Monday, January 13, 2014

Can't Be Unsaid

During our winter break, we all got in the habit of going to bed later. This has been a hard habit to shake off now that school is back in session. My REM cycle is all out of whack, and I'm not entirely sure what time I should go to bed to get things into a better groove.

Most mornings, when the alarm goes off, I am mid-dream, and just struggle to get myself upright while still trying to wrap up the plot lines that I was in the thick of moments earlier. Today was one of my less successful attempts, as I now have no idea what I was dreaming, but at the same time, I know it didn't end well. This has left me with a sense of foreboding, a feeling that I must fix something, a something I cannot describe, and that is now out of reach.

This is all too much for a Monday morning, the most dreaded of wake-ups, especially with an uncharacteristically groggy and late wake-up by my daughter added into the mix, as well as a whole list of spelling words to drill for her Monday quiz while she was eating cereal.

When EJ declared early in the weekend that all of her homework was done, I didn't ask her about spelling. She has a knack for asking to be quizzed on words she hasn't practiced, yet, which just reinforces wrong spellings, so early in the fall, we made a point of creating some spelling practice work as a part of her (already extensive) workload. She got in the habit, before break, of typing out the words several times, looking over them for any tricks that would help her to remember them, etc. We are all out of our habits, though, and tired—I've mentioned tired a few times, right?—and I realized last night while she was in the bath that she probably hadn't practiced spelling at all.

With words like gravitational, reservoir, and indomitable to learn on her list, you can imagine her fun last night and this morning, trying to cram. It was a good life lesson in, "if you study, you learn things, if you don't..." Prepared or not, I took my anxious, half-dreamy self to the table this morning, grabbed her list to quiz her, and that's when it happened:

Total parenting fail.

You know when you become a parent that you aren't going to do it perfectly. You are going to mess up, because everyone does. Once you are deep in the job, you realize that you must constantly cut yourself slack—there is so much to manage, mistakes won't just be made, they'll be made regularly, and occasionally with a flourish. You may, like me, get in the habit of apologizing to your kid when you make a mistake, hoping that you are modeling what it is to be accountable for mistakes, and teaching her about forgiveness. That's the hope, anyway.

What you don't ever imagine is that sometimes, when you are dealing with your kiddo, you will be a total jerk-face meany head. You will lose your patience, say something downright stupid, then watch your kid's face as they process what you have said, not knowing how to fit it in with what they already know. You will backtrack, affirm, hug, and give an onslaught of "I love you" and "I believe in you" messages in all their various forms, but you won't be able to take the unfortunate moment back.

You'll know that in the whole tapestry of your kid's psyche, this moment will likely just be one stitch. You'll also know that there will be billions of other stitches from you, all much more gentle, kind and affirming. The thing is, there is no way to rip that stitch out and redo it—you can only move forward in your work, mend as best you can, and hope that the dark scarlet thread stitched in during that moment somehow blends or fades into the bright white needlework you have been helping your child to create.

Your kid may even give you cues that they are okay, that they know you love them and believe in them just as you are (repeatedly) professing, all while you apologize for being unnecessarily cross. They might understand the momentary lapse, as they, too, have said rotten things to you in a moment of fatigue or impatience, and may be old enough to put themselves in another's shoes. You might hug, as EJ and I did today, and tell each other that you love each other, wish each other a great day, and shake off the bad feelings.

If you are like me, you'll still feel horrible, though, just like you are woken from a dream, and can't finish up the story in a comforting way.

Thinking back, what I said this morning wasn't particularly cruel or cutting, it was just way too matter-of-fact, assessing her inability to spell the words in a way I might describe a bad movie to a friend. I was impersonal, a small misstep, but one that matters more than we would like to think it does. The moment I heard myself—the moment I heard my own crisp tone, as opposed to the thoughtful, encouraging one I'd wished I'd used—I knew I had not put on the correct communication style for a breakfast conversation with an eight-year old, much less the eight-year old I love most of all.

Quizzing unprepared spelling words on this sleepy Monday morning was not smart. Realizing that I may have hurt my kid's feelings over spelling words—silly, "doesn't make a difference if she knows them or not" spelling words—is depressing. Knowing that living together in a family means that, sometimes—not often, but sometimes—I'm not the hero, I'm actually the bad guy, is humbling. And waiting the seven hours for my kid to get out of school so I can hug her again...well, it's going to be a long, long day.


  1. If only they would develop the parenting robot so children could be reared mistake-free. Until then, parents are people too. She's probably forgotten about it by now, so why don't you go ahead and do the same?

  2. I agree with Carrie. I am my own worst critic and beat myself up a lot when I do similar things. Here's the good news: when you are not at your best, but remember to apologize for being human you are teaching your daughter that being human is OK. You are teaching her that you can repair some mistakes with a hug and an apology. What a gift that is.