I've been a mother for roughly five and a half years, and so for roughly five and a half years I've been sure of a few things: that I'd die for my children without question; that the man I chose to be their dad was a very good choice; that my love for them tears at me, burrowing deeper and deeper in unexpected moments; and that the mistakes I make as their mother will outweigh the love, will hang on tighter in their memories.
I know, that last one, right?
We took the kids to a modern art museum yesterday. We told them ad infinitum that they couldn't touch, told them why. We knelt down to their level as we explained.
We walked into the first room and there was a huge thing (forgive my notable lack of art words here) hanging from the ceiling. Huge and white and suspended. Three different layers of jutting materials, with water running straight through the middle. It was impressive. My five year old promptly walked up to it, put her hand on it, and the whole thing started to sway. "Isla, you CAN NOT touch! " I hissed. I think I sighed and rolled my eyes. Her face turned red, tears welled. A museum employee gently ushered her over to a plaque on the wall that detailed the name of the piece, the materials used, the measurements. "Here's some information about the piece," she said to her in a gentle voice.
Minutes later, we were in another room. This one had shiny, gold, woven boxes on the walls and floor, and a table with a pile of sand underneath.
"Miss, you can't touch the sand," said another museum employee, and that broke us. She collapsed into me as we walked out of the room. "I didn't mean to touch, I was just curious about how it felt," she sobbed, quietly. I looked into her eyes. I told her how proud I was of her curiosity. I told her I loved how much she wanted to know about texture, about how I don't really get why a big pile of sand is art anyway. I told her that we needed to go to a different kind of museum soon, one where she could explore like she wants to. I told her I loved her. I wiped her tears on my sleeve. And then I held her hand and we moved on.
I was talking to a friend about this last night. I was talking about the immense guilt and sadness I felt over scolding my child for simply being a child. I was tug-o-warring with the ideas of wanting to bring my kids to places like that, wanting them to understand how to behave in different situations - and not wanting to shame them for being curious little humans. He said something like, "Yeah, but you were just the filter." The expectations of the space were set, and were filtered through me to our children. That calmed my insides and I wasn't sure why. I think something about the image of it - the energy passing through me, getting filtered and dispensed - took some of the pressure off. I was able to think about things with a new angle.
Instead of focusing so singularly on my parenting errors, I'm starting to dance with the idea of our recovery moments - the eye contact, listening, relating, apologizing if necessary - being our defining moments. This dance feels good. When I think about my relationship with my husband, I see, among the happiness, arguments and miscommunication. But the things I feel about my relationship with my husband are the eye contact, the listening, the relating; my head knows that there's been hard, but the hard is overridden by the love, respect, and knowing that comes when we recover well.
At the end of our time inside the museum, we went outside to explore. We found mirrors that reflected the four of us, over and over again, together. We climbed rusty stairs and spied on an imaginary Airstream inhabitant (we were at a modern art museum, don't forget). As we walked the pathways back to the car, followed the giant yellow arrows, I stopped. I grabbed my girl's hand and leaned over to reach her ear. "I know some of that was hard. You okay?" She looked up at me perplexed. "Yeah," she said. "I'm fine. I'm always fine."
She beamed at me, skipped ahead, shouting a song.