There have been a few times so far in my life where I have taken my kids on an outing and everything works out perfectly: the birds chirp and the sun shines, I’ve miraculously packed enough snacks, and the kids behave like mensches. Perhaps most importantly, there are eyewitnesses to note my kids’ wonderful behavior and shoot me admiring looks for this Gisele-like scene of perfect parenting.
Listen, we all need a little external feedback sometimes for emotional validation. Even if you’re Gisele.
These rare occasions have falsely instilled a belief that most outings will go as smoothly, despite considerable evidence to the contrary (baby poop explosions and the realization that I forgot the wipes at home, temper tantrums in aisle six, etc.). So with a confidently optimistic attitude, I blithely set off for IKEA on New Year’s Day with two slightly hungry children who were antsy to get out of the house. I had never been to IKEA before, but people love it and the catalog makes it seem like a fun place.
First rookie mistake: going anywhere close to lunchtime. Second rookie mistake: believing a catalog is representative of anything in an actual store. As a former PR professional, for God’s sake, I should have known better than to be taken in by smiling models and shiny pictures.
Needless to say, IKEA was not wonderful, at least not on New Year’s Day. The ratio of salespeople to customers was laughable, and what salespeople there were had cranky attitudes that belied their cheerfully yellow shirts. The wagons had horrible steering properties, and I somehow pulled a muscle I never knew existed trying to steer my wagon straight. Achy and irritable, I finally picked what I wanted, only to discover that I would need to go to a self-service area and pick up the furniture myself. Laughably, I attempted this, and quickly realized it wasn’t going to happen that day. When I finally burst through the exit doors with my very hungry and tired kids in tow, I rushed over to where my car was parked–or so I thought. A quick glance up at the letter, and I realized I was on the wrong color-coded level entirely.
So I snapped.
“What the freaking HELL?!” I yelled, and my kids’ eyes grew wide. I gripped my son’s hand a little harder than necessary as I angrily headed to the correct level, snapping at him to hurry up and muttering other choice words at the situation under my breath. “I need you not to ask questions right now, OK?” I said to my son, exasperated. After we were all finally buckled in the car, I breathed a sigh of relief and took mortified stock of my behavior.
In the grand scheme of things, I know it wasn’t too egregious of a parenting fail. We’re human, and we all have times when our patience runs thin and we lose our cool for a moment or two. This is not a big deal so long as the majority of other parenting moments are filled with more understanding and kindness. But I try really hard to cultivate a general tone of respect and patience in all my interactions with my kids, and to always consider their questions carefully before answering. Any moment when I ditch all that assiduous effort and submit to snapping, however normal and minor it may be, is a big disappointment to me.
“I’m very sorry I snapped at you just now,” I apologized to my son bashfully.
“What’s snap?” he asked, and I explained that even if you don’t really say something mean, the way you say it is also important and snapping is not a very nice way of saying anything.
“I made a mistake,” I concluded, “and I will sometimes make mistakes because everybody makes mistakes, even mommies, but I hope you can always forgive me.”
In the rearview mirror, I saw him think this over for a few seconds before instantly forgiving me. We continued on our way, and then I heard a familiar tune being hummed from the backseat. “She’s just a bit of a fixer-upper, she’s just a bit of a fixerrrr-upppper,” my son crooned softly. “Fixer-Upper” is one of the songs from the movie Frozen, which we had just seen in the theaters (twice) and is about the appeal of an imperfect suitor who’s a great guy nonetheless. I looked back in the mirror, and his eyes were glinting, and then we cracked up together.
As cute as it is that he is consistently finding connections between Frozen and our daily lives (especially with all the snow of late), I’m glad my son is well-aware that I make mistakes: that I am a fixer-upper, so to speak. I remember my shock upon learning, embarrassingly late in the game, that my parents aren’t perfect people, and that it’s OK to find fault in things they might do, say, or believe. I was instilled with such a deep measure of respect for all my elders, but especially my parents, that realizing I am still allowed to believe differently than they do or disapprove of an action they might take–while of course still maintaining respect and always, love–came as a startling revelation that I struggled with for some time.
I think it’s kind of nice for my own children to realize that I make mistakes, or that I will falter at times or just plain screw up, and not have it come as a shock to realize I’m not flawless. At the very least, it’s realistic, and realism is one of those I strive to achieve in my day to day parenting. Because as perfect as some rare afternoons or the random snapshot of a celebrity’s life appear to be, they’re not indicative of real life, which involves poop explosions, poorly-packed diaper bags, and moms who mess up and lose their cool at their children in IKEA parking lots. I’m glad my son is learning to tell the difference early.