I closed the car door with my foot and tiptoed my son’s birthday cupcakes inside. I was determined to remain incognito on my path to the kitchen where I excitedly stored the treats meant for his birthday party the following day.
Moms talk about a “mom win,” and I was having that sort of moment, but it didn’t last long.
Fast forward 12 hours to the next morning, and me waking to a tiny hand slapping my face. I sat up equal parts annoyed and panicked. Had I overslept? This day was not already off to a not-so-great start.
I stumbled into the kitchen to find my eldest son hiding in the pantry, helping himself to a breakfast of champions - his not so well hidden leftover Halloween candy. And while it wasn’t ideal, taking the candy away at that moment seemed more daunting than the sugar high he was headed for, so I opted to pass by with a blind eye. I needed coffee.
My mom was hosting the birthday party at her house with a handful of our family members invited, and though this absolutely alleviated some of the stress that comes along with throwing a kid's party, somehow, the morning still felt chaotic.
We eventually got out the door about 30 minutes later than planned, but we were moving in the right direction. I loaded the kids, slid into the driver's seat, and attempted to start the car. Nothing. I tried again and ... nothing.
Please no, I thought, not today.
I quickly replayed the night before in my mind, trying to figure out the source of the problem.
I got the cupcakes … I drove home … I snuck inside, hid the cupcakes, and went upstairs to tuck the kids in bed.
Nowhere in this replay did I remember the part where I actually turned off the car.
The verdict was in. My car was out of gas and we were going nowhere fast.
As I called my mom to come rescue us, I put myself on trial.
You forget to turn the car off? Really?! Isn’t that a pretty basic function of getting out of the car? How could you be so stupid? It's your son's birthday and you are ruining it.
I felt the guilt taking over and the tears brimming. My heart was sinking when the sweet sound of giggles hit me from the backseat. My kids were singing a mashed-up version of "Happy Birthday" and it was just the thing I needed to pull myself back from the edge of self-loathing I was teetering on.
I took a deep breath and reassessed the situation. Things could be worse, right?! Everyone was still alive, my mom was on the way, and, yes, we still had cupcakes.
As my breathing slowed, so too did my thinking. Things became more clear. And that's when I began to wonder to myself, What am I going to model for my kids here? Am I going to show them how to beat yourself up when you make a mistake, or am I going to give myself some grace and teach them that we all make mistakes?
Shit happens, and we can either criticize and complain, or we can work to transform it.
I chose the latter.
I saw so clearly at that moment that how I responded or reacted to my own mistakes would inform my children on how to be with theirs.
If it were my best friend sharing this same story with me, I would snort-laugh and tell her to give herself a break. So, why was it so hard for me to give myself this same break?
But, we do that, don’t we? We punish ourselves for things we wouldn’t think of judging another person for doing.
Having a soul-searching conversation entirely by myself in the front seat of my car, I made a vow to work on loving myself - not only for my mama wins but also for my misses.
As I waited for my mom to show, I scribbled down a short list of ways to let go of the suffocating chokehold being “perfect" had on me, and here they are:
- Let yourself feel. Use “I statements” to say what I’m feeling out loud to keep me aware and in the moment.
- Laugh at yourself. I may look crazy but laughing, even if a forced laugh at first, shifts the brain by releasing feel-good hormones.
- Think positive. When I mess up, I am quick to pull out all of the self-deprecating labels. Note to self: cancel the negative thought, and replace it with something positive about myself.
- Do-it-over. Do you believe in time travel? I do. Asking for a re-do and owning up to my mistakes is like the cosmic reset button to life.
You may be wondering if we ever made it to the birthday party and I am happy to tell you that we did. The car that wouldn't start was barely noticed by my kids and long-forgotten the second we pulled up to grandma's house.
And those cupcakes? They were a huge mom win, scoring me hugs and sugary smooches from my birthday boy.
This is me. I am an imperfect mama who wishes she was more or "better" for her boys. I am an imperfect human being, and somehow, this is a reality I am just now learning to not only accept but to celebrate.
Being excite-able. Being forgetful. These things do not make me unlove-able --- they make me, me.
And that is something I can learn to celebrate, and teach my boys how to do as well.