“Why do you not put your school things in your backpack immediately after you finish?” I snapped at my daughter after dinner one night. “You have to be more organized!”
I watched the tears well up like puddles in her dark brown eyes that were exact replicas of mine, yet my anger did not subside. It was the same argument every night.
She hurriedly stuffed a torn yellow folder with papers sticking out in every direction in her purple backpack, and then slowly turned to see if I was watching her.
“What?” I exclaimed in my most exasperated mom voice.
“I’m sorry. I forgot to take out my snack from the other day,” she stammered as she rushed to the garbage can to deposit a half eaten yogurt container and a rancid apple core.
“Seriously, you have to pull it together. You are going to middle school next year, and you are too busy to be this unorganized!”
I stopped in my tracks as the familiar lecture started to pour out of my mouth. I felt a strange sense of deja vu as I watched my daughter rush past me to her room. Although she and I performed this dance several times a week, something about the way she scrambled up the stairs felt eerily familiar.
I shook my head side to side bringing myself out of the fog of my memories. I always feel guilty after one of these interactions. My daughter is a great kid: kind, hard-working and courageous would be the first three words that come to mind when describing her. A hot mess would be the next.
She is the type of kid that gets excellent grades, but forgets her homework; will start a chore then get distracted by finding something she thought she lost; and leaves a trail of clothes like breadcrumbs anywhere she goes.
We have tried every parenting tactic known to mankind to try and keep her organized. Sticker charts, post it notes reminding her what to do next, detailed check lists, incentives, punishments, and the list continues. For a week I constantly remind of her responsibilities, for another I let her take full ownership. While we have seen a small amount of progression, it is still a family challenge.
As I mindlessly putter around the first floor of my house trying to calm down, I look at all the things I wanted to get done that day that are unfinished. A pile of school papers sits messily on a counter. Items for an auction stacked haphazardly in the corner of our dining room. A clump of bags ready to be donated sitting by the garage door.
I completed my week productively, but I could not hide from the messes I created along the way. “If only I were more organized,” I admonished myself.
That’s when it hit me. I watched the scene with my daughter that played out before, except I was the little girl. “If you want to be in a million things at school, you can’t be a mess at home,” my mom would say to me while hurling the shoes I left out towards my bedroom. “You have to be more organized!”
Our children bring to life the stories of our past, and watching them play out can be difficult. The saying goes “what we dislike in others is a reflection of ourselves,” and I am watching all my faults walk around in my mini-me.
Of my three daughters, I often feel like I ride her the most. I justify it easily because I do not want to raise irresponsible, unorganized children.
She is also just like me when I was her age, and I want her — need her— to be a better version.
Or do I need to be a better version of myself?
I make the evening rounds at bedtime, kissing foreheads and tucking blankets around growing, gangly bodies. As I leave the last room, I hear a small voice say, “Mom?”
I turn slowly towards the shadow laying in the bed.
“I’m sorry about tonight. I’ll do better tomorrow,” she meekly calls out through the darkness.
I stumble over to the bed, vowing not to mention the stuffed animals and soccer shin guards I step on, and reach her small hand. “No, honey. We will do better tomorrow. Let’s sit down and figure this out. Together. Maybe we can help each other be more organized?”
“I love you, Mom,” she says sleepily, as I cross to the door.
As I lay in my bed, I recognize the negative trigger my daughter became for me. When I am the most stressed, she inadvertently reminds me of my faults, a reflection I do not want to see.
I need to change that, for both of us.
The next morning, I wake early and tackle the messes I created over the last week. I feel accomplished as I watch my three girls begin their morning routine.
As usual, I seek patience as I remind my disorganized daughter to put her book away and finish eating. “Mom, it’s just I am at the best part!”
Instead of my normal lecture, I laugh and remember saying those exact words to my husband the other day about a novel I wanted to finish before I could turn in for bed.
“I bet, but you are going to be late for school. How about I pack your lunch and make your bed while you finish getting ready. If you still have time, you can finish your book. But only for today. The rest of the week you are responsible for yourself.”
I hear a squeal of joy and watch a miracle unfold. She rushes over to me and presses her smeared peanut butter face against my arm, and then puts her plate in the dishwasher, exactly as I have requested a million times in the past.
As she rushes up the stairs, she calls out over her shoulder, “Don’t worry about my bed, Mom! I will do it right now!”
I finish packing her lunch, and a wave of peace slips over me. I am happy that our morning did not self-destruct as it usually does.
By giving my daughter some grace, I found some for myself.
Now if we can just remember to put away our shoes.