After the birth of my first child, Dr. Cook to my sickroom. After some chatter, he seriously leaned forward and intoned: “Just remember that the path of right decisions is very broad.” This ranks among the best parenting advice ever given. As a young mother, when I was caught between parenting rules dictated from books, suggestions from my family, and advice from random strangers, Dr. Cook’s words my armor.
What he failed to mention in those tender minutes was that, like our Adirondack roads, the trail was potholed. And while he didn’t warn me of the dangers, I managed to walk straight inside myself.
The fitness app I use asks its users to adopt one “Oh well” Statement, a phrase to relieve yourself of guilt when you screw up. When I met this lesson, it was a no-brainer. Long before that, I had coined a phrase while stumbling through parenthood: “All right, there goes the mother of the year.”
By the time I hit a few small bumps on the parenting road, mom of the year was already feeling slightly out of reach. bumps, like sprinkling chili powder on my oldest’s toast instead of cinnamon, or bleeding my son’s nose trying to teach him to play tag. A slightly larger bump held up my youngest’s birthday party in April, even though she was born in December. But in the end, as the dust settled on each of those missteps, it was easy to laugh and say: “All right, there goes the mother of the year.”
But then there were the public failures – the ones that were more craters than potholes. At the most hectic point of parenting, we had three kids four years apart who lived 15 miles out of town. Our daily path has had many opportunities to deteriorate.
The mornings were hectic. The two girls drove into town with me. When I went to work, Phoebe went to daycare; Chloe to middle school. We had a 5 mile rule. If something was forgotten within the first 5 miles I would turn around and get it. After that, the item stayed at home.
Every journey would start with the same question: “Do you have everything?”
Some mornings, this set off a mad inward rush; Other mornings, it might create a distraction “Yes Mama.” These were inevitably those mornings with a U-turn and heading back for a poster, gym gear, or lunch box.
I can’t remember what was specifically forgotten this morning, but the absence was discovered about 4 miles away. By the time we turned around and picked up the item, we were late…really late. I looked at my watch and did a quick calculation.
If I went straight to work from daycare, I could still be on time. Chloe could get out of the car at daycare and walk the half mile to school. As a young child, she had walked this path a million times. Chloe had made us late, so it was a logical consequence. It was instant, so it was over and done with. And I had to be steadfast – not going back and changing my mind. Three criteria were met: logical, fast and definitive. This decision was definitely a stop on the way to making the right decisions.
I patted myself on the back for my parenting skills, dropped Phoebe off at daycare, and went to work without a second thought.
My peace of mind was shattered when Randy Young walked into the staff room. For those of you who don’t know Randy, he was a science teacher and cross country coach. For those of us who know him, he possesses a breadth of knowledge tempered by a dry wit and an insatiable desire to tease.
“Did you ride your bike to school today, Randy?” someone asked
“Yeah, that’s the weirdest thing. I was turning a corner on French Hill and there was a little girl crying.” Randy gave me a sideways glance as he continued: “She was always running in circles.”
“Did you find out what was going on?” asked a concerned colleague.
Randy nodded sadly as he replied: “She said her mother walked her to school, but she went completely in the wrong direction.”
I opened my mouth to speak but didn’t know where to begin. logical consequence. Immediate delivery. No backing down. Insane parenting skills. I had ticked all the boxes.
“Did you know who she was?” asked a worried voice again.
“Oh yes. Her name is Chloe.” His eyes sparkled.
Right now, the path of right decisions had a sinkhole that threatened to engulf me.
“Don’t worry, I showed her how to get to school. Now what mother would walk a poor child to school?” Randy’s grin was about to turn into a chuckle.
I took a deep breath, smiled faintly and replied: “Obviously not mom of the year.”