Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about failure.
I’ve never been good at it, even as a kid. At my elementary piano recital I forgot a note during my performance of “Lightly Row” and I still think about it sometimes as I go to sleep at night. (It was a G, Jessica, a G!)
I tend to be too hard on myself and slack is something I only cut other people. Which is why it’s been a little tough around here these days. I’m a new mom and failing is part of my every day life now.
A few weeks ago my husband, Jason, and I decided it was time to give our baby a consistent bedtime. Of course our baby had other ideas. After putting him down in his crib, Jason and I would stare at the video monitor like it was a Scorsese film, watching two little eyes glowing back at us. “I’m awake,” he seemed to say with that unblinking stare. “I know you can see me and you will not win this game. I will beat you. I will beat you both.”
I did everything I could think to do. Tracked how much he was eating, tried to get him on a nap schedule, tried taking him off a nap schedule. I read books and blogs about baby bedtimes, spoke to my parents and friends with kids. Nothing was working. I was failing. I was failing every single day.
After weeks of struggle, I went out one night and left Jason to face the tortuous bedtime ritual. The whole time I felt guilty that I’d left him to do all that shushing alone. But when I got home, our baby was sleeping and Jason was sitting on the couch, sipping a sparkling water, having just watched an entire documentary.
I couldn’t believe it. What had he done? Was it something from the books or the blogs?
No, he said. He hadn’t done any of that. He just remembered what an Uber driver had told him about babies: if all else fails, give them a warm bath and a warm bottle.
Jason: “So that’s what I did and he went right to sleep.”
Me: (Blink, blink, blink.)
Jason: “It was so easy.”
Me: (Blink, blink, blink.)
I’d spent countless hours researching and reading and crying over trying to get my infant to sleep. My husband did what the Uber driver told him to do.
The Uber driver.
I wish I could tell you I’d celebrated – that I’d been delighted he’d cracked the code to our baby. Instead I felt like – guess what? – a failure. Why hadn’t I figured it out? Why hadn’t I known to try that? Why hadn’t I thought to talk to an Uber driver?
As the avalanche of shame began to rumble down on my head, my husband stepped in. He told me I needed to stop all this failure talk. That it was just a story I was telling myself – a story I’d been telling myself for too long. It had nothing to do with how things actually were. For the second time that night, he was right.
How many times, in how many ways have I told myself that same old story? How many times had I beat myself up over not getting it right the first time? But maybe it didn’t have to be that way.
The great thing about telling yourself a story is that you can always change the ending.
Rather than feeling disappointed about my perceived failures, I could try celebrating that I was given the opportunity to learn something new. For instance, I’m so glad I couldn’t figure out how to get my baby to sleep because my husband did and that’s empowering for him as a father.
I’m happy I nicked my baby’s skin while I was trying to cut his fingernails because now I know how to cut them properly.
I’m thankful that I drove my baby across town during rush hour traffic and he lost his mind so I pulled over in the back alley of a restaurant and tried to feed him cold milk, which he refused to eat and instead screamed for twenty more minutes but even louder now because he was mad. I’m thankful because I learned that I’ll never do that again.
It’s a simple concept, but to me it felt like a revelation. Sure, I’m going to mess up but maybe I don’t have to let it define my experience. If I changed my story, maybe I could change my mind. In fact, I could apply this to all aspects of my --
I have to go. My baby just woke up earlier than expected. And you know what?
I’m thrilled about it.