Last week, in conversation with J.D. and in front of our kid, I used a word, unthinkingly, to express frustration with a person in the service industry who was inconveniencing me. Total asshole move on my part. The thing is, later I realized this word is more than just a curse word, that it can be really hurtful to a lot of people. It's not something obvious, one of the words that is right at the top of the DO NOT USE list. It's one where you kind of have to think about why it's wrong. And thinking, that's something I don't do a lot of, obviously.
And once I realized what I had said, I was horrified. And disgusted with myself. I tried to apologize, and to soothe my guilty conscience, by donating money to an activist group. It didn't work. I still felt bad, and I realized that the only thing I could do to make myself feel better was either 1) hop in my Delorean and ride back to the past and NOT SAY IT, or 2, and more realistically) resolve to never do it again in the future and really watch myself.
But here's the thing: I thought I had been watching myself. And now I wonder: how many of these kinds of mistakes am I, as a mother, going to make? Mistakes that I don't even realize I have made until later, or mistakes I NEVER realize that I've made, where I sail blithely on, unawares, after leaving a lasting impression on Lulu's mind that THIS is bad, or THIS is wrong, even when I don't believe that myself?
I think the song from South Pacific is wrong. You don't have to be carefully taught, necessarily. Sometimes you just have to be carelessly taught.
How many mistakes have I made already? How can I undo them when I'm not even aware of what they are, where they happened? How can I live with the fact that I am going to fill this marvelous, beautiful, wonderful blank slate of a kid with neuroses and biases and ideas about the world that might be hurtful or just plain wrong? I chatter on unthinkingly and don't remember half of what I said as soon as I've said it. But I can't control what Lulu will remember and what she will discard. I can't control which phrases and ideas that she hears from me will stick with her, and shape her. I can only control myself, the things I say, the things I put out there.
And I'm not used to doing that. To looking inward, to weighing my words, thinking before I act. It feels like A LOT, you know? Too much responsibility. And it's turning out to be far more difficult than the responsibility you think about when you bring the kid home from the hospital, the feeding her, the keeping her alive.
I thought at first that the hard part of motherhood was the sleep deprivation, the blowout diapers, the fear your child will be hurt or lonely or worse. But I also thought that parenthood could be separated into two categories of important and less important events. That in the valleys between the peaks of important things, you could relax a little and enjoy yourself and not have to worry about it or try so hard.
I am starting to realize, now, that it's all important. Everything. There are no valleys. It all counts.