"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
April 17, 2014
Middle Mother Hood and the Gift of Failing
by Hannah Bird

I am wandering in a strange border land. I do not have any tiny children. But my children are not grown up. I have four teenagers, two of whom can vote. My oldest daughter will only be visiting home rather than living here at all this year.

It’s very strange.

When I had tons of little children that was my whole day. I focused on bottoms and noses and little hands. I hurried. But never fast enough. I knew what I was doing.

I was teaching them to stay alive. Don’t touch the stove. Don’t make a cape and jump down the stairs onto the tile floor. Don’t eat that; it isn’t food. Don’t run in front of that car.

But I am realizing that having taught them to stay alive, I am rubbish at teaching them how to live which brings me to this new stage of motherhood that I like to call, “Stop this ride, I’d like to get off.”

It isn’t that my children are difficult or unpleasant. I would rather hang out with my kids than any other human beings I know. They are smart and funny and kind and hardworking. They are charming and good. It isn’t them at all.

It’s me. I see how smart and wonderful they are. But I also see the vast reservoir of knowledge that I either do not have or have completely failed to transmit. I lie awake at night envisioning a cycle of visits to penitentiaries, mental health facilities and the undersides of bridges visiting my much loved children.

I see them wandering lost into the world, hands outstretched into some Dickensian nightmare. I see them hands outstretched, begging, “Please sir, have you any biscuits? My mother failed to teach how to read a recipe and I haven’t eaten in months.”

“Alms for the poor good lady, my mother underemphasized budgeting and I now live in a van down by the river eating a steady diet of government cheese.”

I see them begging for their freedom in courts of law. “Mother never taught us to file taxes properly. I didn’t know it was evasion.” I see them falling in with a bad crowd. “What certainly I would love to shoot up heroin. My mother rather slacked at giving me a solid foundational sense of self so I’m up for anything.”

The days are no better than the nights. It is a whirlwind of terrifying statements from them and terrifying statements from me. Them: “Mom, do poppy seeds come from poppies? Wait never mind.”

“Is there a law that I have to visit you when I am old?”  

In light of my inability to transmit knowledge as a whole I have given in to yelling snippets. “Don’t eat ice cream every day in college.” or “STD’s are no laughing matter.” or “Update your home and car insurance annually for the best rates and coverage.” “Never rent to own.” “The lottery is a tax on the stupid.” It goes on all day.

It’s exhausting. For all of us. They are just trying to grow up and go out into the world. I am just trying to keep them from messing up. Don’t mess up. For heaven’s sake — keep it together.

I should have more confidence. First, they are all amazing. Second, I am living proof that no matter how dense and useless you are as a teenager you can still cobble together a nice life.

But mostly, I am proof that failure is not the end of the world. In fact one of my greatest gifts was that I failed and failed hugely right out of the gate.

By my senior year of high school I had completed my plummet from honor student to daytime drunk. For a million reasons I took the road less traveled (by people with good sense). I went from having a scholarship lined up to having no plans for the future.

Then I topped that. I drank at a school function. Two weeks before my graduation I was expelled. I did manage to graduate, thanks to my mother and a bet I made with a teacher whom I sincerely hope has left the profession.

I fell so far. I landed really hard. Everyone knew. All of that bright shining promise had decayed into the angriest meanest girl I have ever known. But I couldn’t stay there.  Then there was nothing to do but begin again. So I did. I went to AA. I got a job. I went back to the Church. I registered for college. I started a life. All these years later, I remain surprised what a good life it has been.

This semester my daughter was working in a club at college on a group project. One of the members of the group did no work whatsoever. For the first time in her life my daughter faced a failure she could not beat.

This isn’t a kid who has had an easy go. She has always had to work hard. I have watched her get thrown off a bucking horse, roll, dust herself off and get back on. She understands hard. But this was the first big failure that now amount of tough or try could save.

She asked me what would happen. I thought about it. I wanted to say it would all be fine. I even wanted to go help her fix it. Instead I said, “You’re going to fail. You are going to fall down and hit the bottom. All you can do is decide how you will get back up.”

Ever the ballerina, she thought for a moment and then said, “Fine. I will land in a plié and bounce back up.” Which is probably a more important lesson than my prepared remarks on Never Buying Term Life Insurance.

We might be ok. All of us.

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About Hannah Bird

I am me. I live at my house with my husband and kids. Mostly because I have found that people get really touchy if you try to live at their house. Even after you explain that their towels are fluffier and none of the cheddar in their fridge is green.

I teach Relief Society and most of the sisters in the ward are still nice enough to come.

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