I was elbow-deep in soapsuds when my 4-year-old’s cries prompted me to drop my dishrag, abandon the breakfast dishes, and race to the other room. Maggie had been coloring a picture, but when I reached her side, the paper lay crumpled and torn on the floor.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“I can’t color in the lines,” Maggie complained.
I retrieved the wrinkled paper and smoothed it with my palm. The kitty on the coloring page looked like it had been caught in a crossfire.
“See?” my preschooler said, as she rubbed the crayon furiously over the holes on the paper.
I could feel Maggie’s frustration as I watched her shoulders tighten with each squiggly stroke. The more she pressed that plum Crayola upon the page, the more the picture ripped beneath her efforts.
“I just can’t make anything beautiful,” Maggie declared.
What a curious remark from this child who sculpts gourmet cakes from Play-Doh and creates masterpieces on the driveway with a fistful of sidewalk chalk. An artist indeed, my daughter doesn’t yet know that beauty isn’t always measured between the lines.
Maggie sighed and set down her crayon, and I recognized myself in her try-hard weariness.There, in my 4-year-old’s furrowed brow, I saw the mom who had once tried to live within a set of invisible lines.
No one had written out the rules of good parenting for me. They were the result of my own expectations, noble ideas shaped by well-meaning mommy books, fabulous Facebook posts and my personal good-girl gospel.
My lines declared that a good mom keeps a clean house, bakes bread from scratch and arrives everywhere on time. A good mom knows just what to do when her teen slumps into silence, when a toddler refuses to eat her veggies, or when a 6-year-old strings a web of lies.
But no matter how hard I tried, my life kept spilling outside the lines.