A few weeks ago, on a foggy and moist California morning, I dropped off my daughter at school just like I do on many days. There was nothing unusual about this morning, until this happened: I walked by two moms talking to each other, while a toddler pulled on one of her yoga pants' legs with a mix of impatience and dependency, that was beginning to fray her nerves. I would like to say that I "overheard" the following, but the truth is that it felt more as if the words had been placed into the ether for me to grab them, hug them, explore them and massage them.
"If I could erase FIVE minutes of each day every day, then I would be a perfect parent," one mom said to the other, while the other smiled in agreement, relating, as most of us do, to that final moment when all patience reserves have been exhausted and we snap at our children in an aggressive, but definitive end, to the discomfort of the situation. Then it's done. And then we feel awful.
"Hmm," I thought, which is 8 a.m. speak for the more complicated thoughts that were behind it. At the surface I found this: How awesome that this mom can speak publicly in the school parking lot to another mom about being an imperfect parent. How awesome that she could narrow it down to just five minutes of unacceptable parenting a day. How awesome that she could formulate this wish to erase that which is bad or unpleasant in her. But how awful that she still expected perfection of herself as a parent or as a human being. Not bad for 8 a.m.
But days later, the real reason why the words crossed my path manifested: Would I want to erase the worst five minutes of each day? Would I? Would I be a better person if I could erase the worst five minutes of each day? Would my family be better off? Would the world be better off?
The answers: No. No. No. No. and NO!
The worst five minutes of each day communicate to me in a heart-wrenching, guilt-ridden, and inescapably painful kind of way, that my own growth isn't done. If I erased the worst five minutes of each day, then I wouldn't know whether I need to build more compassion for the elderly lady that is walking super duper slowly in front of my car in a parking lot and blocking the entire way, or if I need to adjust my too-high expectations of a given situation. If I erased the worst five minutes of each day I would not get to learn the most about where I need to grow as a human being.
Also, if I erased the worst five minutes of each day, I would deprive my own children of the knowledge that, like them, I am not perfect and I am fully human. I would deprive them of the understanding that I make mistakes, lots of them, but that I try to learn from them with some degree of effectiveness. This, I think, is probably the biggest gift I can give them: to not expect perfection from them but to expect growth.
So, I am not erasing the worst five minutes of each of my days. Heck, I am not even erasing the worst year of my life. Instead, I am looking at that time with curiosity and openness. What did I do during those five minutes to make them the very worst for me or for others? What was behind my actions? Was I acting out? Why? Was I repressing something? Why? Was I feeling entitled? Was I feeling ungrateful? Again? What, within me, needs to shift right now to not do that anymore? The worst five minutes of each day provide the springboard to become curious about my deficiencies and vulnerabilities, and open my heart and mind to accept or shift some of the messy and raw parts within me.
See, this way the worst five minutes of each day turn into the best five minutes of each day, shining a bright neon sign that says "UNDER CONSTRUCTION" on the areas that need more attention for us to grow into self-aware, conscious, grateful people that embody loving kindness.
I don't wish to erase any of the 1,440 minutes of each day. Not a single one.