“Where were you today? Why didn’t you come to my classroom?”
Ryan and I had just arrived home from school. I could tell he was in a bit of a sour mood, which isn’t unusual for a kid who was adjusting to full-day school for the first time. But this time, there was a little more sadness than usual behind his eyes.
“My teacher asked whose mommies were coming to watch us learn today, and I raised my hand,” he said, tears forming. “I told her you would come.”
A light bulb goes off in my mind, illuminating a small pamphlet I’d received the week before about something called “Education Week.” Parents were invited — but not required — to stop by at various scheduled times to observe their children learning in the classroom.
My first thought when I read the pamphlet was, “Why on Earth would I do that? Once he spots me, very little *learning* will occur because a whole lot of *goofing off* will have taken its place.”
My second thought was, “Seriously, terrible idea. No one is going to do this.”
Except that apparently it’s a thing, a big deal that everyone in this area (besides me, relative newbie that I am) is aware of. My mother-in-law’s eyes widened in shock when I said I’d skipped it. A friend’s response was, “Oh yeah, you have to go to that; it’s really important to them.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t know this until after. After I’d skipped it, after I’d let Ryan down.
“My teacher put me at the table where the mommies would come to see their kids. Everyone else’s mommy or daddy came. But you didn’t.”
Ryan and I hadn’t talked about this beforehand. I hadn’t told him I was going. But I know why he raised his hand when his teacher asked whose parents would be there. He raised his hand because I am always there. I can’t think of one preschool concert or parade or parents’ night I’ve ever missed. I’ve gone to Ryan’s classroom every year on his birthday to read a book to his class. I’ve volunteered to help his preschool class make Christmas ornaments and to accompany him on his first kindergarten field trip to the pumpkin patch.
I’ve never even been late picking him up from school. Not once, ever.
So of course he assumed — if mommies were coming, his mommy was coming.
“You could have seen me write ‘hot dog,’” he said. “But you missed it.”
I was mad at myself, frustrated that despite all my efforts, I very likely just created a hurtful and long-lasting memory for him. I envisioned Ryan and I, 25 years down the road, drinking a beer together and talking about life. Maybe he’d be a new father, questioning his own choices and the strength of his parenting.
Maybe I’d ask him how he thought I had done, whether there was ever a time he’d felt really angry at me. Or sad. Or disappointed.
“You know, not really,” he’d say (I hope). “I do remember this one time — I think it was kindergarten — when I thought you were coming in to see me and you didn’t. I was sitting at this table with a bunch of other kids and their parents, but you weren’t there. That always stuck with me for some reason.”
And I would know it had stuck with him because it was the only time I had ever disappointed him.
Ha! Of course not. It might have been the only time (so far) that I haven’t shown up for something, but it’s certainly not the first time I’ve disappointed him.
There was the time I told him it was Chicken Nugget Day in the preschool lunchroom. I sent him to school with no lunch and a whole lot of anticipation. It wasn’t Chicken Nugget Day — it was the day the money to sign up for Chicken Nugget Day was due. The lunchroom teachers gave Ryan a few crackers while I rushed back to pick him up and get him a real lunch (probably a happy meal to atone for my sin).
Or how about the time I forgot to send a snack with him to school, and he had to ask his teacher for something to eat? (Fine, twice, ok? It happened twice.)
Disappointing your child one time feels like one time too many. But it is inevitable. Mothers are just as flawed, if not more so, as anyone else. All this love we feel that threatens to tear us apart from the inside out, all these expectations we pack up and carry with us day after day, year after year; we’re bound to buckle under our own pressure every now and then.
I wonder how many more of these incidents I’ve long since forgotten. Ryan will probably have a whole variety of memories to pick from when it comes to pinpointing his first real disappointment.
“I remember the time you didn’t show up,” Ryan will say.
“Well, you probably shouldn’t have been too surprised,” I’ll respond. “It wasn’t the first — or the last — time I dropped the ball. But man, I really tried.”
That’s what matters the most, right? That we wanted to be perfect, flawless. That we wanted the best for them. That we wished we weren’t limited by our own humanity, but that humanity was something we could never overcome no matter how hard we tried.
I hope Ryan will know that I did my best, and I hope he knows — if he does become a parent himself — that his best is all anyone, including himself, should expect. That his best will still be enough even if (or when) his best isn’t enough to prevent disappointment.