Even after more than six years as a parent, I am still struck by how swiftly conversations shift from lightweight and silly to more serious and earnest.
Happy and I were headed to the library afterschool one day. We had already discussed the trouble he had gotten into at school for talking too much and how he took some poor other kid down with him (Happy instigated the conversation in the hallway—a big NO NO with his teacher. Brandon answered him. And they both got in trouble. Which meant both of them had demerits in their behavior folder for their parents to see that night.) Our conversation on that was about how it might be one thing to really want to do something that is against the rules (a not go great thing, by the way) but it was a whole ‘nother thing to get someone else caught up in your nonsense (a REALLY NOT so great thing). ETC. It was a good conversation; I felt really proud of what I had thought of to say to him and as if it had really reached him.
We had some snacks. We stopped for bathroom breaks before leaving the house. And then as we were approaching the door to leave, Happy said, “Brandon has to get a spanking tonight because he got in trouble.” I didn’t want to blow off Happy’s distress so I sat him down to talk it out. He told me about his and Brandon’s conversation about spankings. I gathered my thoughts and then said, “Poor little Brandon,” before launching into my very helpful insight into how parents try to teach their kids lessons and use different tools, blah, blah, blah. It was good. I can at least remember that. I was on a parenting roll.
Then Happy, randomly, asked about his birth mother and how she picked me and BF to be his parents. So I went into why sometimes biological parents aren’t able to raise their beloved children and a little bit on how adoption works. I talked about how much his biological parents meant to us, how much he meant to them, and how much he meant to us, how he was our greatest blessing in the world, the very last thing we tell him every single night before we go to bed.
We hugged. We kissed. We headed to the library.
Damn, I thought. Homework done. A healthy snack. Three pretty good conversations. I am doing this parenting thing alright today.
And then I picked Happy up from the school next day. As we walked home, I asked Happy who he had lunch with that day.
“POOR LITTLE BRANDON,” He answered matter-of-factly.
And there you have it. For all that good work that I thought I had done the day before, for all the wisdom I thought I had bestowed, the one thing my kid remembered at that point was the most ridiculous thing I had said, the sort of thing that in the context of my son made me (and him) sound patronizing which is not at all what I had felt—they were just filler words to buy time while I thought of what I really wanted to say.
You try as hard you can. And then the fallibility of being human enters.
The importance of words are the very truth I carry in my core. If there is anything I know, it is that the words we choose matter. Even more than that, my core desire in this world is to champion everyone’s humanity. I fight for people’s right and responsibility to believe in themselves. Hell, to put a blunt point on it, words and humanity are what I friggin’ do for a living. And, yet, here I was: looking at clear evidence that I had gotten three little words so terribly wrong and that if my son parroted me out in the world, even more damage could be done.
Son of a gun.
So we stopped, and I dropped down and looked Happy in the eye. Is Brandon little, I asked.
“Nope!” He answered.
“I used the wrong words when I said Poor Little Brandon yesterday. I wanted you to know that I felt for Brandon, too, and I could have just said that. We shouldn’t call him or anyone else little. I am sorry I got that wrong, buddy.”
“That’s okay, mama.” Happy said and grabbed my hand. “Let’s get home!”
And I put one foot in front of the other, grateful for the humility and learning I am offered over and over again as I go about this practice of being human. Because it is all practice, friends. Every day. It’s what we have the promise of when we wake up in the morning: that we can practice our intentions, that we can practice at becoming who we want to be, and that the real magic is that if we are honest and vulnerable and keep trying, we might sometimes get it right but, even more important, that when we get it wrong, we must give ourselves grace and simply begin again with our intention.