She said it was okay, but it wasn’t.
She said she forgave me, but I couldn’t forgive myself.
She never seemed to give it another thought, but it was enough to keep me awake that night.
It had been “tacky night” at our church’s nighttime kids’ ministry, but I forgot. It completely slipped my mind between the excitement of breaking ground on our new church facility and normal Sunday chaos and already looking into the coming week and all that it held. Remembering to dress her in crazy clothes? That was nowhere on my radar. Once a quick Facebook check showed me the oversight after my husband had already taken her to church, I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind – my daughter, the only one not dressed for the evening’s fun – left out and feeling dejected.
For most kids, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal. For my girl, though, I thought it surely was. She has her own mind and her own idea of fashion and marches to the beat of her own drummer, and I’ve told people for several years now that special events like this one are where she really shines. For me to forget, then, seemed to be like forgetting a championship game or opening night of a star performance. This was her thing, and I had forgotten.
I beat myself up over it for hours, and even once she came home and I apologized and she told me that hardly anyone had dressed up, I couldn’t let it go.
“You failed, Jess. Why put things on your calendar if you’re going to forget them anyway? What are you doing? How could you be so forgetful? What if she had been left out of the fun because of your mistake?”
I heard one time that parenting battles are lost in the little moments – moments of carelessness and fatigue and thoughtless words. If that were true, I had surely lost a big battle, even if it were only in my mind.
But somewhere in the middle of the night, during my restless dreams, I remembered something else…a passing moment and a quick conversation…and the guilt melted away. You see, not only was it “tacky night,” but it was “invite a friend” night at church. My daughter hadn’t invited a friend, but I had remembered – even without checking my calendar – that others would be bringing guests with them. I had envisioned the scene, with lots of new and uncertain children wondering what to do, and before she walked out the door I had knelt in front of my own daughter.
“Sweetheart, I want you to look for kids who are by themselves tonight, and I want you to make them feel welcome, okay? Look for kids who seem nervous or scared and help them. You’ve been there before, and you know what to do and what to expect, but not everyone does. Look for ways to be a good friend, okay?”
She – my tender-hearted girl always on the lookout for that kind of opportunity anyway – nodded and said she would. She told me she wouldn’t just play with her friends, but would look for somebody who doesn’t have many friends.
I was proud of her, but I didn’t think much else about it…..until the middle of the night, when the faint glimmer of parenting success dared to pierce the darkness of guilt and self-loathing.
And here’s the thought I can’t shake from my mind today: if the battles of life can be lost in the little moments, they can surely be won in the little moments, too. I may have forgotten to help her get dressed in a tacky outfit, but I remembered something more important. I remembered the bigger picture.
And you, friend? You may not be chastising yourself as heartily as I was, but I’ll bet there is something you’re beating yourself up for today. Something you forgot to do, or just never got around to doing this weekend, or didn’t do very well. Maybe your house is a catastrophe or your pantry is empty or you didn’t get the laundry done. If you look closely enough, though, to see past those things, I’ll bet there are some shining moments in there, too. Moments of compassion. Moments of silliness. Moments when you took a second to read together with your child instead of folding the clothes that just came from the dryer. Moments when you were late to an appointment because you were having a dance party in the kitchen with your kids. Moments when you left a sink full of dishes to go outside and play with your family.
There is a bigger picture being painted, friends, than what we can see. We so often get buried under the laundry and to-do lists and grocery shopping and little league practices and car payments and birthday invitations, and all we can see is the towering mountain of life crushing us from the inside out. What we can’t see, though, are the bigger and infinitely more important things happening around us.
When we stop to read with our kids, we’re making them feel secure and loved and more important to mama than the laundry. When we take time to be silly and dance like a fool in the kitchen, we’re teaching our kids that life isn’t all business. When we choose to play instead of wash dishes, we’re showing our kids what is really important to us. And when we sometimes forget about tacky night but remember the kids who might be feeling alone, scared, and nervous, we’re showing our kids what’s most important of all.