I did something on Sunday I have never done before. Not in seven (almost eight) years of mothering. I left my child. Completely forgot about her. Until we sat down at lunch. Forty-five minutes after church was over. I have never driven down the interstate as fast as I did that afternoon. I didn’t even care if I got a ticket.
When I walked into her classroom, the only people there were her teacher (BLESS HER) and the maintenance men. Literally vacuuming the floors of AN EMPTY BUILDING. Caroline looked at me and said, “Mommy! Where have you been?!”
Good question. Great question, actually. Because I had been all over the map that morning – arriving early to lead prayer, meeting and greeting people in our Sunday School class, helping friends find the right classroom for their kids, rushing out the door as soon as every head was bowed to make it to my niece’s baptism in time at a different church down the road. Hurrying to the family lunch to meet back up with Jason.
And that’s when it happened. I noticed the noticeable absence of my three-year-old’s presence. (Anyone who knows Caroline knows this is not hard to do; Caroline likes to make her presence known.) Running over to my husband who was standing in the buffet line, calmly spooning shrimp onto his plate, I asked, “Where is Caroline?”
“I don’t have her,” he said. “Don’t you?”
And I wanted to blame him. Really I did. Couldn’t I somehow make this his fault? His fault that we were all sipping on lemonade while our three-year-old was still sitting in the church nursery two whole neighborhoods and a fifteen-minute car ride away?
But the finger could not point to anyone except back at me. I had gone over my plans to make the morning work with my sister-in-law, with my mother-in-law, with myself. But not with Jason. I just sort of assumed he knew my thoughts. Assumed he knew that since I had the two big girls, he was in charge of our little girl. But clearly my plans had not been clearly communicated to anyone, including myself.
The only comfort was that a few months before, I had been with my sister-in-law when she had forgotten my niece. And received the dreaded you’re-a-terrible-parent-who-forgets-her-child phone call from the school receptionist. This, by the way, is not my sister-in-law who is related to Ma Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie (see last week’s post, Easter Nest). I am pretty sure Ma Ingalls, nor my sister-in-law, Haley, has ever forgotten anyone for whom she was responsible. This is my sister-in-law whose house resembles Disney World and wherever she is, a party is sure to begin. With water balloons and an inflatable water slide or some sort of Disney character or entertainer to boot. But being the author of good times that she is, sometimes she forgets a thing or two if it’s not tied to her body…like one of her four children.
At least I knew I was not alone in my forgetfulness, and that alleviated (just a little) part of the pain from the walk of shame back down the empty church hallways, PAST THE DIRECTOR OF THE PRESCHOOL MINISTRY, with my three-year-old in tow. (I am fairly certain I will never be asked to volunteer in the preschool ministry again.)
Maybe all you moms out there need to be reminded that you are not alone in your crazy, forgetful, end of school, run-around-like-a-chicken-with-your-head-cut-off state either. Maybe you need to know you are not alone in your own particular failure or hallway walk of shame.
But I did learn something from Sunday’s episode. Actually, I learned a few things. Number one, take a deep breath. And number two, slow down. Did I put that in all caps? Let me say that one again: SLOW DOWN.
Slow down. And stop trying to be all things to all people. Which means that some people, or at the very least, one person, is going to have to be let down (at least, in your estimation). But the third thing I learned is that letting someone down is ok. Because you were never meant nor made to be all things to all people. Most people are probably more understanding then we give them credit for, and even if they are not, their world, and yours, will continue to go on turning, even if you are not at the very center of it. As a mom, you are supposed to be there, first and foremost, for your husband, and then for your little ones God has entrusted to your care. Moms, moms-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law, brothers, brothers-in-law, friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, relatives in general, teachers, volunteer committees, to-do lists, parties, plans, end-of-year-gifts, dirty dishes, dirty houses, dirty closets – they can all take a backseat. They can handle being let down or ignored (closets, not people) if it means you need to stop focusing on them so that you can focus on the little people in front of you. Because when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, when you and I are racing around to be all things to all people, our little people are the ones who get hurt in the process.
And more than the perfect end-of-year party, or end-of-year gift, or biggest and best recital arrangement, or cleanest kitchen or closet or house, what your children really want, is YOU. Your presence. Your full attention. Your emotional compassion and care and love instead of your emotional exhaustion and frayed nerves.
This is not a guilt trip; this is a gentle reminder. To me most of all. During this month of the year, what can you let go of? What can you surrender? What demands can you give up so that you can give in to the needs of your family and your children?
Because what our children need this time of year is not a mom who performs perfectly at the end of every day and every end of year event; they need a mom who is present for them in the day in and day out ups and downs of the daily routine.
Don’t forget that. Because in doing so, like me, you may just end up forgetting a child. And in all of our remembering this time of the year, we don’t want to end up forgetting what is really important after all.