At Fault

Sometimes things go wrong even when I’ve done everything right. There are days I follow the usual morning routine with cheerfulness, but am rewarded with grouchiness and squabbling. Or perhaps I stay home from an event that I’d like to attend because I feel it is best for the kids, but this does not prevent them from being whiny and volatile the next day. The meal is a favorite and I fixed it on schedule, but they all decide they don’t like it today. I’ve long believed that if I want life to improve, the person I need to change is me. But sometimes I am not the problem, and I have to accept that. Sometimes there will be conflict despite my best efforts. Then I find myself washed up in my room, feeling shipwrecked, and trying to figure out how to make it go differently next time. It probably should not be such a revelation to me that not everything in our family is my fault to fix, and yet I keep being surprised by the idea.

There are days when I am not at fault in a hard day, but I can see how I could improve our lives by doing things differently. Usually these are small, concrete things which would only take a little of my time. I could make the kids lay out their clothes at bedtime, so the mornings would be less hurried. If I just instituted a 10 minute pick up time every evening, the whole house would be neater. Link would benefit from me making him read aloud. I could make all the kid check the clocks in the morning to track their own progress toward school preparedness. These are all good ideas. Unfortunately they enter my brain and are tossed into my huge pile of good ideas. I would need 37 hour days to be able to implement every good idea that occurs to me. Many of my good ideas must lay idle. In my shipwrecked hours, I feel guilty about that. I feel guilty about the fact that I did not make Link read aloud every day in first grade. I knew it was a good idea. I knew it would help him, but it never got done. My unimplemented good ideas nag at me.

The days I like least are the ones where things go wrong because I am the one handling the situation poorly. I am human. I have cranky days and tired days. Sometimes my focus is not in the place it should be and I sacrifice the emotional needs of the kids for something which feels urgent, but really isn’t. I make mistakes. Then I have to give myself a time out, pull myself together, apologize, and try to make the rest of the day different. Oddly, I am more willing to forgive myself for having a cranky afternoon, than I am to accept that I can’t follow through on all my good ideas. Cranky days happen and I feel bad, but then they’re gone. The unrealized good ideas haunt me.

In one month school will be out. I will no longer have the school schedule as a prop to support my effort to structure our days. My unrealized ideas become particularly pesky at this time of year. Surely with the kids home all day every day I can find time to implement some of these things. I can make Link read aloud, practice typing, write stories, and mow the lawn. I can tutor Gleek in beginning piano, knitting, writing stories, dance, and gardening. Patch can read aloud, learn to ride a bike, practice writing, learn to organize his toys, and learn to fold laundry. I can teach Kiki to cook and assist her in furthering her art studies. All of that. Every day. While simultaneously writing a book, launching a book, preparing for several large conventions, sending kids to 3 different week long camps, maintaining a house, tending a garden, keeping in touch with communities of friends, and having a family vacation.

Obviously I need to be scaling back rather than adding things. It is a good idea. I’ll throw it right here in this pile.

My saving grace, and the reason I am not incapacitated by guilt, is that I have an instinct for which good ideas are really critical and which are optional. The critical ones don’t go into the pile. They get shoehorned into our days and made to work. I can also beat back the guilt by looking at what I did instead. It is hard to feel bad about idle good ideas when I can see that the day was filled with critical things.

But the most important realization which frees me from omnipresent guilt, is linked to what I said in the first paragraph. No matter how good I am, my children will still have off days. The opposite is also true. Even if I fail to implement a good idea, my children can choose it if they wish. Just because I fail does not mean that they will. My children are separate from me. In the end what they choose will have a far greater effect on their lives than anything that I do or fail to do. This is another idea which I constantly rediscover with surprise, but the older my children get, the more true it becomes.

My best is all I have to give. The rest is up to them.