A Valentine for the Perfectly Imperfect Mother

*Click here to listen to the audio version of this post.

It’s Valentine’s Day and where I live this day is full of love and sweetness…and tests. Mommy tests to see if you are a worthy competitor in the child-rearing wars. Tests to see if you really care about your child and their social status in the classroom.

I have never been good at tests.

First, we have to make a card for every single child in my girl’s overcrowded classroom. Fair enough.

Then last night my daughter informs me “We’re supposed to buy candy to put with every Valentine.”

Well, poop. It’s 5 minutes before I leave for the evening to take my husband out for his birthday.

John Wick Chapter 2. Awesome. See it.

Oh, and it’s also lunch exchange. You fill out papers with your ideal lunch, then everyone is assigned a lunch exchange partner and you have to pack that kid the perfect lunch for Valentine’s Day.

I can’t fail this test, even if it means a couple of stops in the evening on the way home from date night.

Except suddenly it’s 10pm and I’m coming out of the movie with my husband and we’re excited about John Wick and the next movie (oh, there’ll be another one) and that scene where the bad guy gets stabbed in the crotch and my husband says he’d rather just die after that.

We’re laughing and enjoying each other and I forget about the grocery store and the perfect lunch. I forget about the cards and the candy and by the time we get home we’re exhausted because when you get to be our age 10pm on a school night might as well be 2am.

And now here we are, busily getting ready for school and all of a sudden I realize – the cards aren’t finished!

I set my daughter to work quickly assembling these pieces of paper that will be destroyed or thrown away within hours of their gifting. As she does so I start to pack the perfect lunch for someone named Megan. Of course, I’ve lost the sheet that tells me what Megan’s perfect lunch is so I have to go from memory. Ham and cheese sandwich? I think so.

I pull out the bread and start assembling.

“Mom, no!” I hear my daughter shout. “My teacher says we can’t use white bread because it’s not good for you. We have to use the brown stuff.”

I roll my eyes and assure her that no one will die from a white-bread sandwich on this one day in the entire history of their lives. I’m not confident I’m right. I say it anyway.

Did Megan say she liked pudding cups or Nutella snack sticks? I have both. I’ll do both. If she likes neither she can trade…oh, except you’re not allowed to trade lunch items in school anymore. So I guess she’ll suffer from malnutrition and rejection.

My daughter yells at me.

“Mom! You forgot the raspberries! Megan said she wants raspberries!”

I sigh. There is no such luxury in this house.

Seeing all the junk in this “perfect” lunch, I realize there’s no way I can send it without some fruit. That’s enough to get a visit from CPS around these parts. I look around until my eyes finally lay on a single, sad, browning, spotted banana. Not quite fresh, but not quite inedible. My daughter wrinkles her adorable nose in disgust but I have no time for her judgment. Megan needs a fruit and that clock is ticking.

Now we’re supposed to put the lunch in a cute, special little paper bag or shoebox that is carefully decorated for V-day. Would you care to wager how many of either I have on hand?

Having no containers of an appropriate size for Megan’s perfect lunch, I have no other option but to use the giant paper grocery bag I got at Sprouts the last time I wanted to seem like I cared about the environment.

The bag is eleventy-billion times too big for the perfect lunch but my daughter packs it up anyway. Her cards are not filled out but they’re assembled and with 3 minutes until go-time that seems good enough to me.

“Mom! I don’t have enough cards!”

Oh, for the love of…

There are 32 kids in the class. I bought two boxes of cards with 16 cards each in them. The perfect amount.

But when you’re a parent there’s no such thing as perfect and my children apparently decided to goof around and waste 3 cards writing dumb notes to each other.

“Your friends stink.”

“Not Happy Valentine’s Day.”


Great. Now 3 children will have their self-esteem irreversibly crushed because they will be the only ones who didn’t get a crappy, candyless V-day paper from the tall girl. I see my husband’s eyes. They are half bemused, half-annoyed. “When are you ever going to pull it together?” they say without letting the words spill from his lips.

We stuff my daughter’s backpack with the unmarked cards and the least-perfect perfect lunch with white bread and brown bananas and then I push her out the door. For a brief second I feel relieved. This must be what God felt like on the 7th day.

The chaos of the morning looks back at me, accusing me, judging me. I imagine the room mom and teacher exchanging sad, knowing looks when they see my daughter’s non-perfect perfect lunch and subpar cards.

I have failed to be the perfect mom. Again.

I grab my cup of coffee and remind myself that I might not be the most domestic stay-at-home mother on earth, but I am home. I have given up so much of what I hoped and dreamed for in my career and my personal life in order to be at home. I have fought the boredom and melancholy that comes with it, fought the urge to scream at other mothers who say they could “never be at home all day with my kids. It would drive me crazy.”  Yes, if frigging drives me nuts! This is why we call it “sacrifice.” I’m not doing something I was made to do. I’m making an investment in my kids now that hopefully will pan out for them later. That’s it!

I think about last night’s date with my husband, a man I’ve been married to for 18 years who has been a faithful husband, father and provider without complaint. I think about the work we’ve put into our marriage to ensure a solid, stable ground for our children to build their futures upon. I think about praying over them when they’re sick or nervous for a test or just sad.

For just a few brief moments I think about all the ways I haven’t failed my children and I give myself the tiniest pat on the back. It could be worse. I am not a perfect mother and I don’t pack perfect lunches (or any, for that matter), but I am the perfect mother for my children and I know they would never want anyone else to call “mommy”.  In the end, my children won’t remember this disastrous V-day, but they will remember that I was home for them when they walked in the door from a long day at school with the children of other, perfect parents.

They’ll remember the warmth of these crazy, chaotic days and that is more valuable than anything and I know it’s important to give myself credit for that.

As I set about tidying up I suddenly come across the sheet of instructions from the teacher for V-day and peruse it as I bask in this brief but crisp moment of contentment.


The kids were supposed to wear red today.




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Kira Davis

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