Despite the picture our social scrolls may paint, no other person out there is a perfect parent. Even that glamorous, strictly-organic mom friend whose kids are taking college prep courses at the age of seven has her faults, and goodness knows I have mine. The truth is, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses as parents, uniquely sculpted from individual circumstances.
For me, I have this hyper-awareness of wanting to be a steady rock that my kids can always depend on. Somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that this reliability meant never making a mistake. So on my older daughter’s first day of preschool, I resolved to be an A+ School Mom. I would never run late for drop-off or pickup. I would volunteer in the classroom while wearing pants with an actual zipper and not anything that rhymes with boga smants. They would never miss an event like Pajama Day because all of the school papers would be thoroughly read and actually organized with floral rose-gold binder clips from the Target dollar bin. (Score!) I would be a vision of togetherness, glimmering with dignity. I would never make a mistake. Totally reasonable.
Although my focus on being so dependable wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, the pressure and anxiety I placed on myself was growing like the mountainous laundry pile in the basement that rudely refused to wash itself. For over a year, I teetered on this tight rope of self-inflicted perfection, despairing at every balance check but committed to the madness nonetheless.
Then the chain of Epic Mom Fail volcanoes started erupting in spectacular fashion.
It started with Pirate Day at my daughter’s school, during one of those short weeks when the kids were off school on a Monday. That morning, my daughter kept trying to tell me that today was pirate day, but I assured her that no no, it’s actually on Wednesday (without it clicking for me that it already was Wednesday, not Tuesday.) Because telling the days of the week is hard.
Seeing every other kid except mine swagger out of the drop-off line in their swashbuckling finest evoked an inner dialogue from me that could make even the most seasoned of sailors blush. Or hide. Glimmering with dignity I was not. I called my husband frantically declaring that our daughter will need THERAPY for LIFE if we don’t somehow GET HER THE PIRATE GEAR NOW. (Again, totally reasonable.) I dropped the gear off late with my mommy soul much like a pirate flag: tattered but intact.
Not long after, the Narwhal incident occurred. If you’ve never heard of a Narwhal, it’s an arctic whale with one long tusk nicknamed the “Unicorn of the Sea.” My older daughter is jointly obsessed with whales and unicorns, so when we found a stuffed narwhal that was purple, it became her Spirit Animal and most prized position. We were just a sneeze away from “My Preciousss” territory.
When we received the notice for “Bring Your Favorite Ocean Animal” day at preschool, it was like Christmas; the suspense worthy of an advent calendar. On Ocean-Animal Eve, I modeled my best organizational practices and had her pack it up in her school bag the night before. The same bag that is issued by the school, identical to her sister’s bag.
While running out the door before the 15-minute ride to school, my older daughter wanted to grab her own bag, but we were in a hurry and I shooed her out the door, saying I would get it for her to save time. Since my younger daughter didn’t have school that day, I was sure to grab the right school bag, which I felt on the outside to make sure there was a stuffed animal inside. Gold star for mom!
It wasn’t until we were almost to school that I peeked inside her school bag while stopped at a red light. Looking back at me wasn’t Mr. Narwhal, but fuzzy Minnie Mouse earmuffs. Exactly where they should be: in my other daughter’s school bag. Mr. Narwhal was evidently enjoying a leisurely nap on my kitchen counter.
On the outside, I probably looked deranged, gaping at the school bag as if that would help transfigure the pink ear muffs into a purple sea creature. Too drenched in shame to send her to school without the Narwhal, I turned around and thought it best to be late to school with it rather than for her to be the only kid in the class whose mom forgot. Again.
At this point, I had convinced myself that I was the only mother on the planet whose arch-nemesis was remembering all the God-forsaken spirit days at school. Those rose-gold binder clips were failing me and I wanted my dollar back.
On the Drive-of-Shame home, I had a realization: My original goal as a mom was to never make a mistake, rather than showing my kids how to handle one when it inevitably happens. I was so focused on being dependable for them that I had lost sight of the fact that the most reliable people can admit to their own faults and learn and grow from them. In pursuing perfection and desperately trying to never disappoint my kids, I was missing out on some far more valuable teachable moments for us all, like humility, grace, and resilience.
Mamas, it’s okay to make mistakes. You can still press on with your head held high because you still have so much to offer. It’s good not be perfect, better in fact, because some of the most beautiful moments in life stand out because they are contrasted against a backdrop of messiness.
Learning to embrace this silver lining of Mom Fails has been better for all of us, except perhaps Mr. Narwhal. It’s still too soon for me to look him in the eye.