I stopped at the red light and exhaled. All the anxiousness and guilt expelled from me in a sob as my burning eyes released the tears I’d been blinking back. I turned up the radio to muffle the sounds of my convulsive gasps as I replayed her latest tantrum from moments before.
“Mommy needs you to hold my hand in the parking lot to keep you safe,” I beg, my voice dripping with the chemical sweet taste of cough medicine. “If you don’t hold my hand right now I’m going to carry you,” I try again, hysteria tinging my falsely syrupy voice.
I picked up her flailing body, angling my head to avoid her helicopter arms that batter me again and again. I fixed my eyes on the car, blurring out the periphery of judgemental stares as my daughter screeched and yowled like an angry cat. I pinned her body in the carseat to buckle her, back arching and fingers clawing at my grasping hands. As the engine hummed and the car began its rhythmic forward motion, her body became motionless, her gasping breaths slowing to the purr of a heavy sleep.
The light turned green and I felt suffocated by the weight of the emotions that piled on my chest one by one. Pulling over, I put the car in park and closed my eyes as I allowed myself to suffer the weight and jagged edges of each feeling that threatened to bury me.
“Other moms don’t need to manhandle their children.” Guilt. “If you were a better parent she wouldn’t behave like this.” Insecurity. “Your going to screw her up for life.” Fear.
Each lie pulled me deeper and deeper into frustrated resignation.
After a long moment I looked back at her peaceful, sleeping face. I inhaled deeply and wiped away the tears of despair and frustration. I put the car in drive and kept going.
That evening as I dried and put away the dinner dishes, I overheard my daughter’s quiet chatter as she played with her dolls. I paused and listened more closely as she picked up the wide eyed doll in the blue paisley dress and smoothed its silky, chestnut hair. She whispered to her doll, “I love you and I forgive you.”
I remembered the guilt and despair that weighed on me earlier that day. In the glow of lamps and quiet blanket of evening, the feelings lost their weight and jagged edges.
I am far from the perfect mom. I yell, I grow impatient, and I give in when I should hold my ground. I turn on the TV when I should read her a book, I heat up a hotdog when I should cook a meal, I yell when I should ask questions, and I allow precious opportunities to slip through my fingers.
But as I look at my daughter, her hair damp from a bath, her night gown gathered around her feet, lips curved in a sleepy smile, I thank God for all the times I do get it right.
And as I hear her speak words of love and forgiveness, I whisper thank you. Thank you God for listening to me, for equipping and empowering me. Thank you for blessing me. Thank you for looking at me in my worst moments, covered in shame and hopelessness, for holding me and whispering “I love you and I forgive you.”