It seems a little superficial and silly, but I always used to get a little anxious when I took my daughters to the pediatrician. I guess I felt it was the most concrete way to gauge my mothering abilities. It was a test I thought I had to pass. I was a “black and white” thinker who relied too much on what other people thought. Therefore, these visits were often met with a bit of anxiety: “Am I feeding them right?” “Are they meeting their developmental milestones?” “Will they be ready for Kindergarten?” “Are her tantrums normal or a direct result of my bad parenting?”
I remember trying so hard to want to please the doctor. I wanted approval and acknowledgment for my beautiful little girls. I wanted to be able to brag about the visit to the grandparents and friends after. I wanted validation that I was doing it right.
Fast forward 5 years and I am noticing the same anxiety and need to impress from some of my younger mom friends with babies and toddlers. For this reason I’d like to share a story that was a turning point for me and my attitude toward striving for perfection in the presence of the pediatrician. A little wisdom for those of you who may be as neurotic as I was then.
It was my daughter Fiona’s (aka FiFi) 3-year check up. For the occasion I put on a “nicer than she would normally wear outfit.” I ignored her daily protest of “Don’t make me pretty!” and combed her unruly hair and tied it back with lovely, matching bows. She hated “pretties in her hair,” but I thought the occasion called for it. I brushed her teeth extra carefully instead of letting her do it “by meeself momma!” By the time we were done getting ready, she was picture perfect. She was also not speaking to me.
I gave her a healthy breakfast in case the doctor asked, “What did you have for breakfast?” to which on some days she may have replied, “Pop Tarts!”
We arrived at the doctor’s office and I looked at my freshly scrubbed little cherub and marveled at the clean little face. The clean little face was usually smudged with some sort of yogurt product, chocolate, or depending on cold and flu season, some other unmentionable substance. I silently cursed my husband for being on a business trip because now I had the sole responsibility of preparing our daughter to dazzle her pediatrician. I had no wingman. No one was there to corroborate the loose interpretations of my parenting skills.
Our name was called and we maneuvered in to get weighed and measured. FiFi didn’t put up a fuss or swat the nurse’s hand away when she tried to put the thermometer in her ear. “So far so good!” I thought to myself. My daughter politely walked to the exam room, grabbed a book and sat quietly on the floor and started looking curiously through it. I was shocked, frankly, because normally the child does not stop talking. The fates must have been doing me a favor by bestowing such a perfect mood upon my little girl. Don’t get me wrong. She was never a bad kid. She was just…well…a “spirited” three-year-old.
So I was feeling very smug and sure of myself at this point because this visit was going better than even I expected in all of my preparation. The perfectionist in me was giddy. I was going to be validated and not found out to be the “mommy fraud” I oftentimes thought myself to be. In fact, I remember that I started to get downright cocky. I was certain that at the rate we were going FiFi would surely write her name correctly and proudly on the little mini chalk board in the exam room. Heck for all I knew I figured she’d blow it out of the water and write our last name (Bourgeacq) too! I envisoned her rattling off about the Spanish and French lessons she receives from her dad because he is trilingual (suddenly in my mind he went from being on a boring business trip, to being a world traveler). I started fantasizing about how when we left the office the doctor and the nurses would stare at us in amazement…and maybe even applaud. They would say, “Look at that stress-free mother, with the smart, well-behaved, trilingual, and might I add, freshly scrubbed child!” “Bravo Mrs. Bourgeacq. Bravo!”
I was suddenly jolted out of my euphoria and back to reality.
“How are you Fiona?” the doctor said.
Fiona sat there and said nothing. She may have even smirked.
I laughed nervously. “Fiona tell the doctor how you are.” I said.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Like Merrie Melodies’ Michigan J. Frog in the top hat that only performs for his owner and not for an audience. (Hello my honey hello my baby hello my ragtime gaaallll)
“Do you like to read, Fiona?” The child who reads 6 books a night vehemently shook her head and shouted “No!”
“Do mommy and daddy read to you?” the doctor asked.
Again, she shook her head “No!”
Lies! all Lies! I read ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus’ so many times that I could recite every page while simultaneously watching “The Real Housewives of New York.” (Um…not that I ever did that necessarily).
“What did you eat for breakfast today?” The doctor asked.
(Oh good I have this one covered!)
“Hot dogs and chocolate chips.” (WHAT!!!! No, no, no you had strawberries and eggs and whole wheat toast. I cut them up and put them into a smiley face this morning!)
Embarrassed and flummoxed, the next 20 minutes I sat through the laundry list of questions from the lovely, patient, non-judgmental pediatrician. FiFi, rightly so, decided she was noone’s trained monkey, and proceeded to be her normal three year old self, annoyed at me for the bows in her hair and being denied Pop Tarts for breakfast. She answered the doctor truthfully sometimes and lied other times, neither of which was to my benefit.
Finally the pediatrician examined my beautiful, healthy, infuriating, too smart for her own good, little girl and told me how she was right on track with everything. She also offered some words of consolation by telling me that three-year-olds can be challenging and that that is normal. “Fiona is a very spirited child” she said. (Yeah…I get that a lot)
I suddenly realized how silly I had been. If I had a therapist, he would have told me that I had turned into my own mother, who expected perfection always. What was I thinking? Here I have a healthy child whom I love more than anything. I can afford to take my child to the doctor, when many cannot. My husband and I have good jobs and provide a loving home to our kids. Who was I trying to impress? What was I trying to prove?
That is why, for whatever it is worth, I wanted to share this story with those of you who may be experiencing the same kind of self-imposed pressure. I call it my “FiFi and the Pediatrician Aha Moment.” I now try to teach my daughter to be polite and respectful but to also be herself. I also know that my worth as a mother is not dependent on what others may think.
We already know this, but sometimes it is good to hear it again. But wait, I’m not finished yet. The story doesn’t end there. At the end of the visit I thanked the pediatrician, gathered up my kid, wiped her snotty nose, and listened, open mouthed, as FiFi with all the seriousness, confidence, and dictation of Christiane Armanpour loudly yelled to the doctor, the nurses, and the entire waiting room, “Momma! Momma! you promise I get chicky nugget Happy Meal if I good for the lady. You proooommmiisseee me chicky nuggets!” Oh yeah….I did didn’t I?