My youngest daughter recently started kindergarten.
I surprised myself by not getting teary on her first day. As she adjusted her brand-new backpack and walked hand-in-hand with Big Sister into school, she wore an expression of utter and complete joy. I decided to follow her lead and simply be happy on this momentous day.
What I didn’t know is that there would be a delayed reaction to the sadness factor.
And it occurred on the second day of kindergarten.
My five-year-old child sat at the breakfast table that morning sucking her thumb with the concentration of a brain surgeon. It appeared she was trying to remove every ounce of Thumb Power she could before going to school, (a place where being a thumb sucker is not going to win you a lot of friends).
The Thumb trumped pancakes.
I encouraged her to take a few bites of her food.
“Sweetie, it is important to eat breakfast. It is not like it used to be when you were home and could snack when you got …” the word “hungry” simply couldn’t be spoken. I had to pause and swallow the enormous catch in my voice that came unexpectedly, yet powerfully.
Suddenly she looked so small.
Still possessing an apple-round face framed by fiesty, strawberry-blonde curls … she was my baby. And she was about to go off into the big, bad world … soon to be hungry.
All summer long, she would enjoy her favorite mid-morning snack at 10 a.m. sharp: a small plate of hummus, round wheat crackers, and crisp apple slices.
I loved how she broke the crackers into miniscule bite-sized pieces and gingerly dipped them in hummus. I loved watching the crumbs hang with determination on her little pink mouth as she chewed.
Gone with our cozy afternoon naps together was also the colorful variety of snacks on one plate. Now it was nap mats pushed up against wide-awake classmates reciting football cheers and a one-item maximum at snack time.
Life was getting tough for this just turned five-year-old.
Big Sister continued where I left off by listing persuasive (bordering on slightly scary) reasons for eating breakfast. Reason #1 for eating breakfast was: They are serving meatloaf for lunch today in the cafeteria.
(Kindergarten students were required to buy lunch for the first two weeks until they got the hang of things.)
“Meatloath? What’s meatloath?” Little sister (who still has trouble pronouncing the “f” sound) had never heard of such a food.
My older daughter’s description of what meatloaf consisted of apparently provided the motivation her little sister needed to eat breakfast.
She dug into her pancakes with vigor.
A few hours later, the children were safely off to school and I was working on a book proposal in the peaceful solitude of my home. A dear neighborhood friend of mine shared an online photo of her kindergarten daughter with a red dress and a red flower in her hair.
My hand flew to my mouth right before an unprintable word flew out. Panic gripped me.
Today was the start of a two-week color-wearing schedule in kindergarten. And today was “Red Day”!
I literally pressed on my head to remember what my kindergarten daughter wore that day.
Suddenly I had a very clear picture. There she was, my sweet little daughter in her trio of purple hues, clashing against a sea of red.
There were snickers. There were stares. She was being pointed at in disapproval. I could only imagine her teacher throwing up her hands, deciding she would never put Mrs. Stafford in charge of bringing in anything of major importance.
And then that hurtful inner critic that lives inside all of us sneered, “I cannot believe you forgot.”
These are the moments I realize Drill Sergeant, Type-A, Ultra-Organized Rachel doesn’t live here anymore.
Perfectionist, To-Do-List-Loving, Never Forget One Thing Rachel Macy Stafford is long gone.
And the words I wrote in a post entitled, “Keeping It Real Some More,” came back to me with gusto.
My house is not what it used to be.
My social calendar is not what it used to be.
My filing system is not what it used to be.
My daily agenda is not what it used to be.
My gold star supermom status is not what it used to be.
I am not what I used to be.
And I never want to go back to the way things used to be.
99% of the time, I am grateful Hands Free Rachel is who I am now. Most of the time, I am overjoyed that the mission of each day is to grasp what really matters, not how much I can accomplish, not how many responsibilities I can keep balanced in the air without breaking my soul.
But today consisted of the other 1%, when I wished I could live a Hands Free life and still be “on top of my game.”
The thought of my child sitting in the lunchroom clad in an outfit completely void of all things red eating meatloaf, no less … well, it was a thought I couldn’t bear.
I threw on my baseball cap and flip-flops and surveyed her closet quickly discovering red is not one of her colors; there was not a stitch of red in sight.
In Big Sister’s closet there was one solitary red dress that looked as if someone ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, used it as a napkin, and hung it back up.
It would have to do.
I quickly made it to school and I peeked in as the class was getting up from a reading session on the rug.
I surveyed the room. Yes, most of the children did remember to wear red, but my child didn’t stand out like I had envisioned she would.
The first thing I did was apologize. I thought for sure she would collapse in my arms, tell me how awful it was to be red-less and say how glad she was to see me.
Instead she gave me a casual, “Hi Mom.”
I whispered quietly so I would not disturb the class.
“I am so sorry I forgot to give you something red to wear.”
She looked at me like I was speaking Klingon and had Spock ears sprouting out of my head.
I found it odd, but I felt compelled to explain, “You know, it is Red Day and most everyone is wearing red … except for you.”
She looked down at her purple outfit, then back to me. Apparently, this was the first she had heard of this news.
“It’s OK, Mom. I don’t want to change. I like what I am wearing.”
Then she smiled confidently.
I felt a little foolish with that red dress that I had whisked over to school STAT as if it were Type O negative blood for an emergency transfusion.
“Are you sure? You can change in the bathroom.” I suggested.
Now she was the adult.
“I’m sure, Mom. I am fine.”
Then she patted me … actually patted me. Suddenly she looked like she had grown three inches since swirling turkey bacon in Mrs. Butterworth’s only two short hours ago.
“Well … OK … bye.” I held out my arms for a quick hug.
“Love you!” she said as she squeezed me and ran back to her class.
When I arrived home, I saw it. The schedule of clothing colors to follow for the next few weeks taped to the fridge that I had open twenty-five times this morning alone.
How did I miss that?
Well, it gets worse.
Then I saw the blue Post-It note taped to the microwave that also screamed in black Sharpie, “Red Day on Monday!”
Wow. Two visual reminders and I still forgot.
Instead of getting in a panic and wondering what other parental duties I had forgotten this week, my Hands Free Inner voice calmly suggested I ask for a little help … you know, step into the light of realness with a trusted friend.
I confided in a friend, who also has a kindergartner, that I forgot about red day and I was struggling a bit to get back into the routine.
This loving and accepting woman asked no questions and made no judgments. She offered to pick up an item every kindergartner needed for school tomorrow and told me she would send me a short message each day on what color to wear.
Before I started living Hands Free, I would have never asked for help. And there is a good chance that even if someone just happened to offer, I would have politely declined.
“I can handle it,” I would have forced myself to say as I was dying a slow, lonely death from inundation on the inside.
But not now. Thank God, not now.
Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Our Imperfection, beautifully states what I am just beginning to see and feel on my journey to grasp what matters:
“Imperfection is not inadequacy – it’s what connects us to each other and to our humanity. Vulnerability is not weakness – it’s the birthplace of love, creativity, innovation, authenticity and joy.”
A few hours later, my daughter’s school day ended and my purple-clad, ever-smiling freckle faced girl happily wrapped her arms around my waist.
“How did school go?” I asked. “I sure hope you weren’t hungry all day.”
I was prepared to hear how her growling stomach awakened sleeping classmates at rest time.
“I wasn’t hungry at all,” she smiled assuredly. “And we had the best thing for lunch!”
I thought for sure she would say she found the cold food lunch line with the turkey roll up. But she surprised me again for the second time today.
“We had meatloath, and it was delicious. I ate the whole entire thing!”
Wow. It’s been a year and one month since I started my journey to let go of distraction and perfection to grasp what really matters. Yet, the Hands Free lessons just keep coming.
My daughter’s second day of kindergarten held one of my greatest realizations to date.
Letting go of the need for perfection in all areas of my life has caused other things to slip. But that is all that they are: things, things that in the grand scheme of life, don’t amount to much.
My daughter will not remember the day I put her in purple when she was supposed to wear red.
But she may remember that afternoon when we worked side-by-side preparing a colorful plate of her favorite snacks, as she eagerly explained what it is about “meatloath” that makes it taste so good.
Letting go of perfection and asking for help means I am able to preserve my precious time and energy for the things that really matter. Allowing others to see my vulnerabilities has allowed me to experience love and acceptance in ways I have never known.
In the grand scheme of things, I would call that living … living in color.
Do you find yourself obsessing over doing things perfectly? Do you feel guilty if you forget something, even though you know it is trivial? Do you find that striving for the illusion that everything is going perfectly leaves you feeling empty and overwhelmed?
When people ask you how you manage it all, do you feel like a fraud?
I encourage you surrender the illusion of perfection. I encourage you to reveal your vulnerabilities to a trusted friend. I encourage you to ask for help.
Start by letting go of one thing you were going to do today that in the grand scheme of things doesn’t mean much. Replace it with something you love to do but never feel like you have the time or energy to do …
- Take a walk with a friend.
- Go fishing with your dad.
- Call your mom for a nice long chat
- Have a dance party with your kids.
- Do a painting.
- Write a story.
- Play around on your old guitar.
- Relax with the one you love on the back porch
Use your energy and time on something (or someone) that makes you happy.
*Please share this message with someone you care about so he or she can also grasp what matters by letting the insignificant slip away.