02/18/2020 17:05 EST

My 4-Year-Old Turned My Parenting Screw-Ups Into An Illustrated Journal

It was funny, at first. Then the paranoia set in.

It was a late summer night and I’d just returned home from trampoline cardio class, armed with doughnut holes for my little four-year-old bean, Cameron. My husband had left a bag of garbage outside (an unspoken “please take this to the bin”), so I scooped it up and stepped down from the front lawn to the sloped driveway. I lost my footing, rolled my ankle, and collapsed into a bellowing heap on the pavement. 

My son saw the whole thing.

Thankfully, it was just a sprain. But that night, my son presented me with a little green journal. I opened it to the first page to find a drawing of a familiar scene: me, on the ground, eyes looking upwards, with a big “X” through me.

“This is you looking up, when you should be looking down, so you don’t fall,” he explained. 

I looked at the simple drawing (that held so much meaning) and laughed it off. I dated it, because it was too cute not to keep.

Jenn Cox
A four-year-old's depiction of Mommy rolling her ankle. This picture started it all.

The next day, as I chopped veggies for dinner, I dropped one on the floor. Without missing a beat, Cameron stepped away from the magnets he had been playing with, marched down the hall, and returned with a drawing of Mommy, in the kitchen, surrounded by vegetable scraps (messy scribbles in different colours) all over the floor.

This continued for days: drawings of an angry mommy yelling at other drivers in the car (her hair was red with Crayola crayon), a mom who dropped a wet T-shirt on the grass while hanging laundry, a happy boy with a baseball cap (because his dolt of a mother misplaced it and her son found it under his bed).

Jenn Cox
Portrait of a son happily reunited with his baseball cap. Around this point, I started to worry.

I started to get self-conscious. Any time I slipped up, I’d whip around to see Cameron there, pen poised in his hot little hand, knowing it would soon be or immortalized in his book. I knew older kids mocked their parents — my friends had teenagers who gripe about them in texts (“Can you believe my mom did that?”) — but a four-year-old? I worried this behaviour could follow him into adulthood or land him in therapy.

One night, I determined that I was no longer thrilled having my slip-ups get the baby Piccaso treatment. I playfully (but seriously) protested Cameron drawing me knocking over a glass of water (“OK, you can stop now…”), and when he continued scribbling, the funniness of it all waned. Paranoia set in. I felt convinced his drawings had become a serious book of grievances — each page another diagram of exactly how I was failing him as a parent.

Jenn Cox
No gaffe escaped my son's pen, not even me dropping wet laundry.

I started thinking about my failings an awful lot. I’d replay the times I was a bit short with Cameron when I could have been more patient, or how I’d nagged him. Modern-day parents receive enough criticism for, well, just about everything, and having their wee one remind them of that doesn’t make it any easier.

As I was reflecting on my shortcomings after a particularly painful bedtime routine one night, my thinking shifted. “How come he didn’t write down my annoying lecture on flushing the toilet after he pees?” I chuckled to myself. (Parenting certainly does require doling out important lessons.)

I wasn’t a “bad mom” in his eyes, and that felt like such a relief.

It was then that I realized something: my son wasn’t chronicling the big parenting fails that I had become so preoccupied with; he may not even have been noticing them. He had been noticing and drawing the little accidents instead. Not my self-doubts as a mother, but life’s little annoyances, things every one of us endures. I wasn’t a “bad mom” in his eyes, and that felt like such a relief.

Today, I love those drawings. I wrote an explanation and date on every single one. The one of me looking up (and not down) on the ground, the picture that started it all, is by far my favourite. I cherish this artwork because they show the funny, lighthearted moments of parenting, the simple slip-ups that keep us on our toes. And they’re even cuter when they’re sketched by a little bean.

Cameron will be seven next month. He’s graduated from his kiddie book of drawings to a diary. Once or twice a week he’ll ask to have some alone time to go into his bedroom and write in his diary. He never tells us what he writes, and my husband and I aren’t ever allowed to see it. And that’s OK. Having been a lifelong journaler, I totally relate to the cathartic, creative outlet that a diary can be. 

As long as he’s not keeping a tally of my faults…

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