Loser Mom Syndrome
By Kelley Cunningham
You may think you are impervious to LMS. You may think you have none of the risk factors. After all, you researched the safest car seats, threw away the Nalgene water bottles, and returned the permission slips way before the deadline. But you forgot to purchase the end-of-the-school-year gift for the Kindergarten teacher’s aide. You didn’t even know that was the protocol, but it doesn’t matter that you never saw it coming. You’re a loser. You have LMS.
The risk factors for developing LMS are being female and having children. These are the biggies. Without these two risk factors present, almost no one develops LMS. But if both of them apply to you, watch out.
Symptoms include chronic crabbiness, a feeling of being overwhelmed, an urge to set the house on fire and run away screaming (either while nude or partially-clothed), and of course, an increase in the number of phone messages from the pediatrician’s office informing you that you forgot your kid’s checkup appointment again. If you’re feeling like you’re just one slip-up away from having your world spin out of control, you’re right. You are. And you’ve got LMS.
One moment, things are going fine. The meatloaf is coming out of the oven at the same time the broccoli is finished steaming. Unbelievably, the table is set with matching utensils. And you even remembered to tell the kids to wash their hands before dinner. But then, without thinking, you step backwards as you remove the meatloaf from the oven and sort of lose your balance in a way that never happened before. You drop the meatloaf on the floor, while burning yourself with the hot pan drippings. And you do what anyone else would do at that moment . . . you say “SHIT!”
But you’re not just anyone. You’re a mom. When YOU say “SHIT” over the dropped meatloaf, with pan drippings burning your skin, you are not being a good example to your children.
You didn’t even know your kids were listening, did you? Just one second ago they were sitting glassy-eyed in front of SpongeBob. A bomb could have gone off and they wouldn’t have heard it. But suddenly there they are, wide-eyed, pointing at the meatloaf on the floor and your third-degree burns. “Ooh, Mom said a swear! I’m telling Daddy!”
And that’s how LMS comes on. Just like that, in a split second. You’re a Loser Mom. You’re a mom who says swears in front of her kids.
Once you’ve got it, LMS is a chronic, lifelong condition. It often follows a pattern of sudden flare-up and gradual remission. The remissions last about 4-6 hours, usually occurring at night, during the time the patient manages to choke down a Tylenol PM and get some sleep.
There is support available. There is no need to suffer the effects of LMS alone. Everywhere you look, LMS sufferers are around you.
There’s one over there in the dairy aisle, dropping a dozen eggs, as the toddler she is juggling decides to get her head caught in the bread display bin.
There’s another one, rushing to bring her son to a Little League game but without his cup and jockstrap, which she couldn’t find in time. They will be found in a few days, peeking out from under the front seat of the car, as she drops off the car for its (overdue) oil change.
Look at that poor soul, trying to check out She’s Come Undone from the library (LMS sufferers always feel they SHOULD be reading more), only to find there’s a hold on her card for an overdue Spiderwick Chronicles her son swore he returned six months ago.
Reach out to these women and share your experiences with LMS. Allow me to share a particularly heinous flare-up I recently experienced.
My oldest son was off on a long trip with his school, so I thought it would be nice to take the younger two up to Lake George, NY, for a weekend of cheesy tourist fun. But there was a lot to think about, what with getting my oldest packed and shipped off with all he needed, and arranging the details of this Lake George adventure. By the time I was driving up to the lake I was pretty tired. As I was coming down a particularly steep hill on a remote stretch of highway in upstate New York, I wasn’t really paying attention to the speedometer. I was going over 80 mph, but the state trooper hiding behind the tree knew it before I did.
“Mom! Were you SPEEDING?!”
As I read over my new speeding ticket, I attempted to explain that everybody makes mistakes and we must learn from them, and that I will be more careful from now on. The boys didn’t buy it and looked at me like I was already wearing an orange prison suit.
Later, after checking in at the motel’s office, I had to maneuver the car through the world’s tiniest parking lot to a space close to our room. It was quite crowded, but I finally found a spot. I would have to back up a little, though, to be at the proper angle to get into the space. As I inched backwards I didn’t see the huge black pickup truck, sticking out a good two feet farther than all the other cars.
I heard the sickening scrape of fender against bumper, and my son said, “Mom! You just hit that TRUCK!”
The truck’s owner came running out of his hotel room, waving his arms very dramatically and yelling something in French. I saw from his license plate he was down from Québec, but I wasn’t in the mood to use this opportunity to discuss other cultures and languages with my sons, as a non-LMS sufferer would.
Luckily there was no damage to his stupid pickup truck, but my fender was in sad shape. I could feel LMS taking hold but, dammit, this time it would NOT overpower me! I decided to take the boys to a mini-golf course, hoping that they would have so much fun they would forget their Mom’s hopeless loserdom. I parked the car in the municipal lot, and tried to avoid looking at the dented fender.
Afterwards, we came back to the car. “Mom! You got a PARKING TICKET!”
Only now did I notice the machine where you pay to park and then display the receipt on the dash. I didn’t see it earlier because it was a hundred yards away, hidden by bushes, and it was obviously a trap by the town to bilk money out of hapless LMS sufferers.
And all this happened in a new car I had just picked up from the dealer a week earlier.
By now I stopped trying to fight the flare-up and just went with it. We went to a pub so the boys could munch on burgers and I could guzzle a few cold ones. In only one afternoon I had managed to mess up the car and get two tickets, so they might as well see me have a few beers. What the hell?
Then I looked across the table at my redheaded son’s blazing pink cheeks and realized that I had forgotten to pack the sunscreen. I could practically see the flashing neon LOSER! sign above my head but I was sort of reveling in it at that moment.
In the booth next to me, a bedraggled mom tossed down the last of her pint before she got up and again ran after one of her kids who refused to sit still. As she passed our eyes met and we knew we were both in the throes of major, vacation-strength LMS flare-ups.
If there’s a positive side to living with LMS, it’s the sympathy I’ve developed for other mothers. No longer do I feel smug, like I am a better mother somehow than the harried soul I see smacking her kid’s bottom after he fell into the fresh fish display at Whole Foods, despite her repeated warnings to stop horsing around. Hey, I wanted to smack him too! (I am learning to make peace with my LMS.)
I understand that LMS is gaining such recognition as a serious illness that it’s just a matter of time before we get our own designated color awareness ribbon. I hear there’s even going to be a Loser Mom Syndrome Celebrity Spokesperson. Unfortunately, it’s Britney Spears.
Need more Kelley? A hefty collection of her great essays, What's the Matter With Mommy?, is now available on Amazon.com.
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