By Tanya Ward Goodman
On the way to the donut shop, we were filled with excitement. Because the kids were so excited to stuff their bellies with sugar, they’d bounced out of bed even though the sky was barely light. Dressed and brushed and washed, they were cheerful and happy. As the sun pinked up with morning, I was an awesome mom.
Despite the fact that there is a donut shop half a block from school, we opted for the drive-thru donut shop in Burbank. The five-mile road trip from our house added excitement to our adventure. On the way there, the traffic was in our favor. We zipped up the road, the radio on, the wind in our hair, time on our side. I was an awesome mom.
Perhaps because I was thinking about what an awesome mom I was, I missed my exit.
Traffic snarled. Orange barrels and closed lanes clogged our way. The radio station suddenly started playing only news. Bad news.
“Do you even know where you are going?” my daughter asked.
“Did you space out?” my son wondered.
“We’ll get there,” I cheerfully assured.
“We have seventeen minutes,” my son answered.
I tried to keep calm. A few twists and turns later, I found the donut shop.
Donuts are good. Coffee is better. One sip sparked my brain to life. I was on top of this. We were going to make it. The kids, happily tucking into fried sugar bombs, were feeling confident in my skills. I was an awesome mom.
But donuts offer fleeting comfort. The pleasure of donuts is ephemeral. Time waits for no man.
“I can’t be tardy,” my daughter said.
“I need to be there before the bell,” my son echoed.
“I’m glad to see you feel responsible,” I said. “But don’t let it worry you too much. Sometimes things happen.”
“Why did we go so far away?” my daughter wondered.
“Because it was fun,” my son replied. It heartened me to hear that he was still (marginally) on my side.
“Well, it’s not fun if it makes us late,” my daughter said. Her frown, by this time, was permanently set.
And I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my choices.
A mile and a half before our exit, with only seven minutes remaining before the second bell, traffic stopped completely. My daughter’s scowl deepened. My son started to chew his nails. I groped around for a way to simultaneously calm them down and save face.
“So can we do anything about this traffic?” I wondered. “Can we drive the car over all these other cars? Can we fly?”
“I wish,” my son says. He is still smiling.
“Nothing will make this better,” my daughter said. “You shouldn’t have brought us here. Why did you make us late?”
I felt stung. I started to say, “We all decided to do this.” But I stopped. It was my fault. I’m the parent. And I made a bad decision. I had to take the donut and one-up it with a road trip. My need to be an awesome mom suddenly seemed a little desperate.
“I got caught up in what I thought would be fun, but I didn’t think it through,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
The traffic inched forward an inch. My son sighed. My daughter rolled her eyes.
“We can’t change this can we?” I asked. “The only thing we can change is how we react to this.”
I explained that sometimes, even when we try to make everything work, things don’t turn out the way we expect. Sometimes the best-laid plans fall apart and when they do, it is more often than not due to something over which we have no control. We only have control over ourselves.
I took a deep breath and willed myself to relax. I willed the little accusatory voice in my head to stop harping about the dangers of sugar and fat and tardiness. I willed my self-doubt away and recognized that I was trying hard and doing my best and that I’d made a mistake, but not one that was going to impact us for the rest of time.
“If I can only teach you one thing,” I said. “I hope I can teach you to relax in situations like this. I hope I can teach you to accept that there are some things we just can’t change. Some days, stuff happens and all we can do is ride it out and let it go.”
My son nodded. He tried to hear what I was saying. My daughter gave me her best stormy eyes. And eventually we arrived at school. Nearly thirty minutes late. I filled out tardy slips and when the principal wondered why we were late, my son very calmly said, “Traffic.”
And then he turned and gave me the most wonderful smile.