This afternoon I had one of those defining moments as a parent. The kind of moment that brings into sharp focus the magnitude of our impact on our children and the enormity of our job as parents. The kind of moment that has given me a constant and physical reminder all evening with the stinging and fatigue of eyes that have wept. An all too familiar feeling sometimes.
It was 17 degrees here in balmy Edmonton today. Unheard of for the 5th of November. Early dismissal at school so a perfect day to stay for a long, lingering play at the park. We stayed too long. Joyful play turned to frustration and unkind words. Words, that as soon as they are spoken almost choke a six year old with regret. But their fragile little egos hold fast to their convictions and sorry is a word too hard to utter in this frustrated state. I was serenaded with muffled sobs the whole walk home. Wishing I had a transporter beam so that we could just be home, cuddled up on the couch and talking about how darn hard relationships are sometimes. How grown ups feel the same frustrations with our friends sometimes but we just don't have the guts to tell each other how we are feeling most of the time. The walk, the sobbing and my frustration with not being able to help her with just the right words had worn me pretty thin by the time we got home. When we got in the door it was like my patience abruptly expired. Everything she said sounded like a whine after all that crying and I just didn't want to hear it anymore. She was tired and hungry. She asked for a granola bar. I just couldn't make another decision and sent her to ask her dad. We have been working pretty hard to help her notice her whining voice and when she asked him for a granola bar he asked her to try again in a different voice. Poor dad. He didn't know the ordeal we had both just endured and Meg couldn't handle this blow to her ego. She came back to the front hall where I was hanging up coats and melted onto the floor. I left her there while I continued to tidy her school things away. When I came back around the corner there she was... knees to chin, tears streaming down her cheek, practicing out loud "Can I please have a granola bar" in the nicest voice she could muster between sobs. And then muttering to herself that it wasn't good enough.... What had I done? Why does she have to feel that way... that aching, tormented, struggle to try and just get it right? I gathered her up in my arms and cried my heart out with her. I don't even know what I said to her. We went to the kitchen and got a granola bar and then I cradled her in my arms again and told her how much I loved her. Dave looked down at the two of us crying in a heap on the floor and said "I don't know how I am doing as a dad but I can tell you one thing Meg, you have the best mom in the world." ................... Stunned silence .............
And there we were the three of us...clearly all just trying to get it right. And as quickly as if nothing had happened at all our lives just went back into step. Meg ate her granola bar and got out her colouring book, I sorted through Meg's school bag and Dave got out the ingredients for supper. And I wonder, will that be one of the moments that Meg remembers, reflects on and agonizes about for years? Or maybe her moments and mine will be completely different. Or maybe there will just be some sort of psyche imprinting from this experience. It will add another layer to her armour. She won't remember the incident at all but her psyche has been undermined... or strengthened(?) by the experience.
I don't feel like the "best mom in the world" and by his comment I know Dave doubts himself as a dad. Both of us have had life long struggles with "trying to get it right" despite the fact that we know there is no "right". And I have watched Meg colour inside the lines since she was 3. Painfully realizing that my paralyzing quest for perfect would be an enduring legacy.