I’ll never forget the moment I realized my mother was human and not, say, a goddess who does no wrong. It was also one of the first times I saw her really, really cry, I believe. We were driving around town and she got pulled over. I can’t remember what the offense was – speeding? expired tag? busted tail light? – but whatever it was, she was obviously at fault. And she was inconsolable. She cried and cried and cried, while the police officer took no pity, and I remember being very taken aback by the entire thing.
Here was this woman, the enforcer of all rules and regulations in my world, the person around whom my entire universe revolved, making mistakes and consequently falling apart at the seams, her fallibility and humanity leaking everywhere for everyone to see. I remember being frozen in bewilderment, not knowing what to think or do; I just sat in the back seat, brokenhearted, wishing so badly I could do or say something to make my mom stop crying.
Fast forward 25 years, and I’ve found myself in the same place as my mother all those years ago, with only a few minor changes: instead of in a car leaning out of the driver’s side window pleading with a police officer, I’m in a heap on my kitchen floor, my face in my hands, weeping uncontrollably while Dax, my preschooler, stands a few feet away and stares at me, and Case, my toddler, sits in his high chair wailing right along with me. Instead of a traffic citation, I’m fighting against a brand new oven that for seemingly no reason will not close and bake my family’s dinner, as well as several Google search results that are yielding absolutely nothing. Regardless of the differences, the end result is the same. My children are watching my once-indestructible mothering body armor burst apart and crash on the floor.
I am not perfect. And they know it.
A few days removed from the situation, I know now that my oven wasn’t completely broken. It was just being quirky, and my husband was even able to fix it when he came home. Furthermore, the oven’s quirkiness wasn’t why I was sobbing so hard. The truth is that on that day, Case went on a nap strike and insisted on screaming about it all day, and Dax refused to eat his lunch at school which meant he was whining about being hungry all day and kept begging for snacks despite knowing the rule is you can’t have snacks if you don’t eat your lunch, and I was up to my face in deadlines with no available time to meet any of them, and my husband was working late, and I was also late for a rehearsal at my church, and, and, and …
And the oven wouldn’t turn on. So I lost my ish.
But I gained a sudden new respect for my own mom.
While I’ve also gotten a handful (ahem) of traffic tickets, I’ve never really cried at any of them; I (more or less) owned up to the fact that I made a mistake driving and deserved the consequences. And the truth is that my mom very well could have been so upset over the ticket that it made her cry so much, but what if that ticket was just the straw that broke her mothering’s back that day? What if my brother and I were being difficult all day, and she was getting sick, and she needed a babysitter for a work meeting but couldn’t find enough money to pay someone, and she didn’t sleep the night before because her daughter (hey guys) has always been a weird insomniac, and, and, and…
And she got a speeding ticket on her way home and just hit her breaking point?
After awhile, Dax had run to his room, upset by my relentless bawling, and had taken to sobbing into his own pillow. Case was still just as committed to the drama, just howling away in his high chair. My senses came rushing back to me with this sudden understanding, and my tears stopped. I stood up, grabbed a paper towel, and tried to dab away the charcoal streaks of runaway mascara on my cheeks. Upon hearing my sobs quiet, Dax emerged from his room, his face solemn.
“Hey Bub,” I said, weighed down by the heaviest humility in the world. “I’m so sorry I got so upset. I’ve had kind of a bad day, I guess. I think I need some cheering up. Do you think you could help?”
Like a rainbow after a hurricane, a smile faded up on his face. He practically leapt at me, threw his arms around me, and squeezed me so tightly. I started to cry again, but quietly, and for a much different reason.
“Does this hug help?” he asked sincerely.
“Yes, it helps so much.”
“Let’s sing some songs!” he offered as his arms popped apart, letting me go. “I bet if we sing all my favorite songs, they will make you even happier!” And he ran to the living room to turn on the radio.
As the music started playing, I got Case out of his high chair. The second his feet hit the floor he began bopping up and down to the music, and Dax climbed onto the couch to sing and dance for us all.
And then I ordered a pizza, shouting hallelujah.