Figure Eight

Despite my tongue in cheek piece in The Imperfect Parent a few years back, I’d never cursed in front of my children for the first ten years of parenting, and even now it is a rare occurence. With Riley’s low frustration tolerance when she was little, I thought it would be a very bad idea for her to have those juicy words in her tool belt.  That was my main motivation not to. I enjoy swearing. I do. It rolls off the tongue naturally for me, like an accent. The more relaxed I am around you, the more you’ll hear it. Guard down. Swearing up.

Riley does not swear and doesn’t feel she ever will. Seth is undecided. They still think “hell” and “damn” are potent words.

So anyway, the first day we had to be at Seth’s school I got lost. I was using my GPS, and had no physical map. The GPS hit a glitch, and kept taking me in circles, back and forth through a toll road, four times. A figure eight, with me forking over money each time. Lost and late. And hot, because the AC in our car was on its way to conking out completely.

Then, a car barreled down on me (aggressive drivers here are a topic for another day) and didn’t let me over to get off the exit I needed, and I screamed the F word. Twice.

This week whenever we get to that stretch of  highway, the one where I need to get over and get off that tricky exit, Seth has been saying, “Stay left Mom! Stay left!” And I’ve been beating myself up over it because I feel like I traumatized him when I swore that day. Like, he’s terrified I’ll miss the exit again.

Oh I’m good at beating myself up. The best.

But yesterday, on my way to get the kids, 1.5 weeks in, I know the route. I wasn’t stressing. I’ve got this. And then I came upon the exit, and the guilt washed over me again, and then…. I remembered.

When I swore, when I said the F word twice, Riley, in the back seat, sucked in her breath, and in the next instant she took Seth’s hand and said, “Let’s pray for Mom.”

She didn’t say, “What a loser Mom is for cursing.”

She didn’t say, “I’m terrified of Mom.”

She did what I taught her. When you see someone lost and hurting and out of their mind, you hold space for them. You pray.

I taught her that. And if I taught her that, I must not be a loser.

I taught her that, but I also learned it from her. She was such a good and beautiful and sweet little girl, and then sometimes she was overwhelmed and out of her mind. Pushing back never helped. Being punitive never helped. Loving her did.

I loved her.

She loved me.

I love her.

She loves me.

Back and forth we go.

Figure eight, figure eight.

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8 Responses to Figure Eight

  1. Meg says:

    A road sign along the parenting journey, letting you know you are on the right path.

  2. Carrie Link says:

    Oh, you got me with that last line. GORGEOUS. You are an amazing mother, human, and writer!

  3. kario says:

    I am so totally crying right now. I can feel that frustration and anxiety building in my gut as you go around and around. And the idea that she took Seth’s hand and said what she said just dissolves it all. I love you guys.

    (And I’m with you on the swearing. It is delicious, but I have a pretty strong filter to not do it in front of my kids or my in-laws).

  4. Me, too, to all the comments. Me, too.


  5. *m* says:

    So moving, so powerful. The strength you and your family draw from each other is a thing of beauty. I have been thinking of and rooting for you this summer.

  6. Kim says:

    I echo the comments. Lovely. Lovely mother, lovely daughter. Figure eight indeed.

  7. Nina says:

    That is the best response EVER. “Let’s pray for Mom.”

  8. Dee Ready says:

    Dear Michelle, this posting needs to be reprinted in a family magazine. Your realization would give hope to so many struggling parents. Peace.

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