A lot of things can happen in eight minutes.
It takes me eight minutes to drive Dr. Jekyll, my preschooler, home from summer camp. A few weeks ago, during that eight-minute drive, I returned two phone calls and ate a sandwich. In that same eight minutes, Mr. Hyde also ate his arts and crafts activity (that, silly me, I let him hold in the car).
To his credit, the art project, made from salt, coloured with chalk and poured in layers in a plastic wine glass, topped with white glue, cotton balls and a straw, actually looked quite appetizing. I even remember offering him a snack before closing his door but he told me, in no uncertain terms, that he "eated lunch already."
I should have watched him more carefully. I was too distracted. I was busy.
When we arrived home, the scene in the back seat was nothing short of spectacular. He was covered — hands, face, clothing — in coloured salt. So was the car seat and the floor of the car. After washing up in the sink, a bit of being sick, a change of clothes, a dustbuster and calls to the camp, his pediatrician's office and poison control, I took Dr. Jekyll to emergency to get checked out — it turns out that salt can be toxic in large quantities, and all 30 pounds of my son had undoubtedly ingested quite a bit.
Clearly, eight minutes is actually a really long time and I WASN'T PAYING ENOUGH ATTENTION.
On the drive to the hospital, my "mom guilt" started to set in. The monologue in my head was screeching: "I should have watched him more carefully. I was too distracted. I was busy." Tears came to my eyes.
As a working mom, I am torn in so many different directions — kids, school, husband, work obligations, extracurriculars, homework, family demands, social engagements — that sometimes I just can't pay enough attention. It's exhausting. And the guilt can feel unbearable.
Dr. Jekyll is no worse for the wear — he got a quick all clear from the docs (and we also now have a really funny video to play at his wedding one day).
We live in a society that expects us to do it all, even when it's impossible.
I was a mess.
When I put the kids to bed that night, the tears came again. After I finally pulled myself together — thanks, Pinot — my husband and I were able to finally laugh about Dr. Jekyll's delectable decision.
A few weeks out, I've still been thinking a lot about what happened during our eight-minute drive that day. Some days, the mom guilt can overwhelm me. Sometimes, I'm so busy that even my eyeballs feel like they are going to explode.
We live in a society that expects us to do it all, even when it's impossible. The events of that day have changed the way I now think about my choices and actions. I'm too hard on myself — to be the perfect mom, an exemplary educator, an attentive spouse, a good daughter, an involved and supportive friend. But I can't do it all all of the time. Sometimes I just need to let it go. (Thanks, Elsa.) Here's what I'm learning.
When it comes to kids, safety trumps any distraction. Period.
When my kids are swimming or at the park, I am actually the most vigilant person ever — I put my phone away and I don't take my eyes off them. My catchphrase is, "there's no such thing as an accident." This incident reminded me that my son is still only three and he needs more attention, because eight minutes alone is actually a lot of time.
Let go of the 'would'ves' and 'should'ves'
They don't help. Feeling guilty about past decisions doesn't help anyone. Instead, I use prior experiences to help with present choices and encounters. For example, I now know that my son likes to eat things he shouldn't, so he cannot be trusted with certain things when he is out of view. This is a much more useful thought than feeling guilty.
The power of positive reframing is crucial
After I let myself cry and feel insanely guilty about the potential for tragedy that day, I shut it down. I needed to look at what happened from a new point of view. I needed to rewrite the monologue and reframe my perspective more positively. I took a deep breath. Instead of focusing on all of the terrible things that could've happened, I forced myself to look at the situation differently — Dr. Jekyll was OK. He actually had a pretty good afternoon, despite ingesting arts and crafts. He got to go out with mommy, run up and down the hospital halls and play with a stethoscope. In the grand scheme of things, this event, although somewhat frightening, was actually rather minor.
Avoid making art projects that look like food
Need I say more? Clearly, kids will try to eat them (or at least mine will).
In the approximately eight minutes it has taken you to read this post, did you start making dinner? Did you throw in a load of laundry? Did your kids do anything unruly? Whatever happened, it will probably be OK.
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