When I was in college, a fellow student once told several of us about a boy she used to know. Apparently this boy experienced some difficulties in learning to write, and was also quite smitten with her. He once wrote her a love note in very broken English, the best he could do. The boy realized that he was not writing correctly, and at the end of the note, closed it by saying “all these mistakes are just trying to say ‘I love you.’” I have thought of that often, as I go through life and make mistake after mistake, trying to get it right but not managing to quite do things correctly. I thought of that recently as I shuffled my daughter off to an end-of-year celebration at her school.
I don’t know why, but such events seem to bring out the “absent minded professor” in me. While I got her there on time, I forgot to change her booster seat from my car to my husband’s parents’ car when I rode back with them. This left us at the event with no way to get her home. Luckily, my husband had an extra seat in his car, and we were therefore able to use it to drive her home, as he went off to work. I also forgot the gifts for the teachers, which had been left, with her booster seat, in my own car. I drove those back later, but not without some angst. What a mess I was at this mothering thing!
But it is not that I don’t try to do it right. I have read many books on parenting and spend large quantities of time with fellow moms discussing strategies for parenting. And, still, it doesn’t all work out quite right. I began with the “What to Expect” books, and now I try the “love and logic” approach, but can’t seem to make it work exactly right. Some of these techniques are especially difficult for me to use, since I don’t have family in the area to help “pull off” some of the suggested teaching moments, such as leaving the house at 8AMwith or without the child (and having a family member be there so you don’t have to actually leave them alone). And then I read a book that says that parents (and teachers) should not give rewards for good behavior; doing the right thing should be its own reward. While I believe this for things like graduate school, I have doubts about its effectiveness with very young children. I wonder how parents who strictly adhere to that philosophy toilet train their children, since that was the time I used rewards most liberally and since I find it difficult to imagine how to help a two year old see the intrinsic rewards to using a potty. And, of course, there are plenty of parenting books that say that a woman should stay home with her children full time, something that isn’t financially feasible in our family, or even a wise choice for us. It seems that one book contradicts the other, and none has the “ultimate” answer.
Sometimes, I think that what really makes a difference is not what the books say, but that they say anything at all. Reading a book on parenting gives a parent a small boost in confidence in this most difficult of jobs. This confidence translates into a more effective communication style with your child, and presto, the advice in the book “works”. And so, I continue to read book after book, in search of gems of advice that will help me gain confidence as I go through life with my daughter.
I know what it feels like to be good at something. I know a good lecture when I give it, even if my husband does laugh when I come home saying “I had the most awesome calculus class today”. And that feeling is often nothing like what I get when I try to parent my daughter. I thought of this the other day as I scrambled to pick up a card and a bunch of flowers celebrating the end of her school year, and only managed to make myself late to meet my husband’s family. All I can do is echo that unnamed boy from my fellow student’s past and say that, in terms of trying to be a good mother, “all of these mistakes are just trying to say ‘I love you’”.