When my husband and I first started dating, I was sixteen, and I loved ballet, singing, and church basketball, not because I could every be described as “sporty,” but because my dad was the coach, and my team was made up of all my friends. I wasn’t a terrible basketball player per se, but I had trouble accessing my competitive side, and I’d do things like hug my friend on the opposing team when she scored, close my eyes when I was shooting, and forget every play instantly even though there were only three plays, the same three Dad taught us every year since we were ten. SORRY, DAD. I earned a microscopic amount of fame for saving balls from going out of bounds by performing what ballerinas call a “penché" and what basketball players call “confusing.” When I played basketball, my ballet-borne balance was my friend, the primary trait that saved me from being completely terrible, except for when it didn’t. RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY NEW BOYFRIEND.
My cute new boyfriend came to my basketball game, and the team was abuzz. Dad wasn’t. Dad doesn’t really ever get “abuzz” anyway, and like any good coach, he wanted us to focus. But focus is hard for a troupe of sixteen-year-old girls, especially in the presence of New Boyfriend. Something was in the air that day—perhaps love, perhaps excitement, perhaps an army of invisible feet because your homegirl Carol COULD NOT STOP FALLING DOWN. The game went like this: Dribble dribble, fall. Get up and walk for two feet, fall. Pretty soon my body became permanently fused to the waxed wood floor, and the entire team was losing its collective mind, weakened by hysterical laughter and shared horror. Finally Dad couldn’t take it anymore, and he yelled, “Caroline! Get on the bench!” and then I army crawled to the bench and didn’t get to play anymore. New Boyfriend shook his head the way I’ve now seen him do daily for fourteen years, every time I do something ridiculous. I looked down at my feet. What was wrong with them? “HELLO, FEET, don’t you see New Boyfriend over there? Don’t you know you were supposed to have your act together today? He’s going to think we’re weird!!” But as you may have guessed by now, I welcome embarrassment as long as it gives me a good story later, and this one I can tell pretty successfully in person, especially if I have the floor space to fully perform.
While recently talking to the artist formerly known as New Boyfriend (now known as Husband), I realized that the Falling Forever Phenomenon is a constant in my life. In some areas, I completely have my act together, planning ahead, anticipating road bumps, behaving cool as that cucumber we always reference when talking about coolness. In other areas, I’ll stumble in the first few minutes, and then, balance forever off-kilter, keep falling and falling on and on into eternity, never able to recover until I eventually die or Dad makes me army crawl out of there. Like when you ski expertly for the first three days of a mountain vacation, and the the last day, you fall getting off the first lift and spend the remainder of the day toppling down every slope, and if someone even utters the word “snow,” suddenly, there you are again, on the ground, a tangle of skis and goose down.
This is what Mother’s Day Out has been for me. Last year, I enrolled my daughter in a preschool program one day a week so that I could have a slightly better shot at adjusting to having two children. The orientation meeting happened the week I had my son, and her first day of school happened when he was two weeks old. If you’ve ever seen the mother of a two-week-old baby, she is likely a hot mess, and understandably so. I was met with lots of grace. However, those understandable beginning “stumbles” lead to a full year of free fall, and now I am forever in full hot mess mode.
“What form?” “What party?” These are phrases I utter with stunning regularity. Certainly there was a calendar sent home to prevent continual surprise, but I must have allowed my child to eat it or something because I have no idea where it is.
The perpetual confusion for preschool structure might be slightly normal for the mom-brained, but friends have deemed it “abnormal” that I let Adelaide’s teachers call me Christine the entire year. CHRISTINE. At first, I was too sleep-deprived to catch that they were talking to me, and then once I realized it, it felt too late to make the correction. Every Wednesday on the way to school, I practiced this sentence: “My name is not Christine, it’s Caroline.” This is not actually a difficult sentence to say, but my people-pleasing runs so deep that I never said anything and had my name changed to Christine, so just letting y’all know.
One problem with me, Christine, is lunch. I’m the worst at packing lunch. For a while, I didn’t pack Adelaide enough lunch, so she stole other people’s food like a little beggar child. “You can pack her more food if you want.” “What? Okay I will. So sorry, we graze all day and I have no idea what she eats in one setting.” Enter shame spiral called “Christine is raising grazing thieving cows.” I also packed moldy cheese on accident. Twice. I chastised myself: CHRISTINE, please check cheese prior to packing!
And obviously I, Christine, was never going to remember to update Adelaide’s “extra outfit” after a weather change and growth spurt. One winter day I came to pick her up, and I spotted the craziest looking kid I’ve ever seen, clad in teeny tiny bike shorts, belly hanging out of too-short shirt, hair going every which way, a little “I give up” look on her face. She’d been barfed on, no doubt the result of some crazy Christine juju that I’d inadvertently put in her morning milk, and then her dignity was challenged further because her mom had packed the weirdest outfit imaginable. “Sorry, girl, I really Christine-d that one,” I say to her. She said nothing because she was one.
A friend reminded me recently of Shauna Niequist’s wisdom in her book Bittersweet, to go beyond the to-do list and make a “Things I Don’t Do” list. To give ourselves permission to not be good at everything and furthermore, permission to be okay with not being good at everything. So here it is, as plain as I can preach it to myself: It’s okay to be bad at things, and it's really okay to be okay with being bad at things. I am a fan of this.
We all know that expecting perfection from ourselves is exhausting and unrealistic, but maybe we’re forgetting that it’s also a kind of idolatry—thinking we can be like God. But I think our ridiculousness can be redeemed: My imperfections can remind me of The Perfect One. My falling-falling-falling can remind me of the One who is always steady. My forgetfulness can remind me of the One who is always fully present, fully aware of every detail.
So, this is me, putting “Be Preschool Mom Valedictorian” on that Things I Don’t Do list. Look, I think I could win an Olympic medal for speed-crafting a haphazard kid costume, but I simply cannot, under any circumstances, not lose my tuition check inexplicably from the car to the building. And inevitably this year, as I go through Adelaide’s bag each week, finally taking out all the stuff from last week, I will encounter a perfectly wrapped bag of Goldfish or crayons with some sort of precious school pun, and I will shake my fist in the air and shouting, “EMMA, WHY! WHY ARE YOU SO NICE, CONTINUOUSLY GIVING EVERYONE ADORABLE PERSONALIZED TREATS AND MAKING ME LOOK LIKE A NEANDERTHAL BECAUSE YOU WILL NEVER EVER GET ONE IN RETURN!” But it’s okay, because I am no Emma’s Mom. I am Adelaide and Greer’s mom, and they call me Christine.