Some mom moments are better than others
I smelled the nail polish. I couldn't figure out where it was coming from, but the scent was strong.
Yes, I had given my seven-year-old permission to paint her nails. Usually I would supervise an activity like that (due to the time it takes to get nail polish off of legs, arms, and other body parts.) But she is seven and she's spending more time each day as a young lady rather than a little girl. I trusted her to do as I said.
I gave her one instruction: when you are done, put the nail polish away.
I continued making dinner. And then I saw it. The dark floors had camouflaged the evidence, but the leash hanging from the dog (no doubt thanks to the four-year old) made a trail of blue that was hard to miss. Nail polish pooling on the wood floors, the leash painting a series of blue swirls and whirls through the kitchen.
Nail polish. On the floor. With no top on. BLUE.
"KATIE!" I called. Er, um...screamed.
I was sick. I was tired. My throat hurt so much I could barely swallow. My husband was out of town and the rain hadn't stopped falling in a week and the natives were restless. Of course this is the day the blue nail polish would decorate the house.
She came upstairs and I gave her the look, one she didn't yet recognize.
I've gone to tremendous effort to stop any and all yelling in our home. I fail occasionally, but the truth of it is that God has given me victory over the tone and volume of my voice. I rarely yell.
Many years ago I yelled at one of my kids for something. It might have been Alaina and she was only four or five. I yelled and I let my eyes sear into her. And what I got in return was a look of sheer terror. From my little girl who made a little girl mistake.
And in that moment, I vowed to learn to take control of my mouth. Yelling is not okay in our home. Not for me. Not for the kids.
And yet there are times, like when the rain won't stop and my feet are cold and my husband is out of town and sickness has invaded our home and the blue nail polish is everywhere, yes, there are times the volume of my voice matches the frustration in my spirit. And shamefully, I let the words fly unrestrained.
With blue swirls around my feet and covering the dog leash, it felt good to yell. The sinful part of me wanted my little girl to know how upset I was and I was thrilled to let the emotions find a place to land. "I gave you ONE instruction!" my voice bellowed. Then, when the words ran out and the tears on my girl's face covered her freckles, I couldn't let enough be enough. We sat in silence as I made her watch me clean up every last bit of that nail polish. I scrubbed harder than I needed, just to make a point.
And in that moment, I realized once again why I need Jesus.
I'm not a perfect mom. Not even close. But that's not the goal, is it? No one is the perfect mom. None of us get it right all the time. We can (and should!) work harder. We need to learn to love our children (Titus 2). We need to take control of our mouths and our spirits. I hope I am a better mom next year than I am now. I want to be better, but I have no hope of being perfect.
I let my emotions cool down, simmering slowly rather than a full-on boil. I finished dinner, fed the little ones, took some ibuprofen, gargled some salt water, and climbed into bed. A few minutes later, I paused my show and called for Katie. I didn't say anything. I just pulled her under the covers with me and I stroked her hair while we watched. When our show was over and it was time for her to brush her teeth, I pulled her little body—her weight reminding me she isn't so little anymore—up onto the counter and I looked into her eyes.
"Katie, you made a mistake. And so did I. But I want you to understand that the goal isn't to never make mistakes. It's just not possible. If we never made mistakes we wouldn't need Jesus. And oh how we need Jesus! He died to pay for these mistakes of ours. We should try to be better, but until we're in heaven, we won't be perfect. You WILL make mistakes. You'll make lots of them. Part of it is because you're just a kid and the Bible tells us that foolishness is all tangled up in your heart. Part of it is your are just human, like me. You're going to make mistakes. You're going to choose to do wrong. And mom will probably get upset. I don't expect you to be perfect. It just won't happen. But we have Jesus. He will help us make better choices and fewer mistakes and He has already paid for the mistakes we just can't avoid. I'm so sorry for yelling. I was upset but I didn't handle my emotions correctly, did I? I LOVE you. You know that, right? Nothing you do can separate you from my love just as nothing we do can separate us from God's love. There is not one thing you could do that would make me stop loving you. Nothing. I might not be happy with you and there might have to be consequences, but that is not the same as me not loving you. You're my girl and you always will be. Will you please forgive me? I was wrong. I made wrong choices. I'm sorry."
Eyes bright blue and tears streaming down, she hugged my neck tight. And I knew...this is it. This is what this parenting thing is made of. Like marriage, it's two sinners leaning into Jesus. Because without Him, it's all just a big mistake. But with Him, we can offer love and forgiveness and say, "I'm sorry." I will never be the perfect mom. But I have the perfect Jesus and He lives within me, enabling me to act like Him more each day.
My kids see it all. My good side, my bad side, and all the other sides I try so hard to hide. They know I mess up. They know I make mistakes. But they also know their mama will come to them, offer a sincere apology, and promise to love them always.
Maybe that's what it means to be the perfect mom.