This is the week that the England footie boys redefined failure as success. And I LIKE it. Not just because it enables me to frame the last few weeks as successful (*more on this to follow) but because it’s something I honesty, honestly believe in.
Becoming responsible for small humans required me to completely redefine my version of success.
This is best represented in a simple equation or two:
Success = keeping small people alive + remaining sane + maybe emptying dishwasher
Success doesn’t = nailing it at work + having a nice, toned bum
And as a mother I fail Every. Single. Day. The threats not carried through, the wrong coloured cutlery, the never, ever being on time for anything, ever, the snack bribery, the losing my shit (usually before 9am) despite promising myself every morning that I will maintain zen-like calm in the face of the two year-old, the house that is NEVER clean, my inability to get anything even resembling a vegetable into the toddler (apart from Basil leaves randomly – does this count?), running out of nappies in airports, spilling breast milk over airport security, getting said toddler to brush her teeth, not stick her fingers in her ears when she is being told off / hissing at me and ‘magicing me into a big fat poo’ etc etc. But somehow, I still manage to finish most days feeling like I succeeded. Because we are alive, and we are happy (and there is always wine.)
Over the last few weeks, I’ve arrived at the airport at 18:10 for a 18:05 flight and still made it onto the plane (there’s even success in easyJet’s sh%$ness) and I’ve survived being stranded in the UK for two days and flying solo with both girls after another flight was cancelled at bedtime just before we were about to board. I’m not in a hurry to repeat any of the above but I have to admit to more than a flicker of a sense of accomplishment as I’m tucking the girls in after an 18 hour day that involved hire cars, lugging two kids, two suitcases and a car seat through the airport, catching a (delayed again) flight, retrieving baggage, finding car, driving for an hour, unpacking and getting a wash on before I collapse myself long after I should have turned into a pumpkin. It’s not quite the euphoria of finishing a marathon, but it’s not completely different either. We survived a pretty massive feat of endurance and for once, I wasn’t looking around for the actual adult. I was she.
Watching the toddler navigate each day, also reminds me that we used to be good at this failing thing. Falling down and getting up again, giving things a go without fear of the consequences, talking a language we haven’t mastered yet without any embarrassment and learning ALL THE TIME through mistakes and trial and error. Toddlers are permanently winging it.
Take the language thing. In her mother tongue, our toddler makes mistakes all the time. And it’s delicious. Most of the time I don’t want to correct her. I want to bottle up the way she says her sister’s name and the BFG-isms that she comes out with that make me question the rules of the English language because it sounds better the way she does it. Did you know a crescent moon is actually a croissant moon, and it’s that way because its feeling a bit shy but every night it gets a little bit braver? And did you know that our friend Diana ‘did float here on a leaf’ when she came to visit us? She did not. But how magical.
She’s learning French, almost by means of osmosis. She stumbles all the time but there’s nothing that makes me prouder than her trying to count to ten and only making it to 8. As they say on Love Island, she just cracks on while I’m still plucking up the courage to write an email to nursery without Google translate, or to navigate airport check-in without breaking into English. But you’ve got to have a crack. It’s the ONLY way to learn. I have that on authority from someone who told their entire team they were going to ‘f&%k them’ (rather than ‘reduce them’) in a formal meeting about redundancies. He lived to tell the tale, is still in gainful employment and now speaks excellent French.
Back to the toddler. She breaks the rules. Regularly. It drives me nuts but it’s also how she explores the world and her parameters. She was supposed to be napping the other day. I went up to check her and she was nowhere to be seen. Eventually I found her in the cupboard under the eves in our bedroom, stashing her favourite toys and books and chattering to herself in the cocoon of her imagination. The secret life of toddlers. Where the real magic happens. And it brought back such strong memories of me doing the same as a kid. Hiding in the secret cavities of the walls of our childhood home (and in teenage years, hiding boys there. Sorry mum). Literally stretching the parameters. I learnt my lesson about boys (eventually). And she is learning her lessons in imagination and speech.
Next door are moving out. They are a couple in their 70s and they keep rocking (ok, not rocking exactly) up on the doorstep with toys and books that the grandchildren no longer want. Amongst our toddler’s very favourite things, we’ve inherited a gorgeous handmade wooden dolls house and a book about an alligator who tries to fly. Half way down from his tree, he realises he can’t flap his wings because doesn’t have any. But his leap of faith ends well because he splashes into a nice cold pool which is just where he is meant to be. I don’t need to spell out the moral of the story. But along with a book called ‘The Girl who Didn’t Make Mistakes’ it’s in my top three stories to read her at night. This is partly because it smells like a very old book. You can inhale the stories that have wrapped themselves around those same pages over countless bedtimes with children, and grandchildren. You can sense the number of times they’ve been told. But it’s also for that ageless lesson that we’ve forgotten as adults. That it’s ok to fail. That it’s an essential part of life.
I am writing this stuff down, partly because I know my daughters won’t remember it. They won’t remember any of the stuff we’re pouring into their lives right now, and they are likely, like the rest of us, to forget the success of failure they embrace so intuitively now. But I know that the experiences we’re giving them, the opportunities to test boundaries, to fail, to learn, are shaping the
people they will become. I am as sure of that as I was that our easyJet flight would be delayed today. It was. As a result of that, I’m trying to write this in the back of the car, wedged between two tired, hungry girls, who I hope, will have forgiven mummy and daddy their failures today by the time they go to sleep.
Another day will have passed and we’ll all be knackered. It won’t have been perfect. But we will have made it. We’ll have learnt not to brave Luton at rush hour again and that car hire is usually ‘that cheap’ for a reason. They’ll have learnt that car journeys do end. And I’ll go to bed wishing for them a lifetime of failures.