It happens at the playground: Why is my child licking the swing set like a giant ice cream cone?
It rears up regarding my career: Why is she younger than me, but has already published a book and has a story in the New Yorker?
And you better believe it happens at the gym: Did you see her butt? It doesn’t move when she runs! My butt is so big, it has its own pair of Nikes!
Needless to say, this voice sucks. It is not helpful or inspiring. Instead, it’s loud, bossy and persistent.
Sometimes, when I’m smack in the midst of struggling with a life lesson, the universe provides me with a little extra material.
“Mommy, you left your underwear at my school,” my son Max says. Four-year olds say many weird things.
They flail from the existential: “When is everybody in the whole world going to die?”
To the bizarre: “Pitano is a monster who puts his penis out!”
To the embarrassing: “Why are your nipples so big? Are you going to have another baby?”
With young children, weird questions and statements are the norm, not the exception. So the underwear comment semi-permeates my consciousness, but quickly glurps beneath the surface of my quicksand mama-brain.
But the next day, he says it again.
“Max, what are you talking about?” I ask.
“Bev was holding it up,” he says matter-of-factly, his arm outstretched to demonstrate.
Oh dear God.
I can hear the spark of static that his nap blanket and sheet create when they come out of the dryer, clinging to each other like new lovers. I remember not taking the three seconds to shake them out and fold them before I dropped Max off at preschool on Wednesday morning. This must be why most people wash their sheets or towels separately from the rest of their clothing instead of tossing it all together, a bright stew of darks and lights, nap sheets and panties.
When I drop Max off at school the following day, my fears are confirmed. In his cubby slumps a crumpled plastic shopping bag, the kind that his clothes come home in when he gets pee or vomit on them. The bag of filth and shame.
I peek in and spy a flash of bright pink.
“Hiiiii, Bev!” Max bellows to his teacher as he struts into his classroom. My toddler, Violet, makes her bowlegged way after him, heading straight for a tray of small, shiny beads that are exactly the same size as her esophagus.
“Hey, Bev,” I say. We make brief small talk about the upcoming auction for the school. Meanwhile, my underwear blazes in my son’s cubby. I take a breath and decide to confront the situation head on. “So… Max tells me a pair of my underwear made it to school the other day?”
“He told you?” she says, surprised.
“You’re not the first,” she says. A breeze of relief flushes over me.
“Really?” I ask.
“I’ve seen thongs…all kinds of things…” She trails off, a war veteran trying not to summon the horrors her eyes have beheld.
“At least it was clean,” I quip. And not the enormous, leftover maternity panties that I drag out once a month, I think.
After I hug and kiss Max goodbye, I grab Violet. And my underwear.
Maybe that wasn’t so bad, I think. The grocery bag with my undies makes a crinkly noise, perhaps in protest.
I’m so tired of trying to gauge how I measure up, inevitably coming up short. It takes up so much energy. I make mostly good choices. My kids are healthy and loved. They are, hopefully, becoming kind human beings. It is unlikely that the underwear incident will be mentioned at my funeral.
We are human. We have body parts and children that don’t always behave as we’d like them to. We are wildly imperfect, shimmeringly flawed creatures.
Slowly, I’m trying to learn to embrace my quirks and shortcomings. To view them with the same amusement and tolerance with which I embrace my children. When Max tips a cup over, dribbling tidal pools of milk across the couch, floor, and his clothes, I say, “It’s okay. It’s just an accident, Sweetie.” When Violet wakes up all sweaty with her duck fluff hair bent like a member of Flock of Seagulls, I find it adorable.
If I could view my mistakes and imperfections through a mother’s eyes, I’d say You sweet little thing, you brought your underwear to your son’s school! That is so you! Classic! Or, So, you can’t cook. You’re funny and kind and you can parallel park like nobody’s business.
Maybe it’s time to make, if you will, a laundry list of positives for every mistake, every imperfection.
That being said? It might be time to look into that whole laundry sorting business.
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Ed: Sara Crolick