I felt like the worst mom ever this morning.
My kids were dancing in the Christmas parade. They had to be there at 9 in the morning. In 30-ish degree weather. I told my oldest to layer her clothes. She’s pretty responsible for a 7 year old, so I left her to it as I tried again and again to scrape my 5 year old’s defiant little body out of bed,…then the surface of the couch,…and again, his bed.
In the mad rush to stretch his turtleneck and windsuit over his pajamas, pull his beanie over his bed-head, and contemplate whether or not he really needed to brush his teeth since, as he so insistently put it: “I didn’t eat anything and I brushed them last night,” I…may have overlooked my daughter’s cold weather attire.
I realized my mistake as soon as I opened the van door and she stepped outside. The cold struck her visibly as if Jack Frost had suddenly appeared and slapped her cheek. I regretted the moment I dropped them off. Even my son, layered appropriately, shivered uncontrollably.
By the time I got to the spot on the sidewalk from where I planned to watch the parade, several of my fingers were painfully numb and hard to bend. It was an hour before the parade would start. An hour they’d have to wait.
My anxiety grew. While I waited, I walked to a convenience store for some coffee and the Styrofoam cup warmed me considerably; my fingers gained some dexterity. I ran into some friends and chatted, I checked my watch frequently, and finally the sounds of brass and drum floated down the street as the first high school band signaled the kickoff. The procession was festive with reds and greens and metallics. Smiles and waves abounded. Candy was gathered and stored in pockets for later since I knew they’d want it after putting up with the cold. My spirits were rising. I was enjoying myself. Their dance troupe was coming – I could see the pink and zebra banner – and I grew excited to see my little ones dancing alongside their friends…until I saw my daughter.
My heart broke.
The poor thing was freezing. Her lips were pale, her eyes dark and glassy. She was walking, but barely moving. No smiles, no dancing, no waving. She looked over and spotted me and bit her bottom lip. Even from the opposite side of the street I could tell she had been fighting tears for a very long time. My son even broke free for a moment and ran to the sidewalk to say he was cold and panic sunk in.
No longer able to immerse myself in the parade as I would have as simply a spectator, I rushed alongside the parade, trying to keep pace, thinking: ok, it’s almost the end; they’re almost done; almost to the car. I was now back to being the mother with babies in need; the mother who’d do anything to fix any hurt.
It took what seemed like a day to reach them weaving through the crowd and stopping to let lines of human traffic through the narrow paths between spectators and the businesses lining the street. They ambled along, unaware of my urgency. In reality, it couldn’t have been more than five minutes, but it felt like forever. As soon as they were dismissed, they ran to me and hid their faces from the wind. They cried the cry that no mother ever wants to hear. It’s not the instant cry of pain from a fall or a cut. It’s subtly but undeniably different. It’s the kind that denotes an enduring suffering. And maybe that seems a bit dramatic, but it isn’t, and any mother who’s been witness to it can attest to that.
My children had suffered in the cold for over an hour and there was no immediate relief or distraction from the pain they felt. They had suffered, and I hadn’t been able to help them. And it didn’t stop when the parade ended; we still had the endless journey back to the parking lot where our cold van waited. They both cried and whimpered and asked for warm baths and hot chocolate. All I could do was promise it would be over soon. I knew it would be, and that eventually, they’d be warm and this would be over, but it did nothing to quell the hurt they were feeling right at that moment.
“I’m sorry, Mommy,” is what my daughter said to me. It took everything I had not to break down sobbing in the parking lot. It’s not what I wanted to hear. I wanted her to smile and jabber on about how much fun she’d had and how exciting it had been. I had wanted this experience to be a fond memory she could look back on when she got older, but reality had not lined up with the expectations I’d had when I woke up this morning.
“Next time, you have to listen to me when I tell you to do something, ok?”
“I will, Mommy.”
I felt sick. I know she wanted comfort in that moment. I wanted to give it to her, but I knew nothing I could have said would have helped warm her up. I wanted to say it was ok, she didn’t have to be sorry, because I wanted her to feel better, but I couldn’t say it. It was a teaching moment and I felt disgusted for knowing that. She knew she’d messed up, and even if I didn’t want to, I had to acknowledge that.
It was a lesson hard-learned, but learned nonetheless. I wish to goodness she hadn’t had to go through it – that neither of them had – but I know that my stubborn girl will remember that lesson about not listening to my advice more than if she had dressed warmly on blind faith. It was hard for me to see her go through it and I know it’s only the first time of many. Somehow, I’ve always known this day was coming. I don’t know who told me I’d have the luxury of waiting until her teenage years, but I realized today that I believed it and I was mistaken.
I’m not sure if I’m happy about it or not, but it feels like today I moved into a new class of moms; I’ve graduated to some higher level of sage-ness. Somehow, I feel older – and, dare I say, wiser? – and it has just hit me, that I’m not ready for the lessons to come.
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