I had a chance to take part in a conversation a few days back where the question came up, “Is it okay as a parent to say you were wrong?”
I believe that the answer to this is absolutely, yes. Being a mom has been one of the most amazingly beautiful, difficult, wonderful, horrendously hard and yet rewarding things I have ever experienced, and boy have I gotten this parenting thing wrong on a number of occasions.
When this topic came up, I immediately thought back to a time that I was so terribly, utterly, selfishly wrong that “I’m sorry!” wouldn’t have been nearly enough. So I turned to what I always turn to when I don’t know what else to do – writing.
With the permission of my daughter, I’d like to share that story with you. I believe that it is in those extremely difficult moments of absolute wrongness that we have the opportunity to learn what humility, grace (and forgiveness) truly are.
It was a photo album kind of night. One of those nights where you need to reach back through the years to remember how you got to today. To reach out to the girls you were then…and then and then…as you flip through the albums and lose yourself in the memories.
“Don’t you remember? At all? Don’t you remember how you felt? How can you not understand? If anyone at all should understand it should be you!”
So very young. Both of you. Funny how the memory works. Those were the hell years. The years with no money and never enough food. Full time school. Full time job. Full time mom. And never in the order you had wished it could be. And yet…all the photos bring back are smiling faces, obvious laughter and memories…so many memories!
“Do you remember how we made the entire apartment into a giant fort using blankets and towels? And how we kept it that way for a couple weeks? And how we lined up library books and pretended they were roads?”
And then you come upon one of your most favorite photos…and you reach for it and practically beg it to talk to you. And then you close your eyes and you find yourself back in that moment:
“Mama! I take these stairs all by my very own self and no not help me no no no no I do it I do it all Mama I do it. I do it. Just meeeeee.”
And then you watch your child navigate the outdoor stairs without holding onto your hand and it strikes you that this is just the beginning. Just the very beginning of all the things she will want to do on her own. But you reassure yourself that you’ll keep her safe somehow. She will be protected and safe. She just will.
“God! How can you be such a hypocrite!? I swear I would never react the way you are.”
And the years march on and the painted pinecone people and their painted neighbors “the rocks” get left in the dust as she pedals away with furious concentration on her big girl bike. You hold on to the back and run til you have a stitch in your side…and when you can no longer hold on another second she pulls away from you. And she doesn’t even know you’re no longer there.
“We didn’t have much but why does that matter? We had fun! It was a good childhood! It was better than some fancy toy. Why does everything have to be about money in this world! I hate that!”
Celebrations meant we’d go to an actual restaurant and have a backwards dinner. We would giggle until our stomachs hurt at the looks from the waitresses when they’d bring the check after our dessert and we’d say, “Oh no! Now that we had dessert we want to order dinner!”
“There may as well be 50 years between us, not just 17! Why do you have to focus on how hard it was? What about all the good times?”
And then there was Ellie. Ellie, the elephant. A silly silver keychain. Ellie, protector of Krista’s everywhere. Created during a panic moment by grabbing her from the bowl on the shelf and spouting some wild story on the spot amidst a flurry of tears and the heartbroken, “No mama! I don’t want to go to kindergarten unless you come too!” But Ellie had magic powers that were the result of having all of mom’s extra love stored in her. Mom just couldn’t hold it all in anymore, but Ellie could. And so began the tradition of Ellie hiding deep in a pocket on the very first day of school every year…all the way through to the first day of college.
“I don’t need to listen to any more of your advice! This is not about how it was for you! You don’t know what it is going to be like for me!”
And then one day…she’s sitting on the wrong side of the car. And you’re stomping your feet into a brake pedal that isn’t there…and she’s rolling her eyes at your over the top look of terror. And the lectures begin. And they are oh so pathetic. “On the road of life blahblahblah and there are turns you do not want to take blahblahblah! Potholes! Tolls! Dead ends! See that road? Do not turn there!”
And then you are no longer in the car but standing on the porch craning your neck to see the headlights headed home. And then…and then…and then you see the blinker. And you run. You run and you scream NO! Oh God NO! Oh baby don’t turn there! Oh don’t do it! You don’t have a map for that road yet!
“You didn’t have a map and you navigated just fine!! And I didn’t mean to take this road but now I’m on it and I need you to let me drive!”
And then she drives off and you don’t hear from her. And you think. And you think some more. And you look through photos. And you realize that “All of your daughter’s comments” are just. Because you did let the worry block the memory of how it felt. And it is what it is. And you are not being fair. And you ARE being a hypocrite.
But then you remember. You do. And while you may worry, and while you may wish she’d chosen a road that was significantly less steep and difficult… it’s going to be ok. It’s going to be better than ok.
And it might mean there will be time rather than toys. And possibly forts rather than fancy swing sets. But there will absolutely be memories that Mom was fun. And Mom loved you. And Mom was always there.
And there will be Grandma. Oh yes. There will be Grandma with her crazy stories and her silly words and her eleventyseven cats and her “No sweetie, you’re ever so right, I DO look much younger than the other Grandma’s.”
So when the headlights turn towards the driveway you fight back tears of relief. And you both laugh at how alike you are and how easy it is to love each other…and how easy it is to fight. And you smile at each other because you can now connect on another level. And you roll your eyes at being informed that at least she is 19 rather than 17. And then…and then…
…and then the whole world changes. And you can’t find the words to describe how much love you really feel. And you place your hand upon the photo that your daughter has set in front of you.
Hi baby…hello….Grandma loves you…