Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Epic Fail

I'm sad tonight. I don't know why. And as it often happens, when I'm sad, I tend to dredge up bad memories and dwell on them. The bigger my share of guilt, all the better. Here's tonight's:

Let me clarify something first, because this is the reason that everything went bad on this particular night. The older my children get, the less tolerant they become with the younger ones. It doesn't matter what kind of little angels or terrors the first two were. In their memories, they were perfect children, and since then, I have given birth to a bunch of unsocialized hooligans. The older ones judge the younger ones by a yardstick that is too grown-up, and naturally the little ones are always found wanting. The older ones don't want to let the younger ones act like children.

To me, their censure of the younger children's behavior is completely intolerant and uncharitable, and by extension, they are also judging me as a parent. I am extremely sensitive to their criticism of their younger siblings, because I feel it's really me they're criticizing. At any rate, this sensitivity plays a major role in my choices.

It's almost been a year since Sarah, our firstborn, graduated from high school. The graduation ceremony was packed, as usual, but an entire row of seats was reserved for both sets of grandparents and our large family. The twins were 2 and Theresa was 5. Some might argue that they were a little young to be quiet for that long. I didn't think they were bad during the ceremony, although about halfway through they started to get antsy and got out of their seats and down on the floor.

The problem was that the videographer was sitting near our row. Scott, the oldest son, was getting very agitated because the kids were making noise near the videographer, and though I kept them as quiet as possible, I was becoming defensive about it.

After the ceremony, when my daughter, the graduate, made her way back in for pictures with us, first she demonstrated impatience when asked to pose for a picture with one of her grandparents. Granted, this grandparent can be demanding, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime event and pictures meant a great deal. A little forebearance was in order for the occasion, and I felt her impatience was quite selfish and immature. It wasn't as if every single one of her classmates wasn't also posing with family at that exact moment.

Then she made a bitter remark to me about "how bad" the kids were. Okay, I thought. She doesn't want to bother taking pictures with us, and the younger children are an embarrassment. I gathered up my dignity and my hooligans and quietly shepherded them out to the van. I didn't do it in a huff, I didn't do it for spite, or to hurt anyone. I just didn't want to stay where they were not, and by extension, I was not wanted. My eyes were full of tears and my feelings were wounded, but not for a moment did I do it with an "I'll-show-her" spirit. I really thought she didn't want them around, and guess what? Where they go, I go. They're so little, that's just how it has to be.

It took us a while to get across the parking lot, and I became aware that people were asking where Sarah was. I just figured she was taking pictures with friends, and I headed home. We had food prepared because we were expecting people to come by after graduation, and I wanted to get things ready.

It was a good hour later that I found out what happened. Sarah had disappeared, not with friends, but into the band room, crying because I left her graduation. She didn't get any pictures with any friends. We didn't have a party at our house. She just came home alone and cried some more.

And there was nothing I could say to make it better. I ruined her graduation night.

I have had some glaring moments of parenting failure, but this one stands out below the rest, at least so far. We haven't talked about it all in the year since. I'm actually hoping that somehow it will magically disappear from the family annals. I don't have a single picture of her high school graduation. I will never be able to make her see how sorry I am, and I will probably cry every time I think of that night for the rest of my life.


  1. oh my goodness. I am crying for you. I get sad too, and my mind does the SAME thing. I am so sorry about what happened on her graduation night. For her and for you. I know it hurts to even think about it for you. I'm so very sorry. You are a GREAT mother and I can only imagine that in time thinking about this night will not be as hard. I'm sending you a big big hug!!!

  2. Hopefully, one day both of you will be able to forgive yourselves (and each other). It really was the result of a misunderstanding and "big event stress"—not a bad scene of family dysfunction, like divorced parents screaming at each other or an alcoholic mother crying and hugging all the graduates in the receiving line and making a fool of herself—which is no comfort to you, I'm sure. I hope that one day you 2 will be able to sit down and talk about it and then "hug it out." So sorry, Michelle.

  3. Having come from a truly horrifying home environment where really awful things were often happening I can say that I do not think this will matter that much in the long run. The fact that you and your daughter are both sensitive and that you both care that feelings were hurt means that you are both fundamentally nice people. For your daughter this is hopefully just the beginning of many fine moments and achievements that you can share with her and she with you. Apologize sincerely and be the bigger person. The rewards are well worth it.

    Good wishes to you both.

  4. You know, Laoch is right. I'm ashamed of myself for letting such an insignificant thing become so large for me. Overall our family has received many blessings, and I should be grateful that this is one of my biggest "problems."