Every night once the kids are in bed I try to ignore the annoying voice in my head that screeches through the list of things I should have done better. Every night. I can’t seem to turn it off. Especially when I’m surrounded by the daily mount doom of school paper work, projects and permission forms.
I’ve talked to other moms about it and they tell me it’s normal. But it doesn’t make it any easier.
Some days it seems to me that motherhood is a series of getting things wrong and trying again. Every day. Forever. On repeat.
It’s a lesson in how utterly imperfect you are and how bad your temper can scare you.
It’s a never ending, vividly imagined list of all the ways you could possibly mess up a tiny human.
Some nights I lie in bed and it’s hard to breathe. I used to think newborn sleeplessness was the worst. But I’m graduating into elementary school panic and that age has awoken a host of new worries.
Because now they can remember how bad I messed up.
This thought terrifies me. I’m guessing some of you are living in that reality right now. The one where she’s in her room and you’re at the computer wishing you could get a take-back.
Do-overs and doughnuts seem to be the bread and butter of parenting.
But last year I heard a story that’s crawled under my ribcage and offered some hope.
I heard my favorite author of books about boys tell the story of a father who’d messed up. Messed up good and proper for years. Messed up more than just missing a few soccer games and home work assignments. He’d missed life. For years. Until his three girls were grown and were growing families of their own, reinventing the word.
They’d taken for granted the fact that he’d checked out of their lives.
And that’s when he decided to check back in.
When bridges, doors, and expectations had all been burned, that dad whose kids had outgrown him came back for another try.
Trying again is always awkward. It’s so uncomfortable to keep trying to find new ways to say I love you. And I’m sorry.
He called all three of his daughters and asked if he could come and visit them. They were surprised. A lot surprised. They wanted to know what kind of agenda he was expecting. And he said he just wanted to come and be part of their routine. To fit into the nooks and crannies of their lives so he could understand how they looked from the inside.
And the women were skeptical. But they opened their doors anyway and their dad, he showed up throughout the year, paying them each a visit. And true to his word he tagged along for everything. He was there for breakfast and car pool and pick up. He watched homework get done and games get squabbled over. He came to sports matches and helped make the macaroni.
He quieted himself so he could hear what was going on in the big, wide world of his daughters’ lives.
He was present.
He was interested.
And a parent like that is hard to resist; hard to write off.
This dad, he gives me hope because he should have been too late. But instead his girls, they were fascinated by how fascinating he found them.
And on the last night of their do-over weeks together he would take his daughters out to dinner. And over dessert he would ask them each a question.
He asked his grown up, no longer wearing pig-tails, raising-kids-themselves daughters,
“What do you dream?”
I was standing in the very back row of the over-crowded hotel conference room and you could have heard a pin drop as 200 moms let that question run around their heads.
In the midst of all our every day to-dos it’s rare to have someone ask about dreams that may have been lost in a thousand miles of car pool.
He wasn’t too late. It turns out that this dad arrived in time to remind his daughters of a time when they dreamed wild and free as only children can.
You’re not too late either.
No matter how hard you fought or slammed that door or disagreed or stormed out or said things you wish you could take back. No matter if you threw his math book across the room or if she declared you the worst mom, like, ever.
You’re only too late once you give up going back for another do-over.
You’re only too late if you stop trying again.
Too late isn’t too late until you walk out and don’t walk back in again.
You’re only too late if you’ve run out of tomorrows.
So tonight, I will set my alarm and get up ready for fresh donuts. Or Cheerios as the case may be.