I could feel the tears stinging the edges of my eyelids.
My husband had just made a simple observation, that the hairbands were all over the kitchen floor, and I froze. I looked at him and whispered, “I can’t take any more criticism right now.” He looked confused. He’d made an observation. From where was this coming?
I inhaled. Exhaled. I tried to show him.
A few days ago, I spent the morning making gluten free cupcakes because my son had a birthday party to attend and I didn’t want him to miss out. For the last couple of years, I've spent each day figuring out what food people are going to offer him and making or buying alternatives. I really don’t mind. It’s become normal.
I frosted the cupcake, poking little toothpicks around the top so the icing wouldn’t smash against the lid of the plastic container.
The next morning, all three kids and I piled into the van and we headed to the drop-off line at school. As we pulled up to the circle, I noticed that all the children getting out of the vans in front of us were wearing jammies.
How could I forget? In all our new child, new schedules, learning to juggle it all, I’d let a flyer slip through my fingers. One that said Pajama Day, the day of flannel and coziness and something fun to break up the routine of schoolwork.
I braced myself. I knew what was coming. My son’s eyes filled with tears. They boiled over, splashing down his cheeks. He was a cauldron of wet, angry emotion. ”IT’S JAMMIE DAY! HOW COULD YOU FORGET JAMMIE DAY?!? THERE ISN’T GOING TO BE ANOTHER ONE!!!”
His panic rose. He was grieving jammies but he was grieving the loss of being firstborn as well. His pain from the changes in our family bubbled over and blasted full force at jammies and at me. Loss. Loss of jammies and loss of his place in the family and it was all too much for him.
He screamed at me, and I don’t just let my kids scream at me but I felt all of his struggle in that moment and ached for him. The teacher walked toward the van door, our dumb manual door that sticks. As she yanked it open, he dried his tears, and I handed him his gluten free cupcake with trembling hands.
I’d worked so hard. I’d thought of everything. But I’d missed something. Something big to him.
And even though I know deep down that I’m a good mom, in that moment, I felt failure. I felt not enough.
And there are a hundred little moments like that throughout a day. Missed deadlines, forgotten memos. Criticism from kids, criticism from myself, criticism from life.
So when my husband mentioned the hairbands, it wasn’t about hairbands. It was never about hairbands. And it wasn’t even about him.
It was a mountain of little details gone awry. It was dinners that no one likes and dishes and laundry never finished and “Mom!!!” shouted hundreds of time, in a way that sounds like a swear word.
I looked up at him, shoulders tight under my ears, fists pressing onto the countertop, and the fiery knot in my throat threatened to burn right through my vocal cords. His eyes looked back at mine. Kind. Loving. And in that moment I knew that he saw me.
He saw. He saw it all.
We didn’t have to talk anymore. Which was good, because my throat wouldn’t let me.
We’d arrived at understanding, the hairbands still scattered all over the floor.
It’s not easy, this parenting thing, this partnering thing. I’m grateful for these moments of being seen, being heard. After the kids finally give up and sigh into their pillows, these late nights of eyes meeting and hearts softening remind me that I am loved and I am loving.
Inhale. Exhale. Life’s about the journey, and the journey is beautiful.
If you’ve had a moment, or several moments, of feeling failed, of feeling not enough, I just want you to hear today that you’re doing a great job. I know I’m not there, but I see you, and you’re beautiful. We are together on this team, and I am rooting for us.