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Sometimes, I Fail: Learning to Deal With the Parenting “Almosts”

I’m not perfect. 

Not just in the whole, “there are more clean clothes in laundry baskets than in the dresser” kind of way, but also in the, “sometimes I really screw up and only luck separates me from something awful” kind of way. 

As a mom, that is not an easy thing to admit. We don’t really have a grading scale for success.  There are no raises or promotions when we’re really killing it. If you have a relatively healthy and pleasant child and you can keep things together in public, you usually come across as a pretty decent parent. When the unthinkable happens: a terrible accident that you could have prevented but didn’t befalls you, the judgment is rampant. But what about the things that almost happen?

It was an old screen door that didn’t latch and a houseful of relatives we rarely saw. 

There had been a meal and now there were conversations and children running and pie and babies being passed around. In the back of my mind, I heard the old screen door open and slam shut but it was a few minutes before I thought about my then 2-year-old son. His grandpa had been chasing him around and tickling him and when I saw him without my son, I quickly stood up to locate him.

The slam of the door echoed through my mind and as my husband made a quick circuit of the inside rooms, I ran out the front door. The house was only a block away from a pretty busy road. I raced across the neighbor’s yard, past a group of adults, and heard them giggling about the rogue toddler that had just cruised by.

My son was in the next yard heading toward the front porch. He was fine. He was happy. I was a wreck. My husband was quick to point out the grandpa who had walked away without passing him off and the neighbors that hadn’t stopped a lone toddler, but I felt the blame nestle wholly and completely on my shoulders.

It was an almost.

A few years later, it was a plastic eyeball a little smaller than a ping pong ball. 

He was four-and-a-half and loved the creepy prize he had gotten from a Halloween festival more than any other toy. We let him sleep with it when he asked because saying yes and avoiding a bedtime fight was always easier. 

He brought it everywhere. 

Then, I heard him scream in the backseat and knew it wasn’t a normal kid scream. He was terrified. I pulled over and raced to the back of the car where the eyeball was lodged in the very back of his mouth. His airway wasn’t restricted, but when he inhaled to scream, the eyeball moved backwards and he could not get it out. It took a quick finger sweep to get it free, and he cried when I launched it as far as I could into the street.

My husband was quick to point out that he was old enough to know not to put things in his mouth and instances like this are the reasons I am CPR certified. But again, I knew where the blame should lie. I had let him sleep with it. I knew the rules about not letting little kids have toys small enough to fit through a toilet paper roll, and I had still let him take it everywhere. This could have happened in his bed while we were in another room. 

Another almost. 

Both times, lessons were learned, rules were established, the reigns were tightened, the helicopter mom came out; but as time passed, my guard went back down and the door was open for another almost. When I open up about these to my mom friends, everyone has one. 

None of us is perfect.

Kids are sneaky and smart, and we are tired and distracted, and bad things happen that we miss. I don’t judge anymore. When I hear the almosts and the tragedies, I know it could happen to anyone. As much as we love our children and try our absolute best to be perfect, we fail.

Sometimes we don’t even know it: the time the baby crawled towards the bookshelf we had been meaning to anchor and then got distracted. Or, the time we thought our husband had the toddler and he thought we did, but the kid just played with his blocks instead of looking for the scissors and knives and matches.

Sometimes all we have is a little bit of luck and our very best efforts. 

And sometimes, that’s enough. 

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