How could I not help the woman leaving the Brown Line looking for the building at 325?
"Do you know the street?" I asked.
"No, just 325. I have a job interview there in 10 minutes."
If I hadn't left the house with exactly that little information, more times than I can count, I would have been less sympathetic.
I oozed sympathy.
I have set out for a birthday party at Pump it Up without checking which Pump It Up is hosting the shindig. I have shown up at the airport with no photo ID and no clue where I left it. I have road-tripped from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon with no map. ("What? We'll use the GPS on my phone." Except for those several-hour stretches with no cell service.)
You know who has great cell service? Chicago. So after a series of phone calls and a handful of Google searches, we found her interview site. I wished her luck; she wished me well and apologized for her "mistake."
I've been thinking a lot about mistakes lately. Mainly because I make an astonishing number of them, but also because I have recently discovered a fascinating thing about mistakes: You can fix them.
My definition of "fix" is not "undo" or "expunge from the official record" or "repair before anyone notices." My definition is "not make worse."
Last week my 7-year-old daughter wrote a note to the American Girl magazine advice columnist. She asked me to help her mail it and made me swear I wouldn't read what she wrote.
I read what she wrote. This was a mistake, obviously, because it was dishonest. But I wanted to see if the note was about my mistakes. It was.
"Help me!!" she wrote. "My mom always plays with my brother and I ask her to play with me and she won't!"
My first reaction was to assemble a defense, which was basically "I play with you!" and "Your brother's only 3!" My defense was shaky. And, more to the point, it was a defense. Which kids rarely need from their parents.
Also, she's sort of right. Play is a pursuit I relegate mostly to the weekends, justifying my stinginess with a never-ending to-do list. In my free weekday moments, I mostly arrange activities — at home and away — for her, freeing me to tend to, and sometimes play with, her brother.
The night after I read her note, I came home from work, bypassed the kitchen and played for an uninterrupted half-hour with both kids. No one arrested me for feeding them late.
After their baths, my daughter asked if she could style my hair. This is a painful process, and not just because I have to endure advice like, "Mom, you should get hair extensions." I steeled myself, grinned and said, "Of course."
My son played alone. My daughter yanked out handfuls of my hair and took photos. We read bedtime books as a threesome. It was one of the best evenings we've had in a while.
Later that week we pulled out Taboo and played a round of the word-guessing game. She had to define "rumor."
"I know this one," she said. "I read about rumors in 'Bully-Free School' and 'Bully-Free Party' and 'Bully-Free Playground.'"
I didn't know that. Kids, mine anyway, don't offer up those kinds of details when you ask, "How was your day?" They offer them up when you're playing.
Before bed, I asked her, "Do you sometimes feel like I don't spend enough time with you?" She threw her arms around me and sobbed. Maybe she knew I read her note. Maybe she'd just had enough of the brave-face bit. I hugged her back and did some sobbing of my own.
And I found myself thinking about the woman on the Brown Line, the one with high hopes for a new job and extremely inadequate walking directions.
She was on her way to do the right thing, just a little too hastily. Me too.
She was just a few steps from where she wanted — needed — to be. Me too.
And she had to let her guard down — maybe for the first time, maybe for the hundredth — if she had any hope of getting there.