I vividly remember holding one of my boys on my hip, letting the dog outside, then slamming the sliding glass door shut. Crying erupts. I looked down to see my son’s little tiny finger stuck in the door. I quickly flung the door back open. He was probably 18 months old. Or less. It was an awful feeling. I desperately tried to comfort him while looking at his finger to see the damage. That I caused. I did it. Just Me. I hurt my sweet boy. The guilt set in fast. And hard. Over the course of the following weeks, maybe eternity, the nail on his little finger turned black. How nice, a daily reminder of the accident caused by yours truly. Cue the “Mom of the Year” music. Ahhh. I haven’t gotten my speech ready. Oh wait. I wasn’t even nominated. I’m sure they attempted to contact me, but I probably couldn’t find my phone.
I felt horrible. It didn’t help that every person I knew and didn’t know saw his strikingly black fingernail and asked, drumroll please….”What happened?” Or some more like (insert gasp)”WHAT happened?” Oh, I slammed his finger in the door. On accident. Yep, me. Not the twelve pound dog. Or his twin brother. Or his dad, although I’m sure the thought of throwing him under the bus surely arose. Numerous times. I would like some guilt to go on top of my guilt. Ask again. And again. And. Again. One more time, please.
The sad truth is that it would take forever to list all of the physical and emotional accidents that were mostly, well, 100%, my fault. I’ve hurt people with my accidental actions and intentional words. A rude tone, an unreasonable expectation, or an over-reaction resulting in damaged spirits. Especially the littlest and most innocent ones in my life, my little boys.
Not too long ago, I got so upset with one of my boys for kicking his brother. It was a repeated offense. I put his cowboy boots away. In my closet. And sent my son to his room for a break while I consoled his injured brother. A little later, we were leaving the house. Dragging his feet, through hunched shoulders and a lowered head, my boy barely got the words out. “Am…I…not… a…part…of…the… family?” What??? My heart dropped then quickly responded, “You will ALWAYS be a part of our family. No matter what you say or do. There’s nothing you ever could do to make us not love you.” And I continued on and on to really drive the point home. But still, I will most likely always remember that moment. That exact location. And that awful feeling. I wanted to rewind and react better, differently.
I just today shared about the time that I pushed one child too hard and fast on the slip n’ slide. A collision of my sons occurred. Two year old versus 5 year old. Two injuries resulted. Busted bleeding lip on the catapulted-by-the-mama younger child and bite marks to the back of the older, yet scrawnier, rear-ended child. So much for happy summer memories of slithering down the old rummage sale slip n’ slide. And let me not forget those times that I’ve bonked all of their heads, on door frames, cabinets, and walls while carrying them around the house. All of my boys have been little monkeys, they would rather ride than walk. This mama monkey tries to do too much with too few or full of hands.
We’ve had uber amounts of playground accidents. My boys have always been climbers. I have encouraged them, while many times, holding my breath. Little Spidermen. One time, one of my boys tumbled off of a wall, looked up at me and said, “But you didn’t catch me.” My thoughts exactly, yet falling gently out of the mouth of a three-year old. Ouch. Dagger is in. Just twist it gently.
Now is the time to stop reading and report me. Just call Division of Family Services, Kansas. I have some social worker friends who know the number, sadly by heart, if you need it. They might be busy though. Really busy. You will probably just have to leave a message. Because unfortunately, there are too many people neglecting and hurting children. On purpose.
“Accidents happen” doesn’t quite offer the reassurance or peace that it is intended to. What about the dreadful nearly or almost-accidents? A lot of summers ago, I stood at the faucet, turned the hose water on. Two 9 month old boys sat happily in an empty baby pool in our backyard. Freedom. We had made it out of the house. But it was so stinking hot. Summer cabin fever. I began to fill up the plastic pool. My baby boys began crying awful, painful, help-me cries. I ran over to them. Please, God! I quickly lifted them both out of the water, the hose water had been trapped and heated by the sun…all day. Why wouldn’t I think of that? I remember spitting out the first nasty hot sip of hose water as a kid growing up. You have to let the water trapped in there out first. I knew that. I beat myself up. Kept replaying the scene. Over and over again. And my boys didn’t have any visible lasting burns. Slightly pink skin for a few minutes. It could have been awful, head-to-the-hospital kind of bad.
As I write about these accidents, some years ago, I recognize that’s what they were. Not-on-purpose. No premeditation. My only motive was to try to be a good mom, survive, and offer my kids an outlet for their endless energetic busy bodies. That’s it. But even today after thinking on a few of these accidents, and every time I see a friend or caregiver who has that painful look in their eyes, I get it. I feel it. The guilt that can be suffocating. Debilitating. Hopeless. And typically unproductive.
I know from experience that you can only tread your arms and legs for so long in that guilt. Thick and gooey, it’s dark and painfully sweet, similar to molasses. It entices you, lures you in. First, one bad thought. Then, it’s a pile on. What you should have done differently. How you should have known what was going on. You should have lived closer. Been there. Paid more attention. What you should have said. Or what you shouldn’t have said. Every solution is always so much easier to see in the aftermath of the disastrous guilt-producing episode. A good mom wouldn’t have been so impatient. A good mom would not have locked herself in the bathroom or the closet. A good wife wouldn’t have said that. Done that. A good friend would have called. Visited. Communicated. The list goes on. And on. We can be the toughest competitor when we are in the ring alone. We know our own weak spots like no other. And we take full advantage of them. We can take little short dips in the guilt or sometimes we can get all creepy and wrinkly from hanging out waaaaay too long in that nasty, gooey, dark guilt bath.
There are the small, though they hardly feel that way, accidents that one can quickly recover from, and then there are the tragically deeper, more lingering, life-altering events. Survivor’s guilt. Why do I get to go home and hold my children when she leaves with empty arms? Why did I live, but she didn’t? Why couldn’t I protect my brother? Or sister? If I would have only known. If I would have paid better attention… Not getting to say sorry before it was too late. Once you’re submerged in that yucky, thick pool of guilt, it is so hard to get out. You need some time, though not too much. Your thoughts can feel like a broken record repeating in your mind. Over and over. Somebody move the needle. Change the song. Turn it off.
You need encouragement. Someone to tell you that you love on purpose, not hurt on purpose. Don’t balance on the edge. Don’t try to throw a friend that life saving device. As a certified guilt lifeguard, you have got to get in the nastiness and help carry your friend, sister, or brother out. Tell me what I’m really good at. Fill me up with truth. Tell me how I can change, be better and live differently. How I can remember and honor loved ones. Drown out those awful, untrue thoughts that got me into that messy molasses in the first place. You are a really good person. A good mom. A good friend. A good wife. A good coworker. You’re just not perfect. And that’s okay. Nobody is. You’re here, you’re alive and you’ve got to make the most of it. Even in the midst of so many unanswered questions and so much pain sometimes. You probably will dip your toes into the guilt again, in a weakened state, but you know that the sweet smell turns foul quickly. Get out. Stay away.
I just finished reading this book, “Falling Upward.” I think I practically highlighted the whole book. It may just be perfect timing. Richard Rohr’s wisdom and ability to articulate his thoughts made me feel like he was writing a letter of sorts, to me. Two quotes I highlighted popped into my head when working through how to deal with this guilt, or these imperfections. That I think we all have.
“If you have forgiven yourself for being imperfect and falling, you can now do it for just about everybody else. If you have not done it for yourself, I am afraid you will likely pass on your sadness, absurdity, judgement, and futility to others.”
We have to forgive ourselves. First. The old “put the oxygen mask on yourself before you attempt to put it on others” theory. Ahhhh. But I want to put it on everybody else. I will get to myself, eventually…..More like, I will most likely get to nobody. Including myself.
“If we know anything at this stage, we know that we are all in this together and that we are all equally naked underneath our clothes.”
I believe that we were all created by the same loving, forgiving, and grace-filled God.
Sometimes, you can be treading so hard and going nowhere. The once tempting smell that drew you in becomes nauseating. A guilt fest can be lonely, sickening and alienating. We’ve all been there. We all would love to do anything not to go back. But yet, we do hop in that gooey guilt tub. Time and time again. It is a rare occasion that guilt fests change what already has happened. Only, well, never. We need each other to get out of the funk. Been there, felt that. Didn’t like it. Help me get out of the gunk. Tell me something good, actually, convince me. Get me out of that yucky molasses. Nothing good happens in there. Ever.