But this time was different and 8-year-old Layla appeared ready to talk on demand. I jumped at the chance.
‘From a child’s point of view, what’s the definition of a good mother?’ I enquire, trying not to betray my fervent hope that she’d smile sweetly and say ‘You, of course’.
She doesn’t say this at all.
‘Well, I suppose some people might say it’s someone who buys their children sweets and toys whenever they ask,’ she answers, momentarily distracted by a Jonas Brother.
‘So… that excludes me, then?’ Definitely not the answer I was looking for. Heart breaking just a little, don’t mind me. Meep.
‘Ja, you never buy that stuff. You always say you don’t have money for it. Or you do have money but just won’t spend it on that.’
‘Oh. So that means I’m a bad mother?’ Beginning to wish I’d interviewed the dog instead.
She drags her eyes away from the Boys with Too Much Hair and gives me a look of utter disdain, straight from the stormy future hell that will be adolescence.
‘Mommy, don’t be silly. You know that’s not true. And anyway, you should never say bad stuff about yourself. When you say bad stuff, you make it true. Tsk.’
Hmm. That’s a good one. I should write this stuff down. And I’m loving that annoyed tongue-cluck, I used to do a good one myself. But still no boosting of my fragile mommy-ego, so I try another tack.
‘Okay! So I think I’m just GRRREAT then!’
‘Right, that’s… how shall I put this… gloating. You should also never do that. It’s bad manners. Just be yourself. Don’t act all… weird, like you’re doing now. You’re just trying to get me to say that you’re a great mom, when you know that you’re fine.’ Gulp. She’s got me there.
Life advice from a third grader. She appears to be on a roll here.
‘Also, you must always be like, cheerful and stuff, even when you’re stuck doing something boring, try and enjoy it.’ (Will remind her of this during dentist appointments, spring cleaning and episodes of House).
‘Oh, and do kind things for the environment and for other people, even when they’re not kind to you. Cos you know, you get some people who are horrible. Just be, you know, a good person, like normal.’ She’s quiet for a bit. ‘Of course I’d like more sweets and toys but you’re not a bad mom for not giving them to me.’
And that’s as much as I’m getting, it seems. I’ve been firmly put in my place, but that’s okay.
I love that she’s so sensible and not afraid to tell me when I’m not.
I love that normal to her means kind and cheerful, humble yet self-assured.
I love that good is normal.
Read more by Tracy Engelbrecht
What’s a good mom, in your opinion?