On our last day of summer vacation, I squeezed a dollop of sunscreen into Grace’s hand. “Mom,” she said, “remember that time you squirted spray sunscreen onto my face?”
I groaned. “Yes…one of the dumbest things I ever did.” That happened during a previous summer (“vacation”?), when Grace was 4, Anna six months old, and myself six months postpartum and still sleep-deprived.
Then, as now, we were getting ready to go swimming, and I didn’t know—how could I not have known?—that I could use spray sunscreen on my child’s body but not her face.
Seven-year-old Grace laughed. “You were supposed to spray it in your hand, and then rub it on my face.”
Anna, age 3 1/2, laughed too. “Geez, Mom!”
“My eyes and nose burned!”
I cringed at the memory. “OK, OK. Let’s talk about something else.”
“How about,” Anna brought up, “when you were pulling me in my little red wagon, and it tipped over?”
Grace slapped a hand on her forehead. “Remember when you did that, Mom? That was, like, this year.”
“Ugh, yes.” Walking home from our town’s Memorial Day parade.
“Mom.” Anna lowered her voice. “My head was bleeding.”
“I know, I know.” I closed my eyes at the horrible memory. “Why do you both remember so well all these mistakes I made?”
The girls just laughed.
I laughed (a little) too. “I hope when you’re older, you remember all the good things too.”
“We will,” Anna promised.
Grace nodded her agreement. “Of course, Mom.” Then she said, “Remember the time we were playing outside, and you almost dropped Anna?”
I buried my head in my hands.
“I hope when you’re older, you remember all the good things too.”
A few days later, Grace went back to school. I took some pictures to commemorate her first day of first grade (and I’ll do the same when Anna returns to preschool this week). Later this year, as I always do, I’ll compile these pictures, along with other good memories, into an annual family photo album.
I was thinking, though…decades from now, will the highlight-reel moments from these family photo albums actually be what my daughters remember? The first days of school, and first soccer games and piano recitals; holidays with extended families and friends; summer-vacation swimming (after all the sunscreen had been applied). All the wonderful, memory-worthy occasions.
Or—or instead, will the memories that stick top-of-mind for my daughters be a collection of my not-best-moments? “All the Mistakes Mom Made”?
Well, if personal experience can offer any indication…then yes, unfortunately, my daughters probably will not soon forget all the times that would be relegated to the bloopers of our home videos, if we were filming them. Because I still remind my own mom of some of her snafus from my childhood. Which is, I am well aware, childish and pointless at this point…because I’m 35 and a mom myself, and I should cut my mom some slack.
But no, sometimes for no good reason, when talking with my mom, I remind her how she often was late picking me up from my high school volleyball practices. I, of course, sprayed sunscreen into my 4-year-old’s face, but my mom had the nerve not to leave work in time to pick me up from tossing a ball over a net with my classmates.
As a new mom, I promised my newborn daughter I’d never be late picking her up anymore. “Mommy may blind you with spray sunscreen, sweetheart, but she’ll be on time, gosh darnit.”
Life is humbling, isn’t it?
…my daughters probably will not soon forget all the times that would be relegated to the bloopers of our home videos, if we were filming them.
If my daughters were to ask me, in fact, what I’ve learned about life—what 35 years of experience and “learning experiences” (ahem, mistakes) have taught me—that’s what I’d tell them: Life is humbling.
You think you know what you’re doing, or what you’d do, and then you don’t.
You think you did something worth status-updating about, and then you learn about something even more impressive, or heroic, or selfless that someone else did.
You cause your daughter to fall out of a wagon and hurt her head, and then later that evening, she wraps her little arms around you and, totally unprompted, says, “I love you, Mom.”
Have you ever had a moment like that? I’m sure you have. A moment of humility and unconditional love, in which you recognize, “I’m so lucky. I have done nothing to deserve this. In fact, I’ve done stupid things, I’ve made mistakes, and yet I get the gift of this.”
My mom may have made some mistakes regarding timeliness and my volleyball practices, but she (and my dad) did a million things to give my siblings and me a loving and love-filled life. And of all the things, the best things were my siblings. (P.S. to Josh, Jared and Jenna: Really. 😉 )
…of all the things, the best things were my siblings.
I called my sister recently, and she answered but said she couldn’t talk. I remembered, from speaking with her earlier, that she was out with friends then. So I said, half-jokingly, “Are you really telling me you have something more important to do than talk to me?”
Jenna laughed, apologized…and hung up. She called me back the next day, and we talked then.
But I was only half-joking when I asked if she really had something more important to do. Because my sister is always there for me. We talk, text and email all the time about a wide range of topics covering varying degrees of importance (family, friendships and careers…the latest paparazzi photos of Prince Harry).
Over the years, Jenna has also helped me see our parents with more patient eyes. “You need to get over that,” she once said (probably after I brought up the volleyball practices for the 250th time).
I’m sure she’s right, about whatever it was. She usually is. I do, however, share my daughters’ talent for a long memory.
Which brings me back to my children, and our family memories.
It’s possible they’ll forgo the annual photo albums in favor of “All the Mistakes Mom Made.” Seventy years from now, Grace and Anna might be huddled over a kitchen table, cups of coffee in their hands and easy conversation flowing between them. And instead of reminiscing about apple picking at Indian Ladder Farms or sledding at Maple Ridge Park, they’ll recall the spray sunscreen. And the Memorial Day wagon incident…and on and on and on.
And when they’ve retold the last story of many, from “All the Mistakes Mom Made,” they’ll still have each other.
I’m extremely thankful for that.
I was telling my mom about this blog post. “I’m going to call it, ‘All the Mistakes I Made.'”
“You should call it, ‘All the Mistakes I Made So Far,'” my mom replied.
We both laughed. Then my mom noted that she made her share of mistakes too.
“I know,” I said (in that half-joking way of mine that doesn’t irritate my family members at all). “I didn’t repeat any of your mistakes, Mom.”
“Well, that’s great, honey.”
“I made a bunch of my own, though.” And I did—a bunch.
“I made a bunch of my own, though.”
Somewhere along the way, we grow up. Or we don’t, but hopefully we do. We grow up, and we realize our parents did the best they could. They made mistakes, and so did we. So do we.
We realize we are all perfectly imperfect. We recognize life is fragile, and beautiful, and not for forever. We can either forgive, forget and move forward, or dredge up every past misstep and choose ill will over joy.
I hope my daughters choose forgiveness and joy. And I hope they grow to be very old, and very happy, and get to have many cups of coffee and much conversation together, like the picture I have in my memory.
Even if they are conjuring up “All the Mistakes Mom Made” while reaching for the half-and-half.
(Oh, and Mom? Thank you. For helping me with this post title, and for all the other things I should have thanked you for, but never did.)
Photo credit: Pixabay
Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.