I’m the worst mom I thought this morning after I yelled a swear on the way to school. We were driving up the hill, Swiss Alps barely visible through clouds and rain. My son was shouting in my ear, and a neuron somewhere in my middle-aged brain exploded. From it, erupted a horrifying selection of words and before I knew what had happened, I’d shouted these words (I won’t repeat the words because who knows if the new principal or my kids’ teachers or my pastor will read this). But anyway, I said the very words I’ve been lecturing that same son (who was yelling at me) never to say. Impulsive words. Bad words. My three kids gasped. The youngest screamed. And the one who was already yelling, howled louder.
“You just SWORE at me,” said the righteous child.
I’m the worst mom, I thought.
I also thought I’ve ruined their day. They’ll go to school stressed. They’ll have all kinds of problems because of me. I’ve set a bad example. They’ll swear all the time now. They’ll become horrible people (like me). The teachers will find out, and they’ll blame me for every kid’s problems. I’ll have to tell my husband about this before the kids do. And he’ll laugh.
After dropping the kids at school in the pouring rain, I continued, they’ll always remember this morning.
Then I drove myself to an indoor pool, stomped through the rain, slapped on my suit, jumped in, and paddled and kicked toward the other side of the long lane with all my might. I’d wash away my bad momness. I’d sweat it out.
But something else happened during my swim. As I followed the line in my lane, back and forth, back and forth — I began again to feel my back, shoulders, feet, and torso. With each lap came a familiar clarity. The lane and my tiring body granted me time to unbend my soul. There was silence (finally) except for the splash made by my arms and legs against the surface of the glistening Swiss clean pool. And for that little bit of time, I felt exceptionally whole. I was a person comprised of good and bad and joyful and sad and energetic and incredibly fatigued. I was a mother capable of optimism and pessimism, of faith and complete uncertainty. I was a woman able to forgive many, but very rarely herself.
Too often I think that I should be a mom who calmly responds to every outburst, every misbehaving child. I should be a mom who’s confident, popular, quiet, outgoing, humble, open-minded, interested, interesting, can clean a kitchen in ten minutes, write an essay in an hour, work more, stay in shape, meditate and have time for lunch. Too often I strive to be a mom who doesn’t spend too much money, reads the news, writes poetry, finishes her novel, makes cupcakes, plans a birthday party, finds a few therapists, gets groceries, makes dinner, deals with sibling conflict, smiles at her husband, asks him lots of questions (and listen to the answers), deals with emotional turmoil in every single person — but herself.
But this other part of me, the jump-in-the-pool-and-paddle-hard part says that my mistakes, if I admit to them, strengthen me. My mistakes empty me of weighty lies about who I should be. My mistakes make me more buoyant, more able to swim in this crazy world. My errors direct me to anger, to frustration, to truth, to areas that need work, to opportunities to move through difficulties more securely.
Each time I fall short or fail or say something totally stupid, I can show my kids and others the most valuable aspect of my momhood — I am human. Not a Facebook selfie. Not a dry-cleaned driver of three. Not a blown-out tucked-in maturing woman. Not a famous writer of wisdom.
I am human.
I’m a mom, an artist, a writer, a Christian with uneven nails, wrinkled hands, short arms and legs, all designed to pull her imperfect body back up when she falls.
I’m a mom with a scattered mind who still can forgive herself and others for not looking, acting, talking behaving exactly the way she wants.
I’m a mom with a memory (some days) able to recall her own mistakes, cajole her body into do things a little differently, a little better next time.
I’m a mom with a voice that can apologize, admit when life is difficult, when she’s tired, when she’s wrong.
I’m a mom with faith that not one of us is better than the other. We all mess up so much it’s just silly. In fact, it seems that we aren’t bound together by our fashionable clothing, our photogenic lives, our high-achievements, our beautiful children, our wise proclamations, our bank accounts. No. We’re held together by our messiness, our laughter, our imperfections, our gratitude, our challenges, and our ability to tell the truth…
So, I hope I don’t swear again tomorrow or this week or even this year. But if I don’t swear— I’ll mess up again very soon, I’m quite sure. And I’ll notice the light that always pops up, just over the horizon after the hard stuff drifts away. I will. And so will you.