This weekend we had one of those celebratory moments in our lives where virtually everyone we loved most in the world was able to attend. Our daughter was baptized on Sunday and that meant people from Mississippi to Wisconsin figured out a way to get to our house for the big event. And for the first time since my husband and I said our vows of holy matrimony, both sets of our parents were in the same room at the same time.

I worried for weeks about how this would go. I wondered what we would serve for dinner (Frito Pie) and if the conversation would be “strained” (it was not). People were generally well behaved and by Sunday afternoon I was ready to put my feet up and start congratulating myself for pulling off something not as funny as Modern Family, but much less dramatic than Parenthood.

zap-parenthood-season-5-episode-18-the-offer-p-005

Or so I thought. My parents left Monday morning and my husband’s parents left Monday night. After all of the saying goodbye we had done with friends and other family, I was ill equipped for what it would feel like to tell two sets of parents goodbye in one day.

And suddenly all I could think about was that scene from Garden State where the reflective protagonist, Andrew Largeman, explains a moment so familiar in the lives of young adults:

You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone…You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.

When the final set of parents left, I stood there at my front door, holding a tiny baby girl in one arm while falsely reassuring my toddler that we’d be fine without Grandpa and Nana. I was lying to him. “You cannot leave us!” I wanted to yell at my husband’s mother and father as they drove away, “You are the real parents here.”

It is so easy to be in my 30s. To be in the rhythm of my life. And to really feel like I am pulling it off. I pack lunches, work part time, pack more lunches, fold laundry, pack more lunches, write an article. You get the idea. I can be so wooed by this version of myself that I start to self-congratulate. To think about how great I am. To feel like I can check all the boxes of expectation my kids will ever have.

lLACj

At some point I realized my parents did not have all the answers. But it has only been recently that I have forgiven them for it. For so long I have held them accountable for things they could have done differently, my mental check list for how my childhood should have gone down (better math tutors, later curfews, I never got to watch Roseanne, ect).

And then I had children. And I realized that parenting is not some sort of a well plotted out Hallmark movie. Parenting is an exercise in constantly flying by the seat of one’s pants. Every single time your oldest child experiences something, it is the very first time you have ever parented a human being through that moment. And worse than that, you are their expert, their confidant, their model for how to do things “the right way.” How terrifying. And if you’re lucky, you have a second kid, so you get two chances to shepherd a fragile, babbling infant into adulthood. Those are terrible odds for perfection.

donna-reed-168638As a college kid I had a mentor who I often talked about life with. To put it mildly, he was the coolest. He wore Grateful Dead t-shirts and was a vegetarian, all while managing to be taken seriously as an Episcopal priest in Mississippi. After having a conversation with him about my parents and all of their missteps in raising me, he looked me square in the face and said, “I often wonder what I will do to my daughter that will land her in therapy.” I was daunted by his self-assessment.

If he was going to do something majorly wrong as a parent, then I inevitably would as well. In my mind, this was the worst possible news for my future vocation as a mother. How could my bucolic vision of Donna Reed meets Diane Sawyer be so quickly crushed? I unsuccessfully tried to forget the conversation.

Since becoming a mother, I find that this same conversation brings me an odd kind of comfort. I am not alone in my imperfection. This weekend I was reminded that my parents and my in-laws were me once. They were 32, overwhelmed, and tired. As a parent, I will do some things, many things, wrong. In fact, I am just one mother in a long line of mothers who loved their children enormously. And yet we have all also failed gloriously at parental perfection.

While it may sound like defeatist takeaway, it is this admittance of failure that relieves my burden. Perfection, even close to perfection, is impossible. I am human, after all. And last time I checked, humans still sin. When all the accounts and accountabilities have been settled, I am no better and no worse than any of the other parents who have come before me. And so as the old hymn goes: If you measure the gain, better count the cost, ‘cause the ground is level at the foot of the cross.