After a day of chasing frogs through the backyard my four year old was reluctant to go to bed. He was coaxed into laying down with songs and stories, and though he tried his best to fight off the rest his body needed after an hour his eyelids fluttered closed. I had to wait until his sleep was sound before moving, and laying beside him in the fragile calm of my bedroom (that’s right, he insisted on falling asleep in my bed) I thought about our lives.
My pattern of thoughts is predictable. I think about how much I love my boys, I think about how much I love my husband, I recall our day, and the last few days. I think about things I want to do with them, things I want to teach them, I think about the things they’ve taught me. Then eventually in the trickle of thoughts and memories I turn my mind to who I am as their mother. As all mothers do, when I think about who I am to the people I love most, I think about my failings. And it’s then, between the last kiss on a snoring cheek at night, and the first bowl of cereal in the morning that I wonder if I’m all I should be, that I wonder if I’m all that they need.
Reflection is good I suppose, necessary if we are going to meet our potential as mothers and fathers, women and men, but my midnight wonderings occasionally border on obsession. I make lists in my head and on my imaginary slate (because even my imagination hasn’t upgraded past 1901) I add up what I’ve done and subtract what I haven’t.
I kick myself for not having more dinners at the dining room table, for being to tired at night to read bedtime stories. I think about moments in the past seven years of parenting that I’ve had to shake my head and walk away from the hundredth question about who or what or why and why not. I’ve willed myself to be more patient, to look into the wondering eyes of my children and always have a gentle answer, to never be the kind of mother who is visibly annoyed with curiosity and wonder. I’ve tried, I’ve failed, I’ve resolved to try harder, and oh my sweet lord I have obsessed.
It isn’t healthy. It isn’t fair. I know that.
And that’s the hard part about all of this being a parent, that I know no one is perfect and that no one ever will be but it doesn’t stop the aching regret that I haven’t been without flaw.
All I can hope for is to make peace with my regrets and try my best each moment, knowing that sometimes I will fail. To love my children with my flawed heart, and hope that all that I am will make up for all that I am not.
Laying beside my sleeping baby that is no longer a baby, brushing his long bangs in a sweep across his forehead, I imagined him as a man and as I often do I wondered what my regrets will be then, in twenty years when I can no longer comfort him by pulling him into my lap and singing him a song. I shutter to imagine.
Then in the dark and quiet of night I thought about my own parents and I wondered if they’ve had the same nights of restlessness filled with regret and the knowledge that they haven’t been perfect. As their child I’m sure they have. I have a separate slate in my head for all of their wrongs, and all the things they are not. They’ve failed me in ways too countless to mention, and they continue to fail me in their absence and pride.
I will be careful not to make their mistakes, I’ll be confidant that I’m doing things better. I will tell my children that I love them no matter how tired they get of hearing it, and the words I speak will be actions that they see. I know I’ll do better. I’ve always said so. I’ve committed my life to doing better.
But tonight I thought of them as a mother, not as a daughter and I thought of the thirty years they have to look back on and my stomach hurt like it used to when I was little and life was out of my control. I felt for them in that moment more than I’ve ever felt for them before, how hard it must have been when their lives unraveled and they had to learn how to parent through immense pain. They didn’t do it well. Living through it with them and having the benefit of hindsight makes me certain that if I was handed their exact situations, I would do better. Unfortunately that isn’t how life works.
Life will throw me brand new wrenches and pain I’ve never seen and I’ll have to parent through them. Whether I fail less or more than my Mom and Dad and Stepmom, and Stepdad wont matter to my kids any more than how often my grandparents failed matters to me.
One day I’m sure I’ll look at the past thirty years of my children’s lives and hope that they can forgive me for not always answering their question about what kind of cloud is in the sky with patience and without google, and as they grow, for things greater and more complex.
I won’t have to ask their forgiveness for the things that I’ve expected my parents to ask my forgiveness for, the grudges they hold against me won’t be for my not defending them against abusers and degraders, for not listening, for not being there. They will have to forgive me for a fresh list of wrongs and thinking about that is humbling and it breaks my heart for my parents.
Before I left my little boy to his dreams tonight, for a moment, I felt a connection with them, and I realized that I haven’t dealt with all of what they’ve dealt with, and I wanted to wipe the slate of all they haven’t been clean. I resolved to be gentle with them, and with myself.
I imagine that must be what it feels like to forgive people who don’t want your forgiveness, but even this, this softening of my heart towards people who have never had my compassion, feels like a giant leap in the process of my own healing.
I’m almost tempted to call them up and tell them that despite everything, I know that they did their best, but then again, it is almost eleven and I’m much better with the written word than the spoken one.