This week was the kind of week that made me question my parenting. My daughter attended her virtual school with a knot in her hair so big that the only saving grace was the fact that the computer camera couldn’t capture the full extent of the rat’s-nest-like situation. My son had his well visit and the pediatrician announced he had fallen off his growth curve—and then grilled me about his diet, afterward noting the places where he was consuming too much processed food and not enough fruits and vegetables. I opened my mouth to begin to explain, maybe to excuse, and promptly shut it. Because ultimately the excuses and explanations were just that. And his nutrition—or lack thereof—was my responsibility.
That night, my son reminded me that we had never gotten to work on the multiplication flashcards that I’d left out on the counter to remind myself that we needed to work on his multiplication flashcards. He wasn’t disappointed. But I was. I hadn’t forgotten, exactly, I’d just run out of time in the day.
As I tucked my daughter in, she made a few comments about her school friends, who she hasn’t seen in forever, and then went on to tell me her Fortnite accomplishments. Internally, I lectured myself. That morning, I had told myself I was going to work on getting her to find ways to socialize a little more with her school friends, and spend a little less time on video games. The day had passed in such a blur that somehow I hadn’t managed to do that.
By the time I put myself to bed, I had an all too familiar list of things that I would absolutely do better tomorrow. Tomorrow I was going to work, run our household, and perfectly solo parent my two children during a pandemic—no problem.
But then, tomorrow came and went, and where I had successes with getting more vegetables into my son and encouraging my daughter to FaceTime with a friend, I had a few new failures—I hadn’t had a chance to do the laundry, so both kids were scrambling in their drawers to find clean socks, and I’d still forgotten to work on those flashcards.
The truth is there are a lot of big moments in my day that make it easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking I’m not doing enough for my kids, that I’m failing them. But how I know that I’m not (at least not completely, or at least not in the ways that matter most) are because I remember the little moments.
The year after my husband died, I was sure I failed my kids in one thousand different ways. I couldn’t be two parents when I was barely one whole. I knew things had fallen through the cracks. For the first time in my adult life, I completely blew off an appointment with my son’s speech coach because I’d forgotten. For the first time ever, my daughter and I stayed up late cramming for tests, because I’d forgotten to encourage her to start studying days earlier. I was doing my best, and I knew that was enough, but still I wished my best could be more. And I worried about the effect of “my best” on my kids.
And then I found out. On the year anniversary of my husband’s death, after an entire year of living with grief and only “my best,” my son wrote these words to his father and left them on his tombstone. The note said simply: we are happy.
Now, whenever I think back to that first year, a blur of heartaches and trials and errors, the first thing I remember is his words: we are happy. Among all the big moments of that year, all those moments I can point to as failures, that one stands out as the brightest light.
This week, another little moment glowed bright among the many big moments of overlooked flashcards and processed foods and too many hours of Fortnite. On a family trip to a Starbucks drive-through, fueled by my caffeine addiction and a last-ditch effort to pry my kids off screens, we were acting silly. The kind of silliness that you only show to your core nuclear family. My daughter was laughing so hard tears were coming from her eyes. She turned to me and said, “I love this family.”
I know already that in the future, whenever I think about this pandemic year, I will think of that little moment. That little moment will define our year in the same way her brother’s note defined our first year of grief.
Because what those little moments prove is that even among the many perceived and actual failures, the kids will be alright, and I am doing alright—maybe, hopefully, once in a while, even doing better than alright.
The lesson I’m learning is that the little moments reveal a bigger truth than all big moments comprised of piles of laundry and boxed mac n’ cheese dinners combined: I’m a good mom, a perfectly imperfect mom, and exactly the kind of mom my kids need.