This morning, my son’s first day of middle school, did not go as I planned.
I’ve been anxious about it all summer, this step from elementary school into pre-adolescence. A big, wide building with several wings. More homework. A transition of timing, of friendships, of life. I wanted the morning to go smoothly. I wanted everything to work out as it should. Perfect, or as close to perfect as it could get.
Sometimes I imagine my life as though I’m in a movie, as though the events that happen on any particular day are a montage in the opening frame. There’s the family with the big house and the landscaped yard, parents who sip coffee and nosh on toast and read the paper before they drive their kids to school in their SUV with leather interior. (Who are these people?) And then there’s me, hitting the snooze button as it plays the Jackson 5 in an effort to jump- start my morning, staring up at the ceiling in my three-bedroom apartment, praying for God to help me do a few yoga poses before I get in the shower. Waking my kids up at the last minute so they can get as much sleep as possible. Pretending I don’t know they haven’t brushed their teeth, because it may take too long. Dumping Cheerios into plastic bags for them to eat on the way. Pouring my coffee into an open mug and sipping it in the car, hoping it doesn’t spill. Throwing an apple in my purse for lunch.
Or this morning, forgetting my kids’ lunches in the fruit drawer of the refrigerator and having to turn around to go get them, then getting stuck in a long line of traffic the likes of the Los Angeles freeway, my son jumping out of the car and running on the sidewalk to his school so he could make it for his first-ever middle-school morning bell.
Last week, I formulated a plan once September 4th hit. I had let things get too loose in a number of ways. Too much drinking, too much sugar. Too little exercise. Too much spending. So with the school year starting, I decided I’d turn over a new leaf, start fresh.
But how did I feel this morning?
Like I failed. Like I failed and I failed and I failed.
I’m getting good at it, actually. Failing. Much better, in fact, than succeeding. And I’m starting to take a page from Samuel Beckett, or Pema Chodron, who took Beckett’s quote—“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better”—and wrote a whole book around it.
“Failing better means that failure becomes a rich and fertile ground instead of just another slap in the face. And so I can tell you that it is out of this same space that come our best human qualities of bravery, kindness, and the ability to really reach out to and care about each other.”
I’m starting to acknowledge that for too long, I set the bar too high. I don’t have to ensure everything is exactly the way I set it out to be. Life can take other turns, and sometimes those turns can be more interesting. And what I’ve learned about myself in the process, or how I’ve grown, is that I don’t beat myself up about it anymore. This morning was a bit of a mess, but then things settled, and everyone was okay. I’m okay. And I’m even fine when things are not okay.
Since becoming a single, working mom, I’m the one who forgets to sign the papers that come home from school. I forget to look in backpacks and remove the rotten apples sitting in a plastic bag, or the smelly socks that got stuffed in there earlier in the summer. A random kid’s jacket shows up at my place, and I have no idea where it came from. (If your daughter’s name is Riley, I have your coat!) I make chicken nuggets or order pizza too often, and the closest my kids get to a vegetable is guacamole. (I’m very proud of their guacamole behavior, actually.) My youngest daughter rarely, if ever, takes a special water bottle to school, and the teachers have to give her little plastic cups of water to sip throughout the day. Currently, I don’t have ink cartridges in my printer. If someone needed to print something right now, I’d have no way to make that happen.
My kids and I are often rushing, often late.
So I fail. I fail and I fail and I fail. But this year? Instead of setting the bar so high, instead of expecting myself to be perfect, I’m just going to relax about it all. I’m going to try, of course, because I’m open to success. I’ll welcome it, if it comes. But I’ll also settle for waking up just 5 minutes earlier instead of 15. Tomorrow, I’ll put less dressing on my salad and skip the cookie at lunch. Sometimes, I’ll sign the papers that come home from school at night instead of in the morning, and maybe I’ll actually read them, too.
I’ll try, and try again. I’ll practice. From now on, I’ll fail better.