Grace, Unexpected

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On Tuesday morning, Jane and I barely made it out of the house on time for school. Getting ready in the mornings involves some pretty stellar teamwork—and when I say teamwork, I mean that Jane is responsible for getting her own self dressed & ready to walk out the door. It each girl for herself before 9 a.m. in this house.

Jane spent a large portion of her morning obsessing about the princess ring that she’d gotten out of the treasure box at school. She couldn’t find it. She thought perhaps I might know where it was—and apparently she thought my answer might change on the 101st time she asked me. I did not know where her ring was, not the first time or the 101st time. But she was undeterred. She needed to find that ring.

Galloping Gumdrops! Her ring was right where she’d left it: in her booster seat. (No, I don’t really say Galloping Gumdrops. But we’ve been reading a lot of early reader chapter books, one of which was rife with exclamations like “Salamanders & Salutations!” and “Peonies & Princesses!” I suffered greatly. Thank you for sharing my burden.)

I was distracted on the way to school, making travel plans, finding the perfect song on the radio. The usual. We got to school; I turned around to look at my precious 5 year-old singing along with the radio in the backseat.

And suddenly, shit got real: “Jane, WHERE is your backpack?” “Uh oh. We must have left it at home. “WE must have left it at home?! No, WE didn’t leave it anywhere. YOU left it at home. Your backpack, your responsibility.” I sighed loudly, for added emphasis. Because 5 year olds are especially susceptible to exasperated sighs.

Then I looked down at her. She looked crestfallen. And I realized that I could teach her about natural consequences and personal responsibility, or I could offer her a little bit of grace. Grace won. I squatted down so I was eye level with her, and I said, “You did something that was irresponsible. But YOU are not irresponsible. You made a bad choice. But YOU are not bad. You’re a great kid; I totes love you.” She threw her arms around me and whispered in my ear, “You’re a good mommy. And I’m very sorry about my backpack. I won’t leave it again.” And then she grabbed by hand and pulled me inside the preschool, like she does every morning.

I could recount the boring conversation we had about consequences for the next time (which I’m sure sounded pretty much like the teacher from the Peanuts to her); but most important was that she seemed to understand that we all make mistakes. And our mistakes don’t define who we are.

Fast-forward to Tuesday night: I made (pretend) BLTs for us. Simon was out of town, so Jane & I were enjoying just paling around. We were cutting up about something silly, when I heard a popping. I kind of ignored it. But then I heard it again. It was coming from the kitchen. The intrepid adventurer that I am, I went to investigate.

HOLY SHIT, BATMAN!

Instead of turning off the grease that I’d cooked the (pretend) bacon in, I’d turned it on high. The stove was glowing red & radiating heat. The grease was just pre-flashpoint. It was already smoking. I almost panicked (What do I do for a grease fire? OH MY GOD, I AM GOING TO BURN THE HOUSE DOWN.) I grabbed the pan off the stove & stood there for a minute indecisively. I wanted to get it far away from the heat source.

Amid all this, Jane is staring at me, looking perplexed and a little concerned. “What is it, Mommy? What’s happening?” Honestly, these aren’t usually my best moments of parenting. If I feel that hot sting of shame, like I’ve really fucked up… well, I usually get snappy, dismissive or mean. But I didn’t. Because I just finished reading Daring Greatly, where Brené Brown talks about Minding the Gap (between our aspirational values and our practiced values). I tell Jane all the time that people are not their mistakes, that we can all use a bit of grace… but that means nothing unless I practice it with the person I am least likely to offer grace: myself.

So, I chose vulnerability. I put the pan in the sink (no, I didn’t put any water on it. I at least remembered that much from Home Ec. And I remember how to sew a stuffed unicorn. I can’t wait to see when that comes in handy). I looked at my worried kid and said, “Mommy made a mistake. I wasn’t paying enough attention, and I did something that could have put us in danger. I am sorry about my mistake. I feel bad about it. But we are both okay.”

Immediately, she walked over, hugged me and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. We all make mistakes. You just made a bad choice. You are a good mommy. I love you.”

Well Caterpillars and Catshit, she DOES listen to me. And this is wonderful, and frightening, and a bit overwhelming: she watches me. She waits to see how I act, because that shows her what I really value. That morning she received grace, and that evening she freely returned it. She knew I didn’t expect perfection from her; when I was vulnerable enough to admit to my mistakes, she let me know that she valued my honesty and vulnerability over perfection. Kind of amazing, really.

And, grace aside, we are both pretty happy I didn’t ACTUALLY burn the house down.

You Don’t Like the Buzzer?

IMG_2051When I signed Jane up to play basketball this winter, I had no idea how much I’d learn. And my learning had little to do with the game itself and much more to do with resilience and joy and kicking perfectionism in the ass.

Our family belongs to the YMCA. Consequently, at the tender age of 5, Jane has already played soccer (multiple times) and tee ball. She’s taken swimming lessons, done gymnastics on and off since she was a wee tot. Our theory falls into the try-everything-and-see-what-sticks method of choosing a sport. So, when I signed her up for basketball, it was just something else we could see if she liked.

Oh, sweet baby Jesus, she was awful at it.

The first practice, she had no idea how to dribble. Which I thought would be fine. In the other sports she’d tried, no prior skill was necessary at all. Hell, a decent percentage of the kids ended up playing in the dirt or chasing bugs during the soccer and tee ball games. But what I’d failed to consider is that this wasn’t the “baby league” anymore. This was the 5 & 6 year old league–and they were serious.

She had two practices before her first game, during which she kinda-sorta learned to dribble once or twice before the ball would simply hug the ground. The first game left her completely bewildered. She was supposed to defend (which she’d never heard of before), to dribble (which she couldn’t do), and make a shot on a rebound (what?!?). She basically stood still in the middle of the court, halfheartedly followed her team around, and tried to look like she was part of the action while staying entirely away from the action.

And then it happened–the buzzer went off to signify the end of the period. Sweet girl was lucky she didn’t pee her pants, it scared her so bad.

I was sure she’d want to quit after the first game. Jane is a known perfectionist. If she isn’t sure she can totally rock something, she usually loses all desire to participate. But not so in basketball. In fact, she loved it. She constantly asked to go outside to practice her budding dribbling skills. She loved practice, and stayed more engaged than I thought was possible given her lack of basketball skills.

She loved something she was awful at.

I’d love to say I fully embraced her enthusiasm. But my ego was a bit wounded watching her look constantly confused on the court, seeing her struggle to pick up the skills that seemed to come easily to the other kids. And I was afraid–afraid the other kids would make fun of her, that they wouldn’t want her on the team. I was terrified they’d be mean to her and crush her spirit.

So, instead, I almost beat them to the punch by constantly offering “helpful” suggestions, by insisting she focus, by criticizing her efforts when she was already giving it all she had.

And then one day at practice, I noticed how much fun she was having. How she continued to try, even though she couldn’t execute the drills perfectly. My perfectionist kid wasn’t perfect–and she was okay with it. In fact, she seemed oblivious to it. And I realized I was watching her develop resilience–which is arguably a more important skill than dribbling.

Her basketball picture reminds me of joy and resilience in the face of imperfection. And it gives me so much hope for the woman that she will one day become, a woman who doesn’t have to be perfect to live life wholeheartedly and with great joy.