Of all things to do me in. A permission slip.
“I, the undersigned, parent or legal guardian for _________ , hereby grant permission and approval for the above child to attend the above mentioned off-campus school function. I furthermore release …”
Why was everything instantly blurry? Why were the words “I furthermore release…” igniting all the feels? Our calendar had been hurtling toward graduation since the first day of 12th grade. Since the first ultrasound, really.
It was time to release my son into the world. But the world is where the wild things are. It’s where our kids have to get the stains out of their own shirts. It’s where our kids have to get the stains out of their own lives.
My Man Cub is more man than cub. He’s old enough to vote. He’s got a job and a 3.75 GPA. He’s capable, steady, and ready for college. Yet there he stood — a full 6 inches taller than me — asking, “Mom, could you sign this permission slip so I can go on the field trip today?” Irony grabbed its megaphone. My son’s car keys were in one hand and dress clothes for an after-school interview were in the other. Yet he needed me to sign a permission slip.
The big question was: Did he still need me.
Oh, who am I kidding. There were a hundred big questions. Had I been good enough? Would the mom guilt go away? Would he turn out ok? Would he wear a single item of clean clothing in college? Did he know I would jump in front of a moving train for him — WHILE REMINDING HIM TO FEED THE DOGS AND CLEAN HIS ROOM? (Yes. No. Yes. Probably not. Definitely yes.)
This mom thing. Wow, is it wrapped in barbed wire. It’s chaos and kissed owies, weakness and washed laundry, light moments and heavy sighs.
At first, it’s all about the firsts. First tooth. First day of school. First broken bone. First broken heart.
Then, just about the time we enter the stranglehold of midlife — juggling misbehaving hormones, aging parents and aging dreams — it’s all about the lasts. The last school pictures. The last prom. The last baseball game or choir concert or robotics competition. And on that morning in mid-May, just 10 days before my son would fling his mortarboard into the stratosphere, the last permission slip.
I had known it was coming. Everyone told me it was coming.
But no one really told me when my tummy was the size of Texas that the lump in my throat would one day be bigger. No one really told me when I was sweetly nesting that an empty nest — or is it empti-ness? — would come and clean it all out.
No one told me that in the teenage years, exasperation would sit on one shoulder, screaming, “It’s time for him to move out!” while desperation would sit on the other shoulder, whispering, “What will happen when he does?” No one prepared me for the panorama of parenting wins and losses that would crystallize because a paper needed my signature on an otherwise ordinary day in May.
That night in 2001 when he was pretty sick but I didn’t know it? I would have gone into his nursery instead of heroically letting him cry himself to sleep.
That afternoon in 2003 when I JUST. NEEDED. HIM. TO. NAP? I’d eat my stern words about him sneaking out of bed and I’d get down on my hands and knees to help him find his Curious George, which, with his little vocabulary and quivering lip he explained he just couldn’t sleep without.
I’d have enjoyed a few more “hang-e-burs with chappup and buster” at our favorite burger joint when I was still his favorite date. I’d have wielded fewer guilt trips and more grace. I’d take back every careless word.
I’d also do a little work on my expectations because this job seriously lacks promotional possibilities. Every time we teach our kids to tie their shoes or count their change or use their turn signals, we torpedo our job security. And like dummies we do it anyway.
We shield them from suffering, even though pain is a good teacher. We teach them about forgiving others’ faults by flaunting so many of our own. We help them with homework, but they take us to school.
My son stood there.
He nodded his head toward the pen on the breakfast bar.
“Mom, I gotta go. Could you sign it?”
I bit my tongue hard and signed the stupid piece of paper. My mouth told him to have a good day.
And the second I saw his taillights drive off, I called my husband at work and blurted unintelligibly, “I wish I could go back and do everything right this time.” Bless the hubby’s heart. He was preparing for a meeting with a government panel and I was giving him more Monday morning than he could handle.
I poured a cup of coffee and asked God to show me what I’d done right. His kindness was as detailed as it was immediate. He reminded me of the day I quit my job as a newspaper reporter so I could be a stay-at-home mom. He reminded me of the MRI my son had as a baby, and how I insisted on sitting in the room even though the technician didn’t want me to.
He reminded me of that camping trip when I pulled a Jackson out of my wallet because doggone it my son had lost an incisor and the tooth fairy was not going to be hamstrung by the fact that we were secluded in the mountains without any small bills.
He reminded me of that day in middle school when I gave my son a long, hard hug rather than a long, hard lecture when he stepped out of the assistant principal’s office.
These were things I hadn’t thought of in years, and God brought them to mind just because I asked Him to.
Most of all, God reminded me that when the bottom fell out of my boy’s life, I had been His very voice into my son’s hurting heart. My son was never mine. He was always God’s. If I’d been perfect, I’d have modeled a life apart from the only One who is.
I asked friends on my Facebook author page this week how they handle mom guilt. The class clowns said they blame the kids or lock them outside. I love them for making me laugh. Some days, the struggle is so real.
My sweet niece, a momma of four with another soon on the way, answered with a single, salient word — and probably the only one her busy hands had time to type. “Pray.”
One friend in the trenches offered a good word: Put the phone down for undistracted listening and playing — and demolish mom guilt with prayer and a reliance on God to fill in the many gaps.
Another friend long out of the trenches reminded me that kids have short memories. They just don’t recall all the ways we fell short. In fact, they often remember the very cool things we did right. She once issued a contract that said her kids never had to eat broccoli again. Genius. (And total mom win aside, she offered a super-productive strategy for kicking mom guilt and wrong thinking to the curb: “Out loud I say all the wonderful and positive things and blessings I have in my relationships with my adult children.”)
One friend took a deep dive into that space that taunts most of us — our fear that our children’s choices are a commentary on our competence. Where did I go wrong, we ask. “Yet, God was the perfect parent for Adam and Eve and look how that turned out,” she wrote. I wish I’d read her words 20 years ago. If your child’s furious free will has thrust your mom life under a microscope, maybe my friend’s wisdom eases the pressure valve.
I realized as I read through the responses and wrestled with my own mom wins and losses that I needed to quit pouting over a permission slip. What I have in front of me is a commission slip. God gave my son exactly the mom he needs in this world at this time. He chose me.
For you mommas who wrestle with past inadequacies, He chose you. His grace is sufficient. His power is made perfect in weakness, including yours.
For you mommas in the trenches who might punch the very next person who tells you not to blink because you’ll miss it, He chose you. You’re the perfect imperfect mom for your littles. You’re the one for the job.
So sign every permission slip. Kiss all the owies and serve up all the grace you can. But don’t aim for perfect. Just point your kids to the One who is. Jesus defeated the enemy who authors all this mom guilt. We don’t add to His work when we defeat ourselves, too.
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