I knew this day would come. I had just finished drying my tears and reloading my three kids back into the car to make the return trip to the store—to retrieve that last bag of groceries mistakenly left at checkout because my 6-month-old needed feeding and my toddler quietly told me she needed to poop, and my oldest continued to protest the trip altogether.
From the back seat of my car I hear it—the exact word that I had muttered when I realized that said bag was missing, right after I finished unloading said car of three kids and groceries.
Don’t panic, I tell myself. Kids are going to say bad words.
My heart stops and aches simultaneously while I break into a cold sweat over the realization of what I just did. It’s like a sippy cup chucked at the back of my head, jarring me into remembering that I had let that little bon mot slip from my own lips not five minutes earlier, in a moment fraught with fatigue, distraction and frustration.
Yes, that word, tumbled from my own lips to their tender ears, and all I want to do now is a Matrix move to bend time and obliterate the offense before it pierces the innocence I work so hard to preserve.
But, there it is. My sweet little monkey just repeated it, and she learned it from me.
I am in shock. I am ashamed. I laugh a little, because, well it is kind of funny. But I am also terrified that she will repeat this in the grocery store, at preschool, at the doctors, at my in-laws…for all to hear that I harbor a cloaked penchant for handling my emotions with less grace than is actually required to be a card-carrying good-mom. And now all my fears and insecurities of not being good enough will be on display for all to see as a glaring reflection of my shortcomings as a mother, not qualified for the privileged role and awesome responsibility of “raising them right.”
Now begins the downward spiral of my confidence and worthiness as I foresee a lifetime of my mistakes playing out on her pure canvas, my smudges of bad judgment forever staining the picture of her life. And it is all. my. fault.
It’s what we do next that matters most, mama.
I take my tear-filled eyes away from the rearview mirror, breathe deeply and consider my two options: ignore the salvo and hope that the no-reaction-reaction will have the desired effect of eliminating the taboo term from my toddler’s vocabulary, or pull over to the side of the road, put the car in park and get out to compose myself while I walk around to the back seat, lean in and gently explain, “There are better words we can use, let’s pick one together.”
I choose the latter and am rewarded for it when I restart the car and hear my 5-year-old say, “It’s okay, mommies make mistakes too, and we always have a chance to make a better choice.”
My eyes well up again with the joy of knowing that at least one valuable lesson has been internalized—loving kindness is a lesson learned every day by how we deal with our own moments, as well as our child’s.
Truth is, we are all bound to make mistakes, especially when we are tired, stressed, and hungry. Just like our kids. And just like our kids, kindness towards ourselves when we make mistakes will model for them a positive self-regard that will grant them space to make their own mistakes and recover, without the paralyzing harsh criticism that also can be taught, and is so difficult to un-teach.
We are not made of individual moments, but an amalgam of all our moments. So it serves us well to remember that it is the moments in between that we should focus on, and not the times we trip over our own humanness. It’s the stuff we do all the other times that truly defines us. And our kids are paying attention to that as well.
Out of the mouths of babes.