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It’s Not Screwing Up that Matters, It’s What You Do Next

Photograph by Getty Images

Ladies and Ladies, I am proud to announce the start of something big, something that will bring a smile to your face, something that will make you feel better about yourself than you did 30 seconds ago when you typed mom.me in your search engine, something that will above all make you feel less alone in the unique way you worry you are screwing up your children. I’m talking about … drumroll please … The Mistake of the Week column!! (Crowd goes wild, a cacophony of isolated mothers in homes across the country stand up and cheer.)

What prompted the creation of this unique forum for human mommy error, you may wonder?

The Mistake

It all started on a June morning at Los Angeles International Airport. School had just let out and I had planned a three-state tour on the East Coast with my boys, 7 and 11. First stop Boston, to see family, then we’d rent a car, head to a college for a speaking engagement and some outdoor fun in New Hampshire, drive back to Boston and then off to New York City for some sightseeing and time with Grandma. Sure it was a lot to do in under a week without my husband, but I’d traveled with the boys before and now they were older so it would be even more fun — or actually fun, as opposed to the mind numbingly exhausting trips we’d taken when they were small and forever in danger of hurting themselves.

We leapt out of our shuttle bus at LAX two hours before the flight, each with our own wheely bag. Gideon’s green turtle one led the way as we headed to security. Apparently I wasn’t the only person with the instinct to get out of dodge the day after school ended because the place was packed. Never do I feel more like an ant fighting my way among other ants than when I am at a crowded airport. But no need to stress, we had boarding passes, and now that they don’t make little ones take their shoes off, the timing would be fine.

Forty-five minutes later we were approaching the guard, so I pulled my wallet out and unclasped the clip that held it shut. I started to pull up the flap under which my credit cards, various IDs and my driver’s license lived. Before I was done my heart started racing. I’d already seen the empty slot where my fingers habitually go to pull out my license. I don’t have my license, I thought, where is my driver’s license? My palms and feet broke out into a sweat as we approached the young woman tasked with placing IDs under a blue light to see if they’re fake.

“I...I…” I tried to talk but words are not coming out, how could I have been so careless? No really, how? Maybe I’m losing my mind like my mother with her Alzheimer’s. My son saw my panic, “Mom, are you alright? Mom?”

“Um…yes…but,” I directed my attention to the guard now staring at me not sure what to make of a woman in charge of two small boys hyperventilating and unable to talk.

“I…I…I don’t have my driver’s license,” I finally get out.

Not having a driver’s license with me for a trip that hinged completely on this one detail, with my two sons in tow, is one of the biggest mom mistakes I have made in their short lives.

“Oh,” she said, looking at Gideon’s searching blue eyes. I looked down, embarrassed, and saw my older boy’s bag out of the corner of my eye. The rolly bag where I packed the books I am going to sell at the college lecture. Books that have my name and my picture on them.

The Rebound

“Wait,” I yelled, with the enthusiasm of someone who’s suddenly been given oxygen under water.

“My book! Gabriel get my book out,” I told him as I started spewing paragraphs to the guard. “I’m going to lecture and I wrote a book and it has my name and…” Gabriel put the anthology in my hand, “And a picture, see?” It was a glamour shot and frankly it was a little hard to believe it was me but it was definitely my eyes, same hair, same smile. “That’s a picture ID, right? A picture and my name together, right?”

“I need to call a supervisor,” the woman said looking back and forth between the boys and the book. With the innocence of my children’s faces and the book, we were going to get on this plane — right? She moved us off the side.

“No problem,” I said, smiling like I’m rushing a sorority and breathing a little more deeply. Ten long minutes later a small man in a uniform approached us.

“Hi, I don’t know where my driver’s license is, I can’t find it, but I have this,” I said, pushing the book on him, “That’s me, that picture, and that’s my name.”

“Hm. Okay. Do you have any credits cards?”

“Um, yes! Yes I do!” I hated credit cards and never used them, but thank you Visa for your insane fees! The security guard stepped back from me in a, “OK let’s back it up a little bit Crazy Mommy,” kind of way and then said, “They’re gonna let you on the plane, you can calm down now.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you so much,” I said, blotting a small tear of relief with the sleeve of my sweatshirt. He studied the cover for a moment, and then looked up,

“Is it hard to write a book?”

“No. Well, yes! Yes it is, and I am going to give you this one. Who should I sign it to?” I would have given him my luggage if he asked, a book was the least I could do.

Things happen. But where the job of being a mother gets interesting is in how we respond to all of it.

We got on the plane where I took a deeper breath until we got up in the air. I had five hours to reconfigure the whole trip minus a driver’s license. I bought the airplane wifi and got to work. I contacted a neighbor and had him ransack my house for the license, no luck. Then I started thinking creatively about how we could get by without a car. A Greyhound bus of course. But the lecture was 10 AM in New Hampshire, so we’d have to leave the night before and stay over, which meant we needed a hotel room. I remembered an acquaintance, a fellow writer/performer Cindy Pierce, owned an Inn in Vermont. I quickly e-mailed her.

In the meantime I e-mailed the director of the Hollywood YMCA where sometimes I leave my license with the babysitting team there. They make you do this to remember to pick up your child. At the same time, I got an e-mail that the older one had gotten in to a charter middle school out of the blue. I e-mailed some of my mom friends for advice on this decision and opened it by telling them about the license mishap. During that exchange, the Y director e-mailed back, “I have it in my hand! Where do you want it?” One of the mom friends was in Hollywood and agreed to get the license and FEDEX it to me in Boston the next day. I gave her the address to the office where I was meeting my book editor the next day for lunch. I walked in at noon and there it was. I’ve never been so happy to see a white card board envelope.

That afternoon we rented a car but, having arranged a room for us, we left that night anyway. Good thing as a huge summer storm hit and we never would have made it if we left on Friday morning as originally planned.

Not having a driver’s license with me for a trip that hinged completely on this one detail, with my two sons in tow, is one of the biggest mom mistakes I have made in their short lives. But that is not the point of telling you all this, or the point of any of the exchange of stories we are going to have with The Mistake of the Week column. Because it is not the mistake that matters, it’s the rebound from the mistake that counts.

With no time to wallow in my usual one hour to one week of self-loathing from any error, I had no choice but to leap into problem solving. This lesson was the most enlightening part of the trip! Instead of taking the road more traveled for most of us mothers, which is to beat ourselves up for not doing whatever parenting moment we are in perfectly, the key is to let go of that ASAP to make room for what really matters, which is solving the problems at hand.

To quote that popular '90s phrase, as parents, shit happens. As long as you are breathing and showing up for life this will be true, but where the job of being a mother gets interesting is in how we respond to all of it. That’s what we’re going to celebrate here. How we handle the shit that happens. Every week, I’ll bring you a new story and hopefully, every week, you’ll write me back yours in the comment section and we’ll all feel a lot better ourselves because of it.

What’s the “mistake of the week” you bounced back from? Share it in the comments!

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