The first few days of Kindergarten my son came home excited and happy. After a few weeks that started to change. About a month in my normally exuberant kid said, “I hate school! I don't want to go back!” My initial instinct was to respond, “But you have to go!” Instead I somehow managed to stifle that urge and instead asked him why he was feeling so unhappy. After some tears and some hugs he said, “ There are so many things to learn, so many things to remember. I feel so little and I hate making mistakes.”
I was struck in that moment by an onslaught of fears, feelings, worries, and a totally inappropriate urge to laugh. I thought silently; Oh God! You are going to make so many mistakes! Lighten up! Thankfully I managed not to say that and to keep a straight face. Instead I said to him, something along the lines of “Yeah. I get that. But we all make mistakes, that’s part of learning.”
He thought about that for a moment and responded, “But you guys never make mistakes.I wish I was a grown up. Then I would never make a mistake.” I did laugh at that one. “Uh. Yeah. I could see how you might think that, but I make mistakes everyday, and I’ve made mistakes everyday of my life. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s part of life.” His red eyes seemed doubtful, but his mind was on something else already and the conversation changed. Phew! I thought. Crisis averted.
Until a few days later. He came home from school crumpled and dejected. Again he said he hated school, learning was too hard, he made too many mistakes and he didn't want to go back. Suddenly, this was now a thing. An event to be dealt with. My mind started reeling. What happened? How did this happen? Did I do this to him? Is this because he’s the oldest? Is this because we are too hard on him? Do I push him too hard? Is this my fault? Did I do something wrong???
That’s when it hit me. I was doing the same thing. I was falling into the same trap as my son. The trap of thinking that I have control over anything. The trap of thinking I could be a perfect mother. The trap of believing that I can keep my children safe from pain. Oops! Crud! How many times do I have to learn this lesson?
Apparently I am going to have to learn this one again and again. So I did what has worked in the past. I tried to slow down and pay attention to my self. I realized how afraid I am of making mistakes. I recognized the familiar voice telling me: I might look stupid. I might look silly. I might look incompetent. People might not like me. Darn. Right back here again.
I decided to face my fear and make a list of my daily mistakes to bring to his attention. Every time I messed up, I told him. We’d talk about it and routinely, he forgave me much faster that I ever forgave myself. I realized how much more likely I was to voice the faults I found, than talk about what was right in the world. Together we changed our goodbyes. Instead of saying “Have a Good Day!” we said, “Try your best and make lots of mistakes!” Finally, one morning we decided to look up “famous mistakes.” What we found was awesome. We found out that the slinky…was a mistake. Post-it Notes…mistake. Silly Putty….mistake. But the best, happiest mistake of all….Chocolate Chip Cookies!
Now, upon further research I’m not sure if the Toll House story is true or not. But it was true for him. This story helped him to hold in his mind that he can make mistakes and that maybe even something brilliant and yummy will come out of it. We’ve continued to work on this. Him in his way, and me in mine. I try to remind myself that there is no such thing as perfection, that life is good, right here, just as we are, and that by sharing our successes as well as our failures, we can help each other grow.
It’s been a glorious summer in New England. Not too hot, not too cold, plenty of sunshine. Yet, as I’m writing today it’s raining and just a little bit chilly. I feel like there is change in the air. The hot summer days, are turning just a tad cooler. We haven’t needed air conditioning at night this week. Yesterday I noticed that dusk came just a bit earlier. People are talking about school starting.
While I’m not ready to hang up my beach pass yet, I see that autumn is on it’s way. I’m waiting for my tomatoes to ripen, and I’m ready to wear some of my fall wardrobe. I’ve always loved living with the seasons because of the constant reminder: change happens. In fact, the only constant is change.
I remember the moment that this idea first truly hit home, and gave me a great sense of relief. I was a new mother, sleep-deprived, hormones-ranging, living in a new life, missing my old life, my familiar friends, my pre-baby-body; missing my old-familiar self. To summarize: I felt a lot of anxiety. When my baby would cry, and I couldn’t differentiate (and I thought that I was supposed to be able to) between a cry for food, or sleep, or comfort, I got anxious. When I couldn’t manage to do the things that I thought that I “should” be able to, or that I used to be able to, I felt anxious. When I was snowed in for two weeks because Washington DC was experiencing the worst winter in its history, and I was alone and bored, I felt worried that I would be stuck there for ever. Enter: my Best Friend. She listened and over the phone reminded me of her mantra. This one had helped her through her own dark moments of new motherhood and uncertainty. She said to me: Remember, this is only a phase. There is a reality outside of this. I felt like something shifted, or maybe more like something settled. AH-HA! That’s absolutely right.
Even now, when I feel like everyone is yelling at me, and nothing is going as planned, that phrase grounds me. I know that whatever is happening will end. The anxiety rises when I am holding onto something too tightly and I fear that I will lose my grasp. I try in those moments to breathe, and remind myself that I don’t have to worry about losing my grip, because my grip too will change, whether I want it to or not.
This topic of change and the feelings that come up around change is constant. More often than not, life feels like a roller coaster with the stomach drops and the terrifying ascents into nothingness. In the off moments, when I am calm and feeling like a whole person, I can snuggle into the ubiquity of change yet again and remind myself that through change, life happens.