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I pick things up quickly.
Well, except for conjugating French verbs, derivatives and any type of aerobic step.
But, for the most part I am a quick learner. At least that is what my teachers used to write on notes they sent home. Right under the part that said I talked back. I could rush through my school homework while watching Full House, talking on the phone and listening to the radio.
School came easy.
Life lessons however, I mostly preferred to learn the hard way. 
Sometimes over and over again.

After a particularly trying afternoon…I finally got Tess to sit down and eat. Just as I was getting her a drink I watched her tag my kitchen table with a sharpie. She was through with the T and moving on to an E. I dropped the drink and quickly wrestled the permanent marker away from her and hid in a drawer that I suddenly considered buying a lock for. She gave me a look that seemed to say, "What is the big deal already. This is art."
I told her it was permanent and wouldn’t come off. Something about me saying it was forever seemed to sink in her little unbrushed head. You could see the panic creep over her face. She went through the four stages of getting busted.  First, I told her it doesn’t wash off and she asked me if she could try anyways. Complete denial.  She scrubbed straight through the two-ply. The quicker picker upper has nothing on a Sharpie. Her next stage was to try and limit who found out. She smiled at me sweetly and asked if we just wouldn’t tell dad. I said that I wouldn’t tell him but I was about 100% sure he would notice. Maybe not today but eventually. Third she moved on to the cover up. “Ok” she asked, “Can I just put my plate over it”.  “Well, sweets that will work for a few hours” (ok, lets be honest a few days)…"but eventually we will have to wash that plate.”  And then began stage four: a complete and total inconsolable meltdown about “how the table is ruined forever and that it is all her fault.”
“Well Tess, both of those things are true. But I don’t love you any less.”

By the time she had hit stage 2 I recognized this little pattern of hers: denial, damage control, cover up and shame.
Tess is just 6.
I am 36.
I go through pretty much the exact same steps when I screw up. First I try desperately to fix it. I pray that no one will notice or make some weak attempt to cover it up. And then I finally land on I am a horrible terrible person who really fucked up big this time and now everyone will know. In other words, some serious shame spiraling.

Tess was inconsolable over this table. And I was still pretty pissed about it too. However this is a good time to mention that this is the dining room set my father bought me for my first apartment at Sears when I was 19. It has paint stains. Glue stains. More marker stains. Wax stains. Stains I can't even begin to identify and chipped paint and loose screws. This table is literally on its last legs. If I didn’t hate allen wrenches so much I would have gone to Ikea and bought a new table ages ago.  It also happens to be parent teacher conference time at my kids' school this week and her teacher told me a similar story. How the other day, Tess made a minor mistake on a paper and was in tears. Terrible, awful inconsolable tears over accidentally using a crayon instead of a pencil. 

I am not the biggest rule follower. I am also (this might shock some of you) not perfect.
Which means I screw up lots. I am slow on the uptake for life lessons …. remember….so sometimes I even make the same dumb mistakes over and over again.  Since I am loud and a terrible liar I almost always get caught. Unlike Tess, I can keep the tears from spilling down my cheeks (at least until I get in my car) but I still hate it. I hate getting speeding tickets, being late, forgetting something important, saying things I shouldn’t and even dumb emails that tell me I forgot to turn my lights off when I went to the bathroom. I hate the ugly gnawing feeling inside that I haven’t just screwed up but that I maybe I am a screw up. That is an inner monologue I don’t want my kid to have. Even if it means graffiti on my dining room table.

Tess kept crying. Horrible red faced snot pouring down her chin crying. It is hard to punish someone who is doing a much better job punishing themselves. I tried to talk sense into her. Assure her that I was frustrated that the she drew on the table (again) but that no matter what she does or draws on or tags that I still love her. I tried to find some balance between discouraging the behavior but consoling her.
She kept crying.
She was still afraid of what her father would say when he came home.
She was afraid I was going to tell her teacher and something about this would go in the folder.
I think she was also crying a bit because she knew I had eaten the last Oreo.

Now keep in mind, just a mere 30 minutes before there had been no remorse for punching her brother or talking back to me that had ended up with her being sent to her room.
She mumbled an insincere sorry to her brother and me when I finally freed her like it was no big deal. For some reason physical violence and sass were things she felt like I could overlook but drawing on the table brought on inconsolable shame. 

So I did the only thing I could think of. 
I went back to the drawer where I had stashed the sharpie.
I called Tess back to the table, I uncapped the marker and I wrote an M next to her T.
My own initial.

She kept crying but was totally puzzled by my actions.

Remember that, I told her….
Remember the grace in me not sending you right back to your room or banning you from sharpies forever. That sometimes we don’t get what we deserve. 
Remember that I can be mad at what you’ve done but that I can never love you less.
But mostly remember …
I did it too. Now it isn’t just you.
We all screw up.
We all make mistakes.
We all do things we wish we can take back that aren’t so easily erased.
And if you forget just look at the table. 
At my initial scrawled next to yours.
You are not alone in this.

Me too Tess.
Sometimes that is the most grace anyone can give you.
Me too.

Forever on my kitchen table currently hiding under a dirty dinner plate.

(editor’s note. Tess stopped crying and asked if she could at least finish writing the rest of her name. Or if we could paint over it. She missed the point. But she is only 6. Sometimes I think these points are mostly for slow learners like me.


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