February 21st, 2011

Real Moms Eat Humble Pie

Linda Kennard

I sometimes feel like I’m not a real mom; I’m just playing the part of Mom in real life. I’m doing the best I can, but without an instruction manual, I’m winging it. I’m a student without a professor, an apprentice without an employer, a resident-in-training without an expert guide. If I’d been trained, I wouldn’t make so many mistakes—or so it seems, sometimes.

But most of the time, I recognize that real moms aren’t perfect. Real moms make real mistakes (and vice versa), some of them colossal. The secret is to uncover the mothering lesson lurking in every blunder.

Years ago, Jay complained about an earache, and I suspected she had an infection that needed an antibiotic. Since we were broke and (at the time) uninsured, I didn’t want to visit the doctor unnecessarily, so I ignored my instincts and kept her home. That mistake prolonged Jay’s pain. Lesson learned: trust my gut!

Some mistakes leave me wondering whether I’ve got the sense to keep my kids alive, let alone healthy. I once booted C&T out of my car at their friend’s house when, unbeknownst to me, no one was home. I left my boys standing bewildered and alone for over an hour, while I read trashy magazines waiting for Jay to have her hair cut and dried. Lesson learned: safety first! Confirm plans the kids make; they’re hazy on details, like dates and times.

When Jay was little, I called my mom to confess every mistake. “I’m the worst mother ever,” I sobbed into the phone. Mom consistently offered these words of consoling wisdom: “No you’re not! You’re just doing the best you can, every day. Go tell Jay you’re sorry and tell her you love her.” Mom’s theory is that if you say you’re sorry and show your kids you love them, they’ll be fine, despite your mistakes.

I’ve stuck with that advice over the years, apologizing frequently and showering my kids with love. Recently, we were at my parent’s house, when I heard a jingling from the grandfather clock. Clyde was on the living room floor behind the chair that is eight inches from that clock. He’d executed what he thought would be a ninja move that would allow him to leap over the chair and land upright in that miniscule space. He sat there teary eyed, with a half-inch mangled gash below his kneecap. The first words out my mouth were, “Get off the carpet before you bleed all over the place!” Of course, I didn’t know how badly he was hurt. (Lesson learned: examine wounds before lecturing!) When I saw his pain, I apologized profusely for being insensitive and reassured my wounded little beast that I loved him.

So you see, I don’t need an instruction manual to be a real mom; my mistakes are my guides. I only need to accept the cycle: I err, I learn, I love; I err, I learn, I love; I err. I learn. And I love. Unconditionally.

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