Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On Failing

Sometimes I lie awake at night thinking about all the little ways I failed you that day.  All the hurry-ups and never-minds and no and later and not now and because that's the rule float around in my mind and I see all the moments about which, had a video camera been taping me, Supernanny-style, I would be embarrassed.  I go over the ways I would have changed my words, my gestures, the look on my face.  I give bigger, longer hugs.  I ignore the phone, the computer.  I re-do conversations so that I have the right answers.

Like yesterday, for example, you asked, "Why would that baby's mommy not want to keep her and take care of her?" after we'd stopped by to talk with my cousin, who is in the process of adopting a sweet little girl from Nepal.  And I used words like "hard to understand" and "sad" and "lucky" and "family" and, of course, "love," but I could see how it cracked your world open a little, thinking about how somehow, somewhere, there are mommies who can't, for whatever reason, take care of their babies.

And then later, when we were just getting home from your swimming lesson and I was in Get Everyone To Bed As Quickly As Possible Mode, you asked, "So, is Jesus his own dad?" and I just took a big, deep breath and let it out with a sigh, not even knowing where to begin.  And I used words like "mysterious" and "confusing" and, again, "hard to understand," and I could see how you could tell that I wasn't really sure how to explain it, either.

You want your hair cut short, and I am not sure if I should let you.  You want a new lunchbox, because "nobody else has one like mine," and I give you some line about how being different in little ways can be special and fun, but then I say that we'll look for a new one if it is important to you.  I want you to take more yoga classes this summer; you want to try tennis.

We are walking the tightrope already, you and I, of asking and answering, of saying yes and saying no, of admitting that I don't have all the answers and of further acknowledging that the answers I have might not be the ones you figure out for yourself.  Just now, I think I still know most every little thing about you, but that's about to change.

Years ago, a friend wondered aloud:  If you could choose any three character traits that your child would be sure to possess, what would they be?  I rolled that around in my head for a while and finally chose:  honest, compassionate, sense of humor.  A few weeks ago, I spied a plaque on etsy that I thought would be perfect for your bedroom wall, which needed a little help, anyway.  It says "Be silly.  Be honest.  Be kind."  I nailed it up on your wall, and on the nights when I'm awake re-hashing the good and bad of the day with you, I hope you're asleep under its watchful gaze and that the instructions are somehow sinking in despite the many ways I continue to fail you.


  1. Coincidentally (or not), I've been journaling something similar, deciding whether to post it. I'm struck by all the times I say or do things that aren't in alignment with what I really believe or what I really want to teach Anna, which for me feels like a failure (how many times to do I say "we don't have time" or "if you don't do this now, we won't make it to ___" as we're rushing to get out of the house?) Anyway, thanks for posting this. While the feelings of "failure" probably won't ever go away (I certainly need to listen better to the following words)...I'm still going to say that I don't believe you are actually failing her. Rather, you are showing her you aren't perfect. And, she needs to see that I think. AND, I'm willing to bet that 25 years from now, when she has kids of her own, she'll remember all the ways you encouraged her and helped her grow more than the imperfections.

  2. I think this idea of "failing" can apply to all relationships. I fail my mom when I'm not a patient listener to her. I fail John when I take him for granted. I feel grateful that they're my family and I get to start over with them every day.

    I can imagine that parents feel an even greater responsibility to not fail with their kids than they feel about not failing with, say, their own parents, of course... but you are human. And you can't be supernanny every day, or superwife... no one can. :)

    Also, I love this: "We are walking the tightrope already, you and I, of asking and answering, of saying yes and saying no, of admitting that I don't have all the answers and of further acknowledging that the answers I have might not be the ones you figure out for yourself." So good, Stephanie.

  3. Thanks, you two. I think "failure" might be too harsh of a term for what I was trying to get at. I don't truly think I am failing her as a parent, but it sure is hard for me to ever feel OK about being less than 100% for my kids. And you're right, Kellie, that she's probably not going to remember or internalize much of this at all - I know I don't have long lists of all the ways I was wronged by my parents in my head. I think she'll mostly remember the good stuff, at least, I hope so.