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The paper bag that made me cry

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It was 6:27 am on a normal Wednesday morning. The kids were eating breakfast as I scrambled to fix my hair before we had to leave. My husband called for our four-year-old to head to the truck so they could make it to preschool drop-off on time. Because of preschool opening time and the time my husband has to be at work, they have to stay on a strict departure schedule each morning.

That’s when I saw it. The cute little paper bag with my son’s name on it and a note about bringing show and tell items. It sat empty on the kitchen counter. No objects of the designated color had been hunted down the night before and carefully placed into the bag so he could proudly reveal them that morning. I had three minutes to find something brown that would fit into the bag, and be fun for him to talk about with his classmates.

I can’t even remember what I haphazardly tossed into the bag that morning, but in that moment my heart just felt so heavy. In the grand scheme of things, one overlooked show and tell is meaningless, but that morning it felt like more. It felt like I had failed my child.

I try so hard to make sure everything is just right each night before I go to bed. With four kids, full-time jobs, and a household to manage, my husband and I have a lot to do after the kids are asleep every night. I move around the house for hours each night packing the diaper bag, doing laundry, checking backpacks, writing checks for lunch money, and signing reading logs. I try so hard to make sure I’m doing enough. I want my children to have everything they need to be successful, and I want them to look back fondly on the way I cared for them.

But the truth is, sometimes it is just too much.

I’ve learned over the last decade of parenting that I can’t be perfect. So why does it hurt so much when I feel like I fail? I know that with the weight I’m carrying as a mother, I’m bound to make mistakes here and there. My mind knows that it is impossible to be everything to everyone all the time.

But my heart. My heart wants my family to have the great mom that they deserve. The mom who bakes fresh cookies each week, who always has them to practice on time, and the mom who never yells at little people who aren’t getting in the car fast enough when we’re rushed.

It’s a constant battle trying to decide if I’m getting it right. I read articles telling me to “let the laundry wait, because babies don’t keep,” but there’s also the blog post saying “don’t feel guilty for cleaning the house instead of playing with your kids if it makes you a better mom.” How do I know that my enough is enough? What guarantee do I have the what I’m doing will bring my kids the happiness and success I so desperately wish for them?

Finding the balance in parenting is just hard. We all know there isn’t a rule book or instruction manual for this role. Somehow we have to just do our best, with our love for our children guiding the way, and hope that it is in fact enough. Maybe if I keep telling myself this one day it will stick.

Am I still going to rush around at the last minute to get one more thing for my son’s school project, so he doesn’t feel disappointed? Probably. Will I still stay up way past my bedtime just to make sure that someone’s favorite shirt gets into the dryer for tomorrow? More than likely.

But can I also give myself a little grace? You bet. The thing about parenting is that we try so hard to make our kids happy, but they don’t even notice half of what we are doing for them. What they do notice is that they are safe, loved, and protected. They know that we are in their corner, and will be by their side through the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs.

My son has long since forgotten about the boring brown toy in his bag that day, but he won’t soon forget my love for him or the smile on my face when he looks back and sees me rooting for him. Because that’s always where I’ll be for my kids. Just being me. Just the way I am. Imperfectly parenting to the best of my ability.

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