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.