They started rolling in half-way through my morning run. I saw them light up my phone screen as I clipped along on the treadmill. The texts came from my daughter who left for school fifteen minutes prior. I glanced over without stopping, and when I read “MOM I FORGOT…SECRET SANTA…GIFT…HELP” I stopped reading and kept running. Despite the ALL CAPS, an emergency on her part did not constitute an emergency on mine. Then she began calling. My cell phone, the house phone, then my cell again. I finally stopped running when she texted MOM PLEASE PICK UP!!! While I admired her persistence, I stopped because I reached the point where my desire to yell at her exceeded my desire to finish my run.
I called her back, all breathy and annoyed, and when she picked up the phone, her voice sounded so small. It reminded me that even though I have to crane my neck and look up when I speak to her, she’s still my little girl. Her “Mom, please, I’m so sorry but…” sank like a pin into the balloon of my irritation. One swift jab of her sweetness and I deflated. Don’t get me wrong, I felt totally and utterly frustrated with her, but what little is left of my tenderness from the kids’ early years, took over for the hardened mother I’ve become, the one that wants to teach them all the lessons.
My husband, a marshmallow on most days, suggested I let her feel the pain of her irresponsibility. I usually jump all over these opportunities–never let it be said my kids don’t learn from their mistakes. But something about her plaintive voice, and the thought of some poor child at her lunch table not receiving a gift, and the fact that I need bailing out repeatedly, stopped me. I realized, my kid has a lifetime to learn from her mistakes. Seriously, an entire lifetime of adulthood where she will screw up, and will find herself on her hands and knees wiping up her own mess. God knows, I’ve found myself with hands and knees raw and chapped from the constant bending, cleaning, humbling from cleaning up after my own mistakes.
I brought her the secret santa gift, which she’d wrapped all wonky and crooked, scrawling the name Brie across the top in her childish hand. I even stopped and picked up a warm bagel for her lunch. I thought of how little time and opportunity I have left to make things right for her, how few things I can truly fix. She’s at an age when the cracks begin to show in the lives of her friends, when relationships fall apart and heartbreak becomes a reality. When eating disorders and drugs and depression and drinking present a very real threat. I can’t mother away the pain of her friend’s illness or the friend whose dad left and whose life is falling apart. I can’t mother her into good grades and a stellar college. I can’t mother her into a relationship with Jesus. All I can do is show up when she needs me, and mother her in the small places.
When I arrived at the high school, I walked in with two other parents carrying what appeared to be forgotten lunches. We lined up at the welcome table manned by two volunteer mothers. Papers, bagged lunches, and crumpled athletic uniforms piled up on the table, and in the middle sat the sign-in form for the forgotten items. One mom handed me a pen and a sticky note with a wry smile. She sees this all day long–mamas doing the best they can to parent in the small places left to us, before we’re crowded out altogether.
Do you wish you had someone to clean up behind your messes sometimes? I know I do!