“I wish I could go back,” he said. “And undo all of my mistakes.”
We were cuddling before bed. Story time was over, he was getting sleepy, and then he throws down this one and I’m suddenly caught between nostalgia for my soon-to-be-ten-year-old and the worst case of parenting guilt I’ve felt for a while.
What on earth?! Dude is nine years old. What mistakes has he made that there is anything to regret? And what have I done as his mother to ensure this kind of pressure for perfection? I gulped.
“Mistakes? What do you mean Bud? What mistakes do you wish you could go back and undo?”
“That time I hit you.” He said. “And that time I didn’t catch my sister when she fell down the stairs. Those kinds of things.”
We were silent for a little while, each of us contemplating. I was desperately trying not to get swallowed up by my own conviction that once again I was failing this kid. And I knew he was mentally listing all the other things he wanted to undo.
I took a deep breath.
“I have a list of things I wish I could go back and undo too.”
“Oh yah. REALLY. None of us are perfect. Only God is perfect.”
My sweet red-head nodded.
“It must be nice not to make mistakes.”
“Someday we will be done making them. But until then, we get to learn from them.”
“Yes,” I said. “Every mistake we make is an opportunity to learn and do something different next time. And you, Kiddo, are one of the best learners I’ve ever met.”
“Really. And I’m so proud of you.”
I kissed him goodnight and he was sleeping in seconds, but I couldn’t stop revisiting his words and wondering—wondering—wondering what I was doing wrong that this thought would be anchored in the heart of my nine year old.
I wish I could go back and undo all my mistakes.
I told a girlfriend about it over drinks one night and tearfully confessed to feeling terribly inadequate to parent this kid—I felt like I was failing him. That perhaps somehow I had created an expectation for perfection. Something I had vowed never to do to to my kids.
She smiled and squeezed my hand.
“You’re taking too much credit,” she said. “And I mean that in the kindest way possible. You don’t get to be responsible for all his winnings or successes any more than you get to be responsible for all of his failings or shortcomings. We could be the best moms in the whole world and never make a mistake with our kids only to have them make their own horrible choices and ruin their lives. Also, we could be the worst moms ever and have our kids turn out absolutely amazing!”
I thought about that and then nodded, tearfully. She was right.
“I see you doing the best you can,” she continued. “And that is all any of us can do.”
All week I’ve been thinking about this. About doing my best. Not taking too much credit (for either the good or the bad) and loving my people well. —Not toward perfection, but toward something else. Toward courage, I guess. Courage to be honest and vulnerable and able to make the sort of mistakes that allow us to learn, and then forgive ourselves.
This isn’t a parenting blog, it’s a blog about food, mostly. And some writing. And doing right by both. But I’m also a mom. My kitchen is messy and my heart is messy, so I’m going to take one post a week—a weekend post—and blog about what it means, for me, to live bravely in all of the messes. As a mom, a wife, and a home cook. And maybe you’ll find a word or two that encourages you. We’re in this together, after all. This thing called life. Around and around and around the sun we go . . .
So here’s to messy kitchens and messy hearts. This is the stuff courage is made of. Take this brand new week to live in that direction. Mistakes and all, because they’re simply opportunities to learn and live bravely.