I have been on the hunt for some really helpful ways to turn my home and family into a Garden of Eden. I try to clean as much as I can, I try to keep up with my kids’ sleeping schedules to avoid any and all crying, and I nag everyone into saying “please” and “thank you.”
At this point, I am hoping that you are imagining me gracefully gliding around my little, but neat apartment asking my son if he will kindly clean up his toys, which he will say, “yes, mom!” and I will thank him with a tender pat on the head. In the meantime, my baby just coos from the floor, where she plays until she wears herself out, only to curl up and go to sleep on her own. Of course, in this fantasy I also have beautiful, trendy decorations on my walls and shelves, as well as sparkling clean dishes and floors. Oh, and fresh flowers on my brightly lit windowsill.
I think you know where I am going with this. None of it is true.
I went to the “beach” a few days ago with some friends (it’s not an actual beach on the ocean but a beach-like area on a small lake) and I actually watched my son pick up a small bucket of water and dump it on a child’s head. She screamed (the water was probably no more than 50 degrees) and my son just stood and watched her with a slightly objective, inquisitive look on his face. I was mortified. I went and stood in between my son and this little girl and repeatedly pointed to her saying, “you made her so sad, Ollie!” He repeated my words, “so sad, so sad” but didn’t wipe the look of inquiry off of his face. The girl’s mother came, grabbed her daughter, and walked away from us to their spot. I brought Ollie over to them, and mostly for the benefit of the girl and her mom, asked Ollie to check on her. He asked her if she was okay, but she did not reply. The girl’s mom wouldn’t look at me, either, and Ollie and I awkwardly walked away.
Ever since this experience, I keep reprocessing the embarrassment I felt at that moment. As Ollie and I shamefully walked back to our group of friends, and my nerves slowly calmed, I wondered over and over if I was a bad mother. I know I’m not. I have a hard time thinking that anyone is. But, right then, I believed that I really was.
My friends were good to me, saying that one day that woman’s child will do something crazy and she will have to face the fact that no one is perfect. In a way, that made me feel better, but I didn’t stop thinking about it for a few days.
Today, though, I realized something that seemed so plain to me, I knew it had to be true. In fact, I often find that the simplest things often tend to be the truest things. I was pondering my motherhood, lack of perfection in parenting skills, how that imperfection is manifested in my children’s behavior, and asking God for forgiveness for my shortcomings. I thought about how wonderful, and yet, how awful the Atonement was – and is – and how much I need it to cleanse me from my sins. And then, like a light, I thought, “My home cannot, and should not, be a Garden of Eden.”
I remembered how important it was that Adam and Eve leave the Garden of Eden in order to fulfill God’s purposes for all of his spirit children. I thought, “If my home is perfect, how will I prepare them for the imperfect world that surrounds us?” Like I mentioned, my home is a pit of endless imperfections. However, I have tried time and again to make it just right, only to be disappointed when I let my son watch half and hour more of TV, eat too many Goldfish than I said he could, and impatiently snap at him on a recurring basis. I often spend my days deprecating myself because I am not living up to my highly unattainable expectation of a home that resembles the perfect world God originally created.
My home exists in a fallen world with fallen people. I am just now converting myself to the fact that we will not be perfect in this life, like, ever. And now, I feel at peace with this fact.
Now, I will focus on teaching my kids how to say sorry by saying sorry myself. I will probably yell at my kids, hurt their feelings, and do things that they will swear they will never do. I’m not setting a goal to do this, I am just recognizing that it will probably happen. My kids will probably do the same thing to others, because, well, they are human. So now my hope is to teach them how to fix it with those people they may hurt. I want to teach my kids forgiveness by allowing myself to be hurt by their actions and openly express it. I am going to try my hardest to not be afraid to say, “what you said really hurt my feelings” and then I will openly forgive them by letting it go and loving them anyway.
These are my new goals. So, the next time my son dumps a bucket of water on someone’s head, I will show him how to fix it, and then I will not proudly, but not shamefully, walk back to my place, and move on.