My children go back to school next week. It’s hard to believe summer break is coming to an end, but it’s always an exciting time in our house. The kids look forward to seeing their friends more often, to meeting new people and, most of all, to begining a relationship with a new teacher. Even Baby #4 is getting in on the action, as he will attend nursery school for the first time this year.
I’ve mentioned before about “Name Your Favorite,” a game that we usually play around the dinner table. Yesterday was the last day my nephew spent with us during this summer break, and we went out to lunch as a special treat.
The kids decided on Friendly’s, which was a wise choice, since they were running on pure excitement. It’s okay to be a bit loud in Friendly’s, even before the ice cream sugars you up. We were seated in the middle of the dining room, myself and five children, who giggled their way through the activities on the placemats while waiting for their food.
“Name your favorite thing that we did this summer,” I asked them.
“That’s tough,” Baby #1 said. “I would have to say being down the shore and the wedding, too. I can’t pick just one.”
Those were two family events, one from my side and one from my husband’s, and it didn’t surprise me that her favorites involved time with the people she loves the most.
“That’s not tough, it’s easy,” said Baby #2. “All of the days we went to Mitzvah Circle to drop off stuff.”
No surprise there, either, since loading up the van with donations and dropping them off was something he looked forward to weekly.
“That time we went bowling,” my nephew reported, even though I recall not much actual bowling taking place.
“Walks at the park and playground!” Baby #4 shouted enthusiastically, “and dance parties!”
While we were having this discussion, Baby #3 had been playing with four colored pencils he had found in the diaper bag. He didn’t chime in, but stayed entrenched in his imagination. I expected it would take him a few moments to come up with an answer. When he plays, it’s hard to break his concentration.
“How about you?” I asked him. “What was your favorite thing from this summer?”
“Easy question,” he told me, the volume in his voice loud and steady, “the time you were yelling at us to get ready to leave. You said we had to be ready on time and comb our own hair and put our shoes on and look good. And your skirt was tucked into your underwear the whole time!”
Ouch. The kids dissolved into shrieks of laughter.
I squirmed in my seat, knowing the other diners in the room must have heard his reply. Here I was, a mom with a gaggle of kids—doing a decent job of managing them in public—yet being called her out for her imperfections. I hadn’t known any of them had noticed my snafu that day, and had, gratefully, discovered it myself just before we left the house. My face reddened in embarrassment, but I found myself laughing along with them around the table in Friendly’s. Just another big ole dose of humility for me.
He gave a perfect example of parenting. We parents are full of authority, feigned wisdom, and structure. We do have the best of intentions, but we tend to take ourselves way too seriously. While the desire to instruct and inform is necessary and important, do we have to be so pompous about it?
Later that evening, I took a timely bedtime story from the bookshelf, Todd Parr’s “It’s Okay to Make Mistakes.” I attempted to turn my humiliation into a teachable moment.
It is the right time of year for this book. As the children prepare to adapt to new classrooms, I’m also adjusting to parenting them through new schedules, homework, and stages of development. Their mistakes will be growing pains. How I handle my own gives them ideas of how to handle theirs.
Baby #1 doesn’t always challenge herself, and can be complacent with the status quo for fear of making a mistake. Baby #2 holds on to his missteps and tends to punish himself for them. Baby #3 loses his temper, and can be dramatic and frustrated with himself. Baby #4’s reactions are anyone’s guess at this point.
I don’t know if reading that book will have a lasting impression on any of them, but it does give me a reference point when they are dealing with their own errors. We laughed through the pages, examining Parr’s colorful and distinct illustrations. As we ended the book, I reminded them that all of us are doing our best, but that we aren’t trying to be better people if we don’t take chances.
I hope I can show grace through my flaws, and model patience with myself effectively. These past few years of chronic illness have loosened my grip on the strive for perfection. I’m learning to be comfortable in my present state, to accept what I can control and to adapt to what I cannot. If they observe me taking deep breaths, approaching difficulties from multiple angles, and admitting when I was wrong, silly, or foolish, maybe they can do those things, too.
The kids are heading off to school again to navigate education and social growth. I hope to be equipped to anchor them and provide a release valve for the pressure that will naturally build up inside of them. I don’t have all of the answers, and I shouldn’t pretend that I do. I can give myself permission to be a student, because the best teachers are always learning, too.