I threw this image up on Facebook and Instagram yesterday after finding it on one of my neglected Pinterest boards. It was my mantra for the day based on a morning of failure. Failure in the form of burnt toast, hungry, unhygienic children; a cluttered house, laundry on the dining table, too tight pants, dirty hair, no blog entries in over a week, an empty bank account, and lateness, just to name a few.

On the way to school, I lectured my kids about putting the strawberries on the top shelf of the fridge, which renders them frozen and undesirable, and they cost a million dollars. Grace admitted she was the culprit because she emptied the bag of lemons into the fruit drawer, because she wanted to use the lemon bag on a poster at school for a club she’s in called Rachel’s Challenge.

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” She asked me, her earnest face shining into my rearview mirror. “You know, to make a poster that says, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade?”

She noticed the subtle tension in my jaw, around my eyes, as I considered it. “You don’t like that saying?”

“Well, didn’t Rachel’s Challenge start with a school shooting?”

“Yes.  It’s an anti-bullying thing; we try to promote all kids of positive thinking.”

“Okay.” Deep breath. “Well, here are my thoughts. First, I think we have to be careful about reducing problems to lemons that we can turn into lemonade. So I would have to know what the aim of the poster is. If we’re addressing something like, I-planned-to-have-a-picnic-but-it’s-raining-so-I-can-choose-to-play-in-the-puddles-instead, I can definitely support the lemons into lemonade scenario. Sometimes lemons can be blessings in disguise–I’ve tried to teach you guys that all of your lives. But, if we’re addressing something of the magnitude of a school shooting, or cancer, or someone’s aging parents going on hospice care, well, those are different matters entirely. And I believe it’s wrong to reduce pain and suffering like that to lemons we can turn into lemonade. Because sometimes life hands you lemons and you can’t do anything fun with them. You might not want to accept them but life forces them on you. You might want to throw them back at life but you can’t. You might like to make lemonade, or a margarita, or lemon meringue pie, but there are no other ingredients around at the moment, and the lemons are rotten and moldy, and you don’t have any utensils or energy to do anything anyway. Sometimes it takes all of your strength, and faith, hope, and love just to deal with your lemons. And even if someday you are lucky enough to squeeze blessings out of those rotten lemons, you sure don’t want to hear about it from some chipper person drinking lemonade while you are suffering. So there’s that.”

Grace’s eyes widened and she swallowed hard; Harper assumed a yoga position, probably thanking God he only has to ride with me one morning a week; Adelaide turned up her headphones so as not to be distracted from the Berenstain Bears movie that continually plays in our van.

“Finally,” I concluded, “I tend not to like that saying because it is worn out. It might have been clever the first time someone said it, but now it’s a cliché. And since you are a creative genius, I’d rather see you not settle for something that is old news. Come up with something more original.”

“Okay,” Grace smiled. “You’re pretty creative too. Any ideas?”

In the few remaining moments we had before reaching the school, I brainstormed a few lemon-themed slogans that were all equally ridiculous. Grace rejected them all.

“I can’t do this. I’m too tired already!” I rubbed my temples.

“See?” She said. “Me too! It’s impossible to be a creative genius all of the time! But I still need to make a sign!”

In that moment beside the Junior High I thought of the mantra I’d already forgotten on the fifteen minute drive. It all flashed before me—the burnt toast—everything. We were born to be real. Not perfect.

“Do you think I’m a good mom?”

“Duh.”

“Really good, like sort of awesome?”

“Yep.” She squinted her eyes at me. “Most of the time.”

“Well, guess what. I burned the toast this morning. We’re late. Stella’s teeth aren’t brushed, the house is a mess, and I don’t have all of my papers graded.”

She nodded. She knew all of this too well.

“Just show up. Do the best you can with the lemons you’ve got this morning.  Life is not all lemonade and margaritas. You don’t have to make 100% on everything; you don’t have to be a creative genius all of the time.”

She laughed, sounding a little relieved.

“Of course, life is not all rotten lemons either. Heaven forbid! It’s all of it. Life is real—not perfect--and it’s awesome. Click To TweetYou’re awesome too—just you—at your best and your worst and everything in between.”

Grace stood by the door of the van for a long moment. Before she closed it, she said, “You too, Mom.”

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