Whenever possible, I like to know what I am getting into before I jump in. I read labels and taste the samples served at Costco. I scour the internet for information on planned vacations, appliances, and curriculums before setting down a dime. I “try” the exercise class before signing up. I won’t even start on the process I go through before purchasing paint for my walls.
I like to plan and research, but honestly, I like to avoid making mistakes more. I think most people do. That’s why we have driving schools, wedding rehearsals, and “hospital bags” packed weeks before a baby’s due date. Mistakes don’t feel good. In fact, they can feel down right lousy! For me, the amount of post-mistake mental wrangling rarely reflects the size of mistake. Small mistakes may get hours of examination, while big ones are forgotten with the sunrise. But, in the words of a dear friend, “I have issues,” and mistakes are simply a part of life.
Last Thursday morning, I loaded 1 small overstuffed suitcase, 1 messenger bag filled with school books, 1 backpack choked with reading materials and drawing supplies, 1 pillow, and 1 snow jacket into the car. It was 6:00 AM as I backed out of the driveway. My older daughter was off to spend 4 days in the mountains with the family of one of her closest friends. There would be 3 families sharing a condo, but only 2 teen girls. Neither girl skis nor snowboards. They are avid readers and writers, both with amazing imaginations. From my understanding, they had planned nothing beyond talking, writing, reading, a dip in the hot tub, and more talking, writing and reading for the trip’s entirety. I was assured some studying would happen. I didn’t hold my breath.
In the days leading up to her departure, I had asked for any clothing that might need laundering be placed in the hamper. I offered my help in getting ready. She declined. I laundered the clothes and made suggestions for this shirt and those pants. She rolled her eyes. I helped her find snow boots and reminded her to bring extra pairs of thick socks. She walked away without comment.
The night before she was to leave, she retreated to her room for a couple of hours. She was upstairs packing–packing without a list! I sat on the couch attempting to send her telepathic messages; “Don’t forget your toothbrush.,” “You’ll need a scarf,” “Bring more than one pair of jeans,” “Call on me–I have traveled–a lot!” I resisted taking control. This wasn’t her first trip away from home. I reminded myself she is no longer 6, or 11, or 15! I know that giving my kids opportunities to “do for themselves” is essential for a smooth transition into adulthood. Knowledge doesn’t always make things easier because I also know they are bound to make mistakes! I didn’t check her bags.
In the early hours of last Thursday morning, we drove the empty suburban streets making small chat. “Are you excited?” I asked. Silly question, I know, but I needed something to fill the space–something that would keep me from asking about the number of underwear stashed in her bag. (Is it just me, or do all moms check for extra underwear?) I asked if she had remembered her drawing supplies. What about her A&P books? I began to buckle. Did she have something for her feet while hanging out in the condo? Did she pack her warm pajamas? She was on to me. With a loud sigh, she proceeded to list the contents of her suitcase . Her tone clearly communicated, “If you must know…” I responded casually, “Sounds like you did a good job, honey.” Mentally, I screamed, “1 sweatshirt! Only 1 sweatshirt! You’ll freeze! What if it gets wet?!”
We arrived at her friend’s house, and I could do nothing to change the future. Her sweatshirt may get wet. She may have cold feet. She may need to borrow a pencil. “Oh well,” I reminded myself, “Let it go.” Life offers plenty of opportunities for growth, mistakes are just one of them. And, most of us learn best by our own mistakes, not someone else’s. Teens are especially resistant to being told how to do something. They want to test their wings and show us they are capable of taking care of themselves. As a mom, I want to protect, but over-protection can be destructive.
According to Sue Blaney, author of Please Stop the Rollercoaster! How Parents of Teenagers Can Smooth Out the Ride, “A resilient teenager can handle the bumps in the road without being overly traumatized. This quality of resilience may well be one of the most important qualities for a human to strive for, as it plays a key part in one’s ability to cope with life’s ups and downs.” I believe learning to bounce back from the small mistakes is what helps us develop the ability to stand again after the big ones.
By nature, my daughter has a “joie de vivre” personality. She regularly jumps into new waters and splashes about. There are times when I feel she should give more thought to a decision. There are times her decisions are well thought out. In all times, I have seen her resilience.
Whether it be a new art technique that didn’t yield desired results or failure to study for a test, watching my kids make mistakes is never easy. There are tears to wipe and disappointments to clean up. It can result in blows to the self-esteem, but it can also result in growth. It’s easy to avoid mistakes when sitting on the sidelines of life, but life is not truly lived from the sidelines. Sophia Loren once said, “Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.” As individuals, it is how we learn to course correct and try again. Letting our kids make mistakes is how we become resilient as parents.
My daughter called home twice this weekend. I think it was for my comfort more than her own. During neither call did she complain about cold feet, wet sweatshirts, or a lack of underwear. She shared small details of her days in the mountains spent talking, writing, reading, and dips in the hot tub. She told me she had even gotten in about 4 hours of good study time. She sounded happy.
Mistakes are funny things. They can paralyze our thoughts and actions if given too much power. They can also be springboards in life. I don’t think my daughter would tell me if she ended up forgetting something. I don’t think she needs to. She’s learning how to take care of herself in the world, and I am learning she will be just fine. Baby steps, one at a time.
It was cold Thursday morning, very cold. As she got out of the car, I asked if she didn’t want to put on her jacket. She responded “Mo-om!” (Somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14, mom becomes a two-syllable word. I don’t know when it reverts back to being a single syllable–we haven’t gotten there yet.) I reminded myself she is a competent young woman growing in her independence. I reminded myself that she has shown me time, and time again, she knows how to make good choices and that her mistakes are hers to grow from. I made no further comment.
That morning, I reminded myself that chicks are rarely hurt after falling to the ground when they leave the nest for the first time. I prayed as I drove away.