When kids are young, they tend to believe their moms and dads are capable of almost anything. We know everything there is to know; we can perform superhuman feats; we possess the power to create something out of nothing. The everyday contains a magical quality in their little eyes. They believe us to be the most important beings in their world; their faith in us is absolute and unwavering.
The day they first detect the inklings of our failures, flaws, and limitations is a sad day indeed. They break our hearts when we see in their expressions each disappointment, every dashed dream, the evidence they had us all wrong.
It is the beginning of their growing up. The drifting away is imperceptible at first; it catches us by surprise at the first “I can do it myself, Mommy” and “Mom, you don’t have to come with me.” We think, “Oh thank God I don’t have to do THAT anymore.” We settle into the years of gratitude for not being quite so busy with feeding, dressing, nurturing, comforting, playing, all while trying to make a living.
One day our arms will feel empty, like someone went and emptied the ocean when we weren’t looking. And for the rest of our lives we will wonder where the time went, hold our breath when they go off to learn how to be grown-ups without us beside them.
In quiet moments, we will gaze at their baby pictures and feel the unique pain only mommies and daddies know. The pain not merely of missing them, but the pain of regret for what we failed to do.
Our regret will be expressed in the form of wishes; “I wish I had” and “I wish I hadn’t”. When all he asked was “Mommy, can you play this video game with me?” and all she asked was “Can you show me how to cook?” but you were tootiredtoobusytoodistractedtooboredtooinconvenienced to say yes.
It will feel like we have been stabbed in the heart if we allow ourselves to think about it. We will tend to dwell on all the small things we did wrong because the small things become huge, in the way molehills turn into mountains. What we did wrong will blaze as brightly in our minds as the signs on the Las Vegas strip, particularly at times when our hearts hurt for a million other reasons. All we will wish for is a chance to do it all over again.
Yet there is good news: Despite our failures they will love us anyway. They will forgive us for not knowing fourth grade basketball camp gets out early on Fridays, causing them to wait alone and frightened because everyone else has left. They will forgive us for not getting the right kind of Barbie sneakers, and for making them move far away from their friends when they are thirteen years old. They will minimize all the hurts and disappointments caused by us because that’s what love can do. They will put their arms around us and say, “I’m so glad you’re my mom.” Or be happy to see you after all day at work, or they will surprise you with an entire essay written on Face Book for everyone to see, about what a wonderful mom or dad we have been, declarations of praise we don’t for one minute believe we deserve.
Then we will realize we must have done a pretty good job after all. We will come to understand how hard it is to be someone’s parent, and that we did our best with what we had. We will continue to revisit our failings because we really, really meant to do a better job. But we will know, in the deepest part of our heart and soul that every day is a new chance to get it right.
Here is a favorite piece by a writer friend of mine, Evelyn Zepf. I think you'll agree it fits in with my post. Enjoy.
The last time I carried my children in my arms
Was not remembered as a milestone
I never knew
that was what it was
As I lifted to comfort
or carried sleeping up the stairs
Remembered milestones are always firsts
First words, first steps, first days of school
We celebrate beginnings
But endings hold a melancholy grief
We don't recognize them for what they are
For just one more time...