When it comes to mistakes, I tend to think I have a pretty healthy attitude on the subject. It’s okay, we all make mistakes, I tell my seven-year-old son when he accidentally falls off his pint-sized skateboard and skins his knee. Mistakes are a part of life, baby, I whisper to his younger brother when a slice – or two or three – of pizza falls off his plate and onto the ground during a family picnic in the back yard.
But it wasn’t until my four-year-old schooled me on my reaction to a mistake that I realized I still had some room to grow.
Perhaps like you, my family has started getting into the rhythms of the school year once again. When the boys’ alarm clock goes off at 7:15 in the morning, my sons have four things to check off before we hit the road forty-five minutes later: eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, pack backpack.
Life, as it seems, is not terribly complicated for their young selves. When I pick them up from the bus stop six and a half hours later, they tend to be filled with equal parts exhaustion and exhilaration. They oftentimes need a little bit of time to sit and relax, building LEGOS sets, painting a picture or watching an episode of Wild Kratts. I’ll make them smoothies or pop some popcorn on the stove, and for all of half an hour, we’ll cozy into one another, hearts filled the comfort of mere presence alone.
Until, that is, half a smoothie is accidentally knocked over, liquid seeping into the couch cushions, the blanket basket and the living room rug.
No longer does mama coo aphorisms toward her previously precious cherubs, but she rages with anger, upset that her children can’t seem to not spill, that sippy cups are still a necessary commodity, and that every textile item within reach is now going to smell like a mixture of fermented berries and coconut milk.
This mama, of course, is me, for I am the wildest of contradictions. But just because I don’t always get it right, doesn’t mean one of my children isn’t going to get it right.
“Mama,” my four-year-old said, “we celebrate our mistakes!”
That day in the living room, I turned toward him and cocked my head to the side, fingers desperately trying to scoop sticky liquid back into its receptacle. This too could wait.
“I’m sorry, what was that, baby?”
“Today in school, my teacher told us that we celebrate mistakes. Even when we mess up, we learn from our mistakes. We celebrate our mistakes, Mama.” Suddenly, this wasn’t so much about his big brother accidentally knocking a smoothie over, but about his mama accidentally reacting in a way that way that was perhaps a teensy, weensy bit over the top.
As the three of us began to sop smoothie off the floor (this time with a roll of paper towels, instead of bare hands), we also talked about what it means to celebrate our mistakes – even when we get angry, even when we accidentally knock our cups to the floor.
I can tend to think I’m a pretty decent parent, that day by day I’m learning what it means to respond instead of react to my children’s individual needs and personalities. But every so often (which sometimes feels more like always so often), when I crack and don’t get it right, I am reminded to take deep breaths and start all over again.
After all, this life is not an “if” I mess up, but rather a “when” I mess up. But this inevitable, unstoppable, sometimes mistake-filled life of mine always extended an invitation to celebrate.
Is this story God to me? Maybe. I think so. After all, God finds us in the tiny threads of life, in those ordinary, everyday moments when we least deserve God’s generous heaping of gifts.
So, at the end of it, we respond the only way we can, sprinkling grace upon ourselves and upon one another, over and over again. And somehow, these gifts of uninterrupted love dance alongside a celebration of snafus, its holy mess the only thing we have left to cling to at the end of the day.