I yelled at my daughter in the school drop-off lane this morning.
I’m not proud of that.
School drop-off and pick-up are particular forms of torture for parents and children alike. With additional rules and processes in place to prevent the spread of COVID, it’s not just torture — it can be hell.
I pulled up into the drop-off lane and put my car in park. I turned around to tell my daughter to “have a good day, I love you, now get out” — our morning joke — and she didn’t have her mask on yet (the rule is as soon as I turn into the school parking lot, she’s supposed to put her mask on). I told her to hurry up. She fiddled with her mask and said she couldn’t get it on. Back-and-forth occurred — is your mask too tight? too loose? what’s going on? — and she said that she couldn’t get it over her ears because her hair was in the way. She asked me to help her. The cars in front of us had pulled away, and we were holding up the cars behind.
I yelled — screamed, really — “I can’t help you! I’m not allowed to get out of this car!” Then I reached back until my shoulder was straining, lifted her hair off her ear, and she looped the strap over it. I, much more calmly, told her to go. She opened the door and got out, and in a whimpery voice said “Bye, Mom.” I told her “I’m sorry I yelled. I love you. Have a good day.” Then I drove off.
I was as mad at the whole COVID hell / school drop-off torture scenario as I was frustrated with my 5-year-old — but I know that all she felt from me was anger. It’s still eating me up as I’m sitting here typing this and she’s in school remembering her mother yelling at her that morning.
It’s eating me up, not because I want my daughter to like me (it’s not my job to make her happy, it’s my job to keep her healthy and safe — as I’m perpetually telling her), but because last words matter.
When we say goodbye to someone we love, that may be the last goodbye we get.
It is critically important to me to always express my love when I am saying goodbye to someone I care about. No matter how mad I am, no matter what’s going on around me, how I say goodbye matters to me.
In 12 days, it will have been 9 years since the last time I saw my first daughter Scarlett alive.
A week after that, it will be the first anniversary of my little brother’s sudden and unexpected death.
I don’t remember the exact words I left them with. But I know I left them with love. The days coming up are going to be impossibly hard — angel days always are, no matter how much time passes — but I know they left this world knowing I loved them. That matters.
We can’t control death. It comes when it comes, for us and those we hold dear. But expressing our love, that is something we can control. That is something we can actively do for one another … and ourselves.