I wrote this for my newspaper parenting column back in May of 2014, when E was a newly minted three and still had a pacifier. Two months later, we lured her away from the pacifier by having her exchange it for a tea set and a lot of fancy fans. But the ending still seems relevant, because that’s the thing with parenting. You conquer one mountain only to face the next. Right now the mountain we are climbing is how not to call people “Mean cricket faces” and steal all the toilet paper.
I often lie to myself often as a parent. Tomorrow, I will start teaching my daughter her letters. Tomorrow, I will take away the pacifier. Tomorrow, I won’t get frustrated during the tenth round of Princess Memory and walk away from the game while she is acting out scenes from movies with the cards. Tomorrow, I will finally stop getting up with the baby when he cries at three in the morning. Tomorrow, I will stop using crackers to make him sit in his car seat without screaming and arching his back. Tomorrow.
The lies are little ones; harmless really. Or, so I tell myself. I tell myself these lies because they help me cope with the daily reality that I am not, nor will I ever, be the parent I thought I would be. I thought I would be fun, yet respected. Firm, but always imaginative. My children would have their early years spent in nature, wandering in naturalist Utopia, where they would learn as Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, from “no book but the world.” They most certainly, would not spend most mornings slurping their daily allotment of milk from a bowl dotted with fruit loops. They most certainly would not they learn their colors from “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” or their alphabet from a computer game. Rousseau would not approve of that.
I lie because it helps me save face to my biggest critic: myself. No one feels the shame of my lost moments of grace, my shouted commands, or my impatient urging more than me. So, I promise myself I’ll do better. I’ll make that craft I saw on the internet. We’ll all learn fractions from baking cupcakes. And really, I really will take away that pacifier. But the next day, I wake up after a long night because the baby learned to stand in his crib and the toddler insists that wolves do live in Cedar Rapids, right next to Wal-Mart, she just “knowed it.” Then, I don’t shower because I’d rather sleep. I don’t put on make-up because I’d rather drink another cup of coffee. I sit and watch my daughter slurp her milk from a fruit-loop dotted bowl, because she insists that’s how unicorns eat. The pacifier remains.
In the past three years of parenting, all I’ve managed to learn is how to unlearn—how to disentangle myself from my own unreachable expectations. My children don’t need me to be perfect. They need me to be present. They don’t need lofty ideals, they need a band-aid, a butt wipe, another reading of Fancy Nancy and five hundred kisses before bed. That, I don’t need to wait until tomorrow for, that I can do today.
So, tomorrow, instead of lying to myself, I will extend the same grace I give to my children and accept me not as the parent I imagine, but as the parent I am. Tomorrow, I will also eat like a unicorn. Tomorrow, I will fight the wolves instead of my daughter. Tomorrow, I will stop insisting that I can be perfect. Tomorrow, I will forgive myself the hundred little errors, the missteps and mistakes. Tomorrow.