimmickry, a few animatronics, a laser light show. Or maybe Jackie had tossed the hat in the garbage. It would serve me right for being so lame.
Then it was Jackie's turn. She came out wearing the hat—the simple black hat with the glittery letters that were perfectly aligned and miraculously hadn't fallen off. As she read her poem, I tried to gauge her expression. Was she embarrassed? Humiliated? Scarred for life? She had a huge smile on her face—was she being stoic? No. She seemed pretty, well, happy. I took a deep breath, relaxed and enjoyed the miracle that is my little girl.
Of course I couldn't resist. Later that night I asked her about the hats.
"I guess ours wasn't as good as some of the others."
Jackie looked shocked. "What do you mean?"
She hadn't noticed? It hadn't even dawned on her!
"Well, some seemed really fancy."
"But mine was the best," she said, proudly. "And most of the other kids' hats fell apart the minute they finished. I can still wear mine all summer."
Jackie's eyes are the color of the Caribbean Sea. I sometimes wish I could dive inside them and see the world from her perspective. I wish I could see all the beauty, all the goodness, all the joy that sometimes eludes me. I wish I could see me through her Caribbean blue eyes.
Because in her eyes, magazine covers mean nothing. In her eyes, other moms don't matter. In her eyes, our simple hat looks spectacular. In her eyes, I am way better than I ever imagined I could be.
In her eyes, I am always mom enough.