It all started because I had the wrong breakfast cereal.
No, back that up. It started because I didn't wake the boys up early.
Actually, it started the night before, when Boy #1 noticed that our van's front passenger tire was saying, "Psssssssssst."
The tire clearly had a leak. And given the consistency of the hiss emanating from my tire, the fact that it was almost 8 pm at night and the hard-to-admit but true fact that I have never, ever changed a tire, it was pretty obvious that a) the tire would be completely flat by morning and b) that I wouldn't be able to give the boys a ride to school.
Instead of springing this horrible, life-alterning news on the boys in the morning, I decided to give them a heads-up before bedtime.
"Just so you know," I said, "the van has a flat tire, so I won't be able to give you a ride to school in the morning. You'll have to walk or bike."
From the tears and groans that erupted, you'd think that we lived 10 miles, at least, from school, or that I had asked them to crawl across broken glass. (Actually, I think the broken glass assignment would have gotten a more enthusiastic reception.) The reality, though, is that we live a block and a half from the elementary school and less than a mile from the middle school. My boys are healthy, able-bodied and definitely able to cover the distance. In fact, they walk home on a regular basis.
But walking in the morning? That was just too much!
I told the boys that I'd wake them a bit early, since they'd need to leave for school earlier than usual. I even said that I'd walk along with them. And that we could bring the dog. They were still-- how shall I put this delicately? -- NOT HAPPY.
Cut to the next morning. Knowing full well how crabby my kids are in the morning, I decided to let them sleep as long as possible. Instead of waking them at 6:45 am (their usual wake-up time is 7), I let them sleep 'til 6:50. Boy #2 was furious when he realized that I woke him up "late." (Never mind the fact that he has his own alarm.)
His bad mood continued into the kitchen. An inspection of panty revealed that "all" we had for breakfast was Cheerios and Raisin Bran.
"We never have any good cereal!" he exclaimed. He practically cried as he spooned "stale" Raisin Bran into his mouth. (Never mind that we got the cereal last week.)
By this time, his younger brothers had joined us in the kitchen, and picked up the chorus.
"It's raining outside!," #3 declared. (Never mind the fact that the rain had stopped hours before the boys woke up; the pavement was merely wet.)
"Why do we have to walk?" #3 pleaded -- despite the fact that our van was clearly leaning to one side.
"I'm not here to make a perfect world for you!," I yelled. "I'm here to help you figure out how to live in an imperfect world."
The words were so profound that I was struck by their wisdom. I grabbed a pen and pad of paper and scrawled down my sudden insight.
I could, I suppose, bend over backwards to create a "perfect" world for my kids. I could stock the right cereals, let them sleep the perfect number of minutes per night, and stay up late, learning how to change a tire on YouTube.
But I don't owe my kids perfection. I need to feed my kids, but I certainly don't need to feed them the trendiest cereals in the coolest boxes. I need to help my kids learn, but I don't owe them a ride to school.
Besides, perfection is an ever-moving target, and life comes at us, whether we're ready or not. My boys are growing up in a world that includes flat tires and sudden, unexpected changes in plans. I don't think I'd do them any favors by artifically creating a "perfect" environment.
What my boys -- and yours -- really need to learn is how to live in an imperfect environment. They need to learn how to roll with the punches, how to respond to disappointment, and how to cope with unexpected challenges. They need to learn how to live and love in the face of adversity. The reality is that life often fails to live up to our expectations -- and the sooner my boys learn how to smile with grace and move on , the happier they'll be.