Do you know those parents who have it all figured out? The parents who bought that book with all of the local private schools and knew what schools were the best when their kid was still in diapers. The moms at the High School Parent Night who have memorized all the classes available at the high school and have questions about junior year summer school. And their kid is an incoming freshman. They’ve got it all planned out. They already know all of the science teachers’ home numbers and are definitely on a first name basis with the principal.
I am so not one of those. Actually, I know the principal of the middle school but I am not super-organized. I do not have it all figured out. And I have realized that, as my girls get older, I feel more and more lost. I find myself wondering, “Is this the moment I say the wrong thing which crushes my kid’s self esteem and she turns to a life of meth and ends up on Intervention five years later?”
The other day, a friend of mine was complaining. Which she has done a lot of lately (who am I to talk, really, I complain a lot, too). But her complaints are usually focused on other mothers. I hear her complain about some moment in the world in which she identified a particular mother’s failure and it bugs me. I am one of them. This huge group that falls under the title of Mother. I have screwed up lots of times. And that’s why it bugs me.
I’m guessing a lot of us have screwed up. And we should not be so hard on each other.
And then I was driving and I remembered something from when my oldest daughter was still little.
When Elisabeth was a baby, I graduated high school a semester early. I worked at a coffee shop and her dad worked at a cell phone/pager store. In 1996, pagers were headed out and cell phones were headed in but they were still big and ugly. He started out doing work where they put cell phone towers—digging in dirt, not sales. His other job was to take care of his elderly grandmother. He had just turned eighteen and spent most days making instant mashed potatoes and helping her to a commode. His dad paid him to do it because family is better than a rest home, right?
I remember him telling me about how stubborn she was. And he complained. He wanted more hours and responsibilities at the cell phone store. Not more days with mushy foods and television. One day in particular he told me how his grandmother had broke down crying. She told him about a time when her son, his father, had been little. She remembered she had been really hard on him for something and punished him harshly. She felt awful about it. She cried about it and wanted to apologize.
Not long after, she did go to a rest home. She became weaker. And a couple years later, she passed away.
We mothers carry this guilt our whole life. I felt for her in that moment just as I feel for the mothers under my friend’s scrutiny. And I already know some of the things I will want to apologize for when I am old.