• Paula Tiberius

I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Guilt


I can’t sleep. It’s after three a.m. and I’m lying awake tortured by recent events. I made a parenting faux pas that I can’t forgive myself for, and I’ve been crying off and on since picking up Violet from daycare yesterday afternoon.

Richard’s away on tour in Canada. He’s in my hometown, Toronto, to be exact, playing the NXNE music festival, which I’ve played myself a bunch of times. I’m very jealous and homesick about this situation, but it wasn’t practical for both of us to go.

So I’ve been keeping the home fires burning for the last two weeks, just trying to keep up the routine alone without killing myself. Then my mom was generous enough to come and visit this past week to help me, which has been great. Watching her bond with Violet, showing her how to plant strawberries in a strawberry pot and lots of other adorable activities has been so rewarding. She even took Violet to daycare in the mornings without me so I could work.

Yesterday I took off work so that mom and I could have a real ‘grown-up’ day, which I’d been looking forward to all week. We got Violet off to school dressed in the closest thing to ‘cowboy clothes’ we could find for her preschool peer graduation day ceremony, and set off to see the Cuban photography exhibit at the Getty and then take a nice, long walk on the beach.

It was absolute heaven. Lingering over gallery photographs without the constant tug of a toddler on my pant leg is something I truly took for granted before I gave birth, and walking on the beach became restorative again, rather than being an exhausting game of ‘keep the baby out of the surf.’

By the time we picked up Violet at 5:30 pm, I felt relaxed and grateful for my entire day of adult time.

Then it happened.

I casually asked one of the teachers how the graduation ceremony went, this pageant of soon-to-be-gone five year olds who were leaving the nest, the reason Violet had to dress in cowboy themed clothing. Presumably these older preschool kids did something adorable that their parents were videotaping while Violet and the younger classmates watched.

“Violet did great. She sang really well,” was the response.

“Sang?” I asked. What do you mean, sang?

As the teacher began to recount the songs Violet sang along with her classmates – Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash! Achey Breaky Heart by whats-his-name! – tears began to sting the back of my eyes. Why the fuck didn’t someone tell me that my kid was performing? This was news to me.

My whole parenting world came crashing down on me. I felt like someone was stabbing me in the heart. I am truly the most selfish person in the world. How could I miss my only child’s first performance ever?? How did this happen?

I kept it together and said things like, “I didn’t know you were singing!” to Violet, swinging her around and trying to remain fine with this new information. But inside I’m thinking, This wasn’t in the newsletter! How did they talk to me endlessly about cowboy outfits and omit the part where they mention it’s for a ‘stage’ outfit? The anger swelled in my throat.

I won’t cry until I get home, I thought. Then I burst into tears, right in front of three teachers. The substitute teacher hugged me and said it was okay, that I wasn’t the only parent who wasn’t there. The other teachers were quiet as I blubbered that I would have been there if someone had ever said anything about singing performance. They must think I’m some kind of dummy.

My mind raced to blame someone quick. Wasn’t there some kind of protocol that could have prevented this? Some kind of mandate to mention song performance, kind of like the permission slips for field trips? There was a flyer in the sign-in sheet, but it just said ‘graduation ceremony’ – am I crazy not to have understood? Violet’s been at this daycare for two years and she always has to dress up for stuff the older kids are doing, but she never takes part in the performance!  Shouldn’t they be forced to say, ‘All the kids are performing’ in some official document? Then I would have seen it. I would have known. I would have been there. And my mom would have been there.

But getting angry at saintly preschool teachers is stupid and ridiculous. Of course it’s my fault. I feel like that workaholic parent in the sappy family drama who says cliché things like, “I had a lot on my mind,” or “I’m sorry honey, I just couldn’t miss that meeting!” We all cluck judgmentally. We know nothing’s more important than family. How selfish and work-absorbed can you be? There’s no excuse.

My mom says it’s a lesson learned and that it’s great to learn this lesson while Violet is completely unaware of the importance of my presence, or lack thereof. The mom of one of Violet’s school chums e-mailed me to say she totally gets that I needed a day to myself when I told her I wasn’t going. Why didn’t I pick up on that clue? Why would she care about the older kids she doesn’t know going through some ceremony? If only I’d said something like, Well I’d go if our kids were graduating. Then she might have answered, But they’re singing! And saved me this agony.

I couldn’t stop crying, and of course Violet picked up on my sadness and started acting out. I knew I was making things worse, but every time I looked at her it made me sad. All I could picture was that little face up on some makeshift stage plowing through the chorus, I fell into a burning ring of fire… and that knife in my heart would twist again. It was too much to bear.

We got through dinner and went to salvage the day with our Friday night ritual of Scoops on Heliotrope. While Violet munched on her chocolate ice cream, she noticed a little vase of Carnations on the small round table. She started naming their colors and then came across a bud. She squeezed it.

“Mom, can I open this?”

“No, honey. The bud needs to open in its own time,” I say.

“Why?”

“Because that’s how nature works.”

That’s when it hit me that maybe my parenting skills just need time to develop. Maybe my mom’s right that what’s important is that Violet’s too young to know this was a huge transgression. She’s not hurt. She is oblivious. My tears are all about me (is there no end to my selfishness???) I can only imagine what fresh hell that would have been to have her look up at me and ask, “Why weren’t you there, Mommy?”

I just can’t believe I missed it. I’ve been so focused on missing all of Richard’s shows in Canada that I didn’t notice the one happening right under my nose. While I was looking at photos of Che Guevara, my little baby was performing for the first time ever. At this moment, it doesn’t feel like I’ll ever forgive myself.

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