It was only 10:30 a.m., but it had already been a trying day.
We were on our second pair of big-girl panties and our third trip to time-out. We had done battle over chips for breakfast (I won) and Wizard of Oz for the umpteenth time (she won). Her dad was out on the lake, and although I’m not fond of fishing, I would have paid one zillion dollars to trade places with him. Because loving and disciplining a two-and-a-half year-old, miniature version of myself had used up every speck of me that morning, and I was running on fumes.
I started the bath water and wrestled my daughter out of her nightgown. As I sat down to peel off her mismatched socks, she reached out and grabbed my shirt and wouldn’t let go. She was laser-focused on something, and her unrelenting grip was making the whole process impossible. After asking her to stop for the third time, I snapped.
“LET GO OF ME RIGHT THIS SECOND!!!!!” I screamed, weary with frustration and impatience.
For the rest of my life, I’ll never forget the look on her face, crumpling with rejection and hurt, as she explained through her tears, “I just fix your shirt, Mommy.”
She was only trying to help.
Shame washed over me instantly. It was a moment I would stack up next to the others later as I counted my mistakes. The pile was so high, and I felt wholly inadequate to do these things that were required of me.
Heartbroken, I scooped her naked, little body into my arms and wept into her hair. “I’m so sorry, sweet girl,” I whispered. “Mommy’s so, so sorry.” I wanted so badly to take the words back, but I saw them on her face and wondered how long they’d stay there.
It was only a few seconds before she put her chubby, little hands on my face and looked me in the eye. “Don’t cry, Mommy,” she said with a smile. “Be happy! Shake off your tears. We are best friends.” She hopped out of my lap and danced her way to the bathtub.
And just like that, it was over. The moment I would torture myself with over and over again, she forgot in an instant.
I have a tendency to focus on my shortcomings. My running tally of mom fails is so much longer than the win column. But the grace my daughter gave me that morning on the bathroom floor gave me hope that her childhood probably won’t be defined by my failures. Perhaps she’ll look back and remember, instead, the magic we made with couch cushions and tattered sheets. Maybe it’ll be bowls of tomato-basil soup and venting about boyfriends. (Dear God, give me the strength.)
The truth is that we will fail our children. It’s inevitable. We’ll forget to pack swimsuits for splash day. Permission slips will go unsigned. And we will occasionally have our own temper tantrums in response to theirs. But the grace our children extend to us should mirror the grace we give ourselves. Because this crap is hard.
All we can really do is pour ourselves into our little people and forgive ourselves when we blow it. We’ve just got to watch them and learn how.