On Mothers and Mistakes
I was working at home the other night. A storm had passed through, a much needed one. Thunder, lightning, all of it. El Tortuga hadn’t gone to bed yet, so he was wildly running through the house from window to window, the pair of us reveling in the novelty of rain, given that it had been forever since we’d last seen any.
That was probably the only peaceful moment of our time together that day. I went to his camp to pick him up, only to be immediately approached by a counselor who wanted me to know that my son had paid less attention than a cat might have that day. This is something that I refuse to tolerate. I encourage my son to be his zany, quirky, brilliant self, but I also instill in him the understanding that rules exist for a reason, and adults in authority are to be respected.
I found him in the playroom drawing quietly. His face immediately lit up. “Mommy!” he cried, but then his face fell. He knew he was in trouble, that the counselor had ratted him out. She had also told me that he had begged her to not tell me. “She’ll be so disappointed in me,” he told her. “It will make her sad.”
I can’t say that I was sad. Angry, yes. Annoyed, absolutely. I wasn’t really sad though. I yelled at him in front of his counselor and made him apologize to her for being so rude and disrespectful, and then I yelled at him some more in the car. I told him how disappointed I was, because I knew he was such an obedient kid. “You’re better than that!” I railed. “You’re a big boy.”
We always go to this Chinese buffet on Thursday nights. It’s always been his suggestion that we do this. I think he likes the fish. Every time we go, he presses his little face up against the tank and stares at them, these fat orange fish. They’re not Koi, they’re red Parrot fish. The owner of the restaurant tells him this all the time, but he doesn’t care. To him, they’re just fish. They have their own world in that glass tank. They have real names, and jobs. They have kids. They have mommies. They do bad things sometimes, but they make up for it.
And because I was annoyed, I cut short his time to say hello to his fish friends. I had too many things to do – we had to go to the grocery store to get supplies for his party at school the next day, we had to get home and water the plants, clean the house, do the laundry, fold the clothes, take a bath, read a book, everything had to be done. In my mind, it was all stuff I was doing for him. It all had to get done – why didn’t he understand that?
He hung around the kitchen while I cleaned. Every few minutes he’d ask, “Mom?” “What?” I’d reply with an exasperated sigh, and then he’d ask me a seemingly pointless question, or tell me a theory he had. I didn’t really listen. I had a lot of things to do, I was tired. I was upset that he had been bad at school. I had too much to do.
I put him to bed that night after briskly reading a fairly short book. I gave him a kiss on his cheek, told him I loved him, and left the room to do more of the thousands of things that needed to be done. All for him, I reminded myself. I spend less and less time with him, because I have to do things to give him a good life.
With all the chores marginally finished, I sat down at my computer to catch up on some work. It was sometime around 11, as my eyes were getting unbearably heavy that a song shuffled onto my Spotify. It was a Taylor Swift song, one I had probably downloaded along with hundreds of others. It took a few moments for the lyrics to register, but when they did, my heart stopped.
Your little hand’s wrapped around my finger
And it’s so quiet in the world tonight
Your little eyelids flutter cause you’re dreaming
So I tuck you in, turn on your favorite night light
To you everything’s funny, you got nothing to regret
I’d give all I have, honey
If you could stay like that
Oh darling, don’t you ever grow up
Don’t you ever grow up, just stay this little
Oh darling, don’t you ever grow up
Don’t you ever grow up, it could stay this simple
I won’t let nobody hurt you, won’t let no one break your heart
And no one will desert you
Just try to never grow up, never grow up
By the end of the song, I had tears streaming down my face. “You’re a big boy,” I had yelled at him earlier, and he both was and he wasn’t. He’s just a kid. He’s my kid. He’s the absolute love of my life, and I’ve been too busy being Mom to be Mommy. And someday, someday too soon, I won’t get to be Mommy anymore.
I went upstairs that night and crawled into his bed with him. I wrapped my arm around his little waist, and I smelled his hair. I kissed his sweet little cheeks a dozen times, and I told him over and over again how much I loved him, how lucky I was to have him. He was asleep the whole time, but I know he heard me. And in the event he didn’t, I’ll tell him while he’s awake, over and over and over again.
It’s fitting that I share this story with you today. Five years ago on this date, I went to sleep and had a beautiful dream about my mother. She looked happy. She looked healthy. She had come to tell me goodbye. El Tortuga woke me up a few moments later. He was only a week old at the time. Just as I went to reach for him, my dad called to tell me my mom had passed away.
I took my baby outside and snuggled with him and cried. I promised him I wasn’t going to let time slip away, because right then and there time was so incredibly tangible. I failed to live up to my own promise, though. I made a mistake. Just like El Tortuga, I had a lapse in judgment, but I still have enough time to apologize, thank God.
Today, when I pick him up from camp, we’re going to the pet store. I don’t know if they’ll have any red Parrot fish, but I want him to pick out a couple friends. I hope that when he imagines them going about their life, he imagines them practically. It doesn’t matter how old they are, if they’re mommies or sons, if they have things to do, or if they just want to play. They’ll probably make mistakes, and just about anything can be fixed with the right amount of heart.
And at the end of the day, after all our mistakes, there will always be love. Always.