By Jennifer Schaller
Finding a sense of self-compassion when forgetting the class snack.
I was reading over final papers from my semester of teaching and busy all day with conferences for my English classes; meanwhile, at my daughter’s Kindergarten class, fourteen children sat nervously waiting, bellies grumbling, as they stared daggers at my daughter, while chanting “We want Cheez-its! We want Cheez-its!” Eh, maybe it didn’t happen quite like that.
Regardless, each month at my daughter’s school, in alphabetical order, parents are required to bring a snack, and I am usually ready days in advance. Sometimes I add a cute and Pinterest-y flourish—name tags for each kid, or on St. Patrick’s Day, each carrot cupcake had green clovers I cut out and attached to toothpicks. It wasn’t the healthiest snack, but at least there were carrots and raisins in the mix.
Then one time I forgot.
I hadn’t checked my phone messages all morning, and in the afternoon, I had plenty: two from my daughter’s teacher and three from my husband who was confused—Jennifer always remembers snack, right? Upon reading the texts, I felt a familiar burning sensation run up my body—call it shame, humiliation, sadness. I’m pretty sure forgetting snack shouldn’t bring up a laundry list of self-defeating malevolence.
When I was a teenager, my mom forgot a lot, mostly me, a few times after school, and at least once, when I was a toddler, she forgot me, restrained in my car seat while she locked her keys in a running car to fetch something inside our house. I had nightmares for years afterward that I was in the backseat of a car rolling erratically downhill with no one at the wheel. For this reason, I vowed to never forget anything as a parent.
Then one time I forgot.
Who cares, right? Every parent forgets some things. But I care, mostly about my reaction—that burning sensation of shame. It worries me that I would feel like such a failure over something so minor. Sometimes I wish I had a doppelganger, a woman plump around her middle, soft in her thirties, who tries her best; she would be me but outside of me, there to let me feel for myself what I don’t feel: compassion. I would say out loud to her the things I think to myself, “How could you forget? How could you disappoint your daughter?” As my insults spiraled through the air, I’d hear my harsh tone. I’d understand why I need to quiet those voices.
I’m not completely sure of the difference between self-pity and self-sympathy. It’s a hard line to envision drawing for myself. I was always taught to suck things up: pity and pouting would get me nowhere. So I suck up the various blows life deals me, and that philosophy has certainly served me well, with a few exceptions, like when I forgot snack.
It’s sad that I could give more sympathy to doppelganger me than real me, the me who behaves more like a human than a super-mother. Real me doesn’t get my sympathy. I would like to feel for her, even though it feels false and strange. I’ll try it:
Oh that Jennifer, she forgot her daughter’s snack. It’s understandable. Her semester does end in two weeks. One could see how she might forget. She’ll try harder next time. She will say everyone makes mistakes, even Mommy. She’ll realize the burning shame she feels is not something she wants to pass down. In place of sucking it up, she’ll keep striving for self-compassion, or self-sympathy, or even just the opposite of self-loathing.
Jennifer Schaller is a teacher who lives in Albuquerque with her husband and two children. She usually has a pile of papers to grade and a small child’s nose to wipe, but every so often she ekes out time for writing, some of which has appeared in Brain, Child, Georgetown Review, Sonora Review, and This American Life.