Last week I made a moderate mistake at work. I am a nanny for two little girls, 4 and 7.
I had to drive the 7-year-old to her dance class at 5:15 and pick her up 45 minutes later. The only thing is, I pick her up on another day at 5:30.
I was having a bad day to start with. My best friend had been in a car accident. I was feeling stressed and distracted. The times are too close, so easy for me to transpose.
I tried to protect myself from the mistake. I wrote a note I didn’t read. I set an alarm that didn’t go off.
Well, of course, we were 15 minutes late. Because of Covid regulations, I couldn’t just walk her in. So there we are, her sitting in my lap crying, me texting her mom (a teacher at the dance school). The mother came out. She seemed calm. What did her face show? I could not be sure. She told me what to do if we were late, and took my charge inside.
Meanwhile, the four-year-old had spilled her water all over herself and her car seat. It was too cold to be outside all wet. So, I took her to my house. Just 5 minutes away. Still mixing up the times, thinking I had until 6:15, not 6:00. We threw her clothes in the dryer, then headed back. We were late, again. The mother’s face was blank.
With all the work I’ve done, I didn’t expect to get slapped down by shame at this imperfection.
I leave for the night before the mother gets home, so I don’t know how, or even if, she will react. I imagine anger, threats, disappointment. I keep picturing a lecture. I tell myself, “this is not my mother.”
That doesn’t stop the shame from curling up inside me like a cancer.
On my way home I drove by the convenience store, then the grocery store, and finally Walmart. Each time I argued myself out of running in; out of buying massive junk food to feed my compulsive binge disorder. I wanted to bury the pain so badly. Yet, I didn’t.
When I got home, I was, again, tempted. Instead, I had a bowl of cereal and sat down to write in my journal.
The next morning I called my sister. We talked about it for some time. She pointed out how much they need me. How they count on me. How the girls love me. She pointed out that even if the mother were angry, she’d get over it. I simply had to be with my disappointment with myself. Guess what, I’m imperfect!
By admitting my actions and feelings, I loosened the grip of that cancerous type lump inside me.
I also called my best friend. We decided I would schedule myself for 5:15 on both days. One day I’d be 15 minutes early. But I wouldn’t leave her stranded again. Planning helped.
There was a time I could not reach out at all. Later, I could only talk to my therapist about it. Only now, she is gone. Still, I handled it. I leaned on people here, and on my memory of her and what she would tell me.
Four days later, I’m still disappointed in myself. It is, maybe, at the level of ashamed. No longer toxic. No longer driving me to self-destruction. This is what all the work has been for.
A normal reaction, almost. I feel so proud of myself. I recognized the feelings; I didn’t stuff them.
This is what it all has been for.