At one point in an argument with Rich, I blurted out, "I spend an awful lot of energy making sure I don't ever do anything wrong because I can't handle it if I do."
This was pre-parenthood, pre-cancer. It was just us arguing in the kitchen about something I don't even remember. It stuck in my skull. It was a truism of who I was at the time.
I came to realize that it's exhausting trying never to do anything wrong. It's like trying to hold your breath indefinitely. Even champion breath holders have to come up for air eventually. What misery to experience every trip underwater as just a delay to eventual failure.
As luck/genetics would have it, I became the parent of a sensitive child who also loathes ever doing anything wrong. And yet, he's only 8.
He re-heated his sub in the microwave without putting a plate under it. An hour later I discovered melted cheese all over the inside of the microwave. I asked him about it. He started this elaborate explanation that I had wrapped his sub in foil and he knew that shouldn't go in the microwave. He just didn't think about what the sandwich would do once it got warm. He started to get spun up. "I'm only 8! I don't know everything!"
"Dude. It's cool. I'm not mad. I'm just telling you to use a plate next time. Good thinking about the foil. That would have spooked us both. You didn't realize about the cheese. Now you know. Crisis averted."
I'm teaching Ian that the mistake is not as relevant as what he does about it. Does he own it? Does he try to blame others? Does he justify himself? Does he avoid apologizing and hope it will all just blow over? Does he apologize so much that it's a burden on the injured party?
We had a tough week leading up to school starting. It was the end of summer, and we were just all up in each other's spaces. Then there was that whole "almost losing each other on the river" thing. By Labor Day I was ready to tag out of parenting.
During that same ultimate week of summer, mere hours after the cheese incident, I screwed up. I had been hounding Ian to let me trim the back and sides of his hair. He finally consented, and we went upstairs to the bathroom. I pulled out the #2 guard, I set the #2 guard on the counter, and then proceeded to trim a 4" strip of his head with NO GUARD ON THE CLIPPERS.
I was so upset. It was a preventable mistake. It is not fixable. You can't glue hair back on your kid's head. I could feel all of those reactions. Wanting to blame Ian for distracting me. Wanting to justify the super short hair as a planned action. I was sick to my stomach. I wanted something to take away the pain of my mistake.
I put the clippers down. I leaned on the vanity in the bathroom. I said something along the lines of, "I can't believe I did that. It's all messed up now. Nothing can fix it ever." Ian consoled me. "It's ok, Mommy. Just make the rest of it the right length, and I'll cover up this part until it grows out. Please don't cry."
Forgiveness and understanding are powerful stuff. My punk kid who had been driving me crazy all week instantly made me feel better. I didn't need to lash out at him or the dog or Mercury in retrograde to feel better. I could shrug and keep going.
Granted, I don't think Ian understands how long it takes hair to grow back in since he asked two days later if his square was still there. But it's already growing in and blending. This too shall pass. Look at us all livin' and shit.