With Ella on my hip, I walked into the little classroom on the left, at the end of the hall, as usual, two weeks ago. It was like any other Thursday of picking up Brinley from her Mother’s Day Out program. I am usually the first mom to arrive for my child, however, instead of the typical nine three year olds running around the room, I entered to see nine three year olds and a large group of their parents mingling around the snack table. My stomach flip-flopped a little, as I wondered why the parents were there and why they all stared as I walked into the room. Brushing off the weirdness I felt, I smiled as Brinley greeted me and asked me to read her a book, like another boy’s mommy was doing. We do not usually hang around to play when I pick her up, and I was ready to gather her things and head home for the afternoon. As I grabbed her backpack, her teacher handed her a book from the reading corner and allowed her to take the book home, as long as we brought it back the next Tuesday. Brinley delightfully snatched up the book and headed for the hallway. Ella and I followed after her.
We walked out the door of the church and began down the sidewalk toward our car. Brinley’s strides grew slower and she hung her head low. I asked her what caused her to feel sad, because she is normally so giddy to tell me about the events and adventures of her school day. Her words punched me in the gut.
“My mommy and daddy didn’t come see me sing my Bible songs and be an elephant. I was sad, so Miss Lauren let me sit on her lap after the show.”
A flow of silent tears fell from my eyes, as I realized why so many parents were in her classroom when I arrived. I realized why they all stared when I walked in at the usual pick up time. I had missed her end of the year performance. Kyle and I had yet to miss an event for her, and although she is only three years old, she had looked for the approval and excitement of her mommy and daddy during her performance and did not find us in those moments. My heart was flooded with sadness, because I had disappointed her expectations. I wished she had not noticed. I wished she had been oblivious to my absence. But she noticed. She was fully aware. The walk down the rest of the sidewalk felt like a sad journey, with a rain cloud hovering only over my head, in the middle of the bright, sunny day.
I loaded the girls into the car, walked around to my car door, and tried to suck up the loads of tears I really wanted to cry. I buckled myself in and reached to turn up the radio to fill the uncomfortable silence, when a little voice from the backseat said, “Mommy, you’re sad because you didn’t see me be an elephant?” She had seen my heart’s intention; how I had wanted to rewind time and see her be the best little elephant in the world. I sincerely assured her, “Yes, baby, I am very sad I missed seeing you be an elephant and sing your Bible songs. I am so sorry Mommy and Daddy were not there. Will you forgive me for forgetting?”
“It’s all right, Mommy. I forgive you.”
Just like that she released the offense and read the special book her teacher had let her borrow the rest of the way home. She mentioned her performance a few times again throughout the evening, and Kyle apologized for missing her show, too. But we tried to reenact it with her, and we made up words and dance moves, stomping around like elephants, shouting loud BRRRRRs (that is an elephant noise, if you did not know), and our at-home-show ended with all the elephants falling to the ground laughing on the floor together. Brinley went to sleep happy that night, feeling loved and not forgotten. But for the next five days I beat myself up for forgetting. I went over and over in my mind how I should have set a reminder in my phone, how I was the only mom who was not there, how I had failed my child. I gave myself no leeway–no grace.
When I got Brinley ready for school the following Tuesday, I stuck the book she had borrowed in her backpack with a little note for her teacher, explaining my gratitude for the loan of the book and how sad I was I had forgotten the performance, but how great I was sure it turned out. Kyle drove Brinley to school and Ella and I stayed home, doing chores and playing throughout the morning. Upon my arrival to Brinley’s classroom that afternoon, her teacher informed me she had forgotten to take pictures of their performance, so she was going to have them do it again, and I was invited to watch, since I had missed it before. I could not believe I had a second chance to see what should have been a one-time performance! My heart was jumping in my chest and my cheeks hurt from smiling. I think the girls and I skipped all the way to the car. Two days later, I showed up on time for the rerun of the performance. Ella and I perched on a toddler-sized chair in the corner of the room, as nine little three year olds sang fun songs about elephants and Spring time. Brinley sang the loudest. She was so proud her mommy and sister were there to watch her perform!
As a parent for a mere three years, there have been so many times I have failed my mommy duties. I have arrived at church childcare without diapers for one of my kids. Brinley has had Cheerios for dinner several nights in a row. Some days I have forgotten to brush the girl’s teeth before leaving the house or putting them to bed. And I have lost my temper many more times than I would like to admit, over something as small as talking too loudly during nap time. And each time I have not measured up to the healthy-meal-making, be-everywhere-and-do-everything-perfectly mom, I have woken up the next day to two girls that love me and have no record of yesterday’s follies. They present me with sweet smiles and happy hearts, ready for a new day, another chance to try again.
While I spent five days replaying my forgetfulness and irresponsibility in my mind, Brinley went about our days as if it had never happened. The only one of us who continued suffering from me missing her performance was I. I ignored the resilience of my daughter and the grace extended to me before we had even made it out of the parking lot that day. I had chosen to wallow in my shame. But God did not stand for my behavior to continue. He presented me with another chance after my mistake, another opportunity to see the ten-minute, end of the year, one time performance of my three-year-old daughter.
That is what God loves to do. He loves to scoop us up, from our shameful mud and muck, and present us with another chance to try again. When we botch every attempt and forfeit our efforts, His grace drowns our deficiencies. It causes us to arise with fresh sight and new outlook for another try. He keeps no tally of how many times we have tried something and failed. He rejoices to help us start anew. We can dance freely in His elephant sized grace, for He is the transformer of one-time shows into renewed reproductions, and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).
by Jacqueline Fox