In four letters I was outed at our playgroup, betrayed by Goldilocks: I was a terrible mother.
Not quite five years old she obviously had learned it "somewhere." Everyone knew somewhere was probably home, and because I spent the most time with her, it was only natural to draw a line connecting her transgression to me.
Clover eyes bloomed fear and regret, impossible green pools magnified by the wall of tears she refused to let fall. As soon as that syllable slipped from her heart and escaped her lips, she knew it was a mistake.
It hung there–just hung there–a thousand echoes reverberating against canyons of judgment and condemnation, my own projected as theirs. I know how moms presume and assume, how we judge others' parenting choices. On our best days we extend grace but too often we scribble mental notes that make us feel better about ourselves.
Icy hush, we were deer in headlights. No one moved for seconds or forever–is there any difference when you're horrified and humiliated and exposed as a miserable excuse for a parent?
My beautiful, curly-topped daughter was a snapshot of me had I been standing in her Stride Rites–hands thrown up in shock and disgust; brow furrowed in anger as she watched Her Precious, a Sprite, bubble and soak into the dirt. Carbonated Rorschach test, it formed a judge's gavel. Fitting.
She didn't just look like me, she sounded like me, perfectly delivering her one-word proclamation with the maturity of a grown up. Or foul-mouthed teenager.
Back then we treated soft drinks as a controlled substance. An entire can was reserved for only the most special of occasions; in this case, a picnic at the park with friends. Church friends. Friends who weren't yet close enough to me to know that sometimes my language was colorful and salty and locker room worthy.
She sounded just like me when a jar of molasses fell from the top of the pantry and splattered everything on its way down, sticky glue you can never really clean completely.
She looked from the ground to my face, calculating my reaction. All I could stammer was a disappointed "RAY-chul!" because to ask "WHERE IN THE WORLD DID YOU HEAR THAT?" would have begged the truth, and goodness knows I already knew the answer.
The silence was broken by nervous laughter and quick change of subject by some kind soul, and the moment moved into memory. I could still hear my heart beating in my ears but I swear those other moms were sympathizing, not judging me, acutely aware their own children could just as easily let out their skeletons in front of God and everybody.
Later that day Rachel offered me peace, a picture she colored of a kitten playing with a ball of yarn. She carefully lettered her name across the bottom to make sure I knew how hard she worked on it.
Had she dated it, we would have a record of the first time she cussed out loud.
We'd also have a record of the last time she did.
She graduates high school in 10 days.