We All Make Mistakes, So Let’s Try to Remember the Good

Julius Caesar has long been my favorite work of William Shakespeare. I am drawn to the political intrigue, the betrayal, the powerful words of Marc Antony.

One line from the play has always remained lodged in my mind:

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

The line often pops into my head when I feel unjustly persecuted or blamed. Shakespeare understood hundreds of years ago that human nature causes us to feel self-centered and unjustly targeted.

While I recognize I am not now nor was I ever a perfect mother, I do know I was not a terrible mother. I never missed a school event. I made the dioramas. I read with my kids every night. I helped them prepare for no fewer than three competitive spelling bees.

I ran school carnival booths. I made the calls to the principals and superintendents when unjust policies were implemented.

My house was the spot where my son’s friends always came to hang out.

I gave an epic Jackass themed birthday party when my son turned thirteen that remains legendary among his friends.

While my ex-husbandwouldn’t often get up early on Saturdays, I never missed one of my daughter’s soccer games. I made sure I stayed involved in tennis, soccer, and swimming.

I sharpened two pencils for my son every morning and set them out before he left for school. I put a sticky note of encouragement in my daughter’s lunch each day.

I fought for them against abstinence-only education, ministers eating lunch in school without parental permission, and any other unjust issue my kids needed me to fight against.

I worked on every college scholarship application with my daughter. I attended every college visit with her.

She and I have been to dozens of Broadway shows together.

I do not recount those events to receive accolades or praise. Millions of mothers do the same activities daily.

Those memories are just some of my strongest as a mother. That is the reason for my recounting those memories. I remember the good about motherhood. The carnivals, the laughter, the vacations.

No doubt my kids remember the bad more strongly. Because of my problems with alcohol, I remember a humiliating event where I chased my son trying to get him to try a drink in front of his cousin and friends. I know I got drunk the first day of my daughter’s freshman year and passed out that afternoon.

I am sure they have multiple other negative stories about me. I began drinking in a dysfunctional manner off and on at age twenty-eight. I take responsibility for it. I’ve stupidly driven drunk. I’ve experienced the ire of both of my children in response to my drinking. I’ve spent years sober and spent months in relapses.

Addiction appears in the DSM-V as a disease. I will fight it for the rest of my life, but I live in fear that the evil overtakes the good in the memories of those I love.

The evil I’ve done lives on; the good remains buried. I recognize that is probably my own shame and self-pity surfacing, but I continue to feel the good remains buried.

I experienced a similar childhood and understand now that I react to my mother in an equally unfair manner.

My mom was the “cool mom.” She was the first one who would stand up for me or any other underdog. She was funny, edgy… My friends all loved her.

Monetarily, I never wanted for anything. I grew up in suburban America. We went on vacations—nothing fancy: Tennessee, Arkansas, New Mexico. I had new school clothes and shoes every year. My mother never missed any event in which I participated.

I remember the silly songs my mother would sing to me. I sentimentally keep a list of them on my phone. I remember my mother’s laugh. I am remembering the good. I want the good to live on.

Like my own children, I will admit that it’s the “evil” I tend to remember more easily. I continue to fight that urge.

My mother too battled with alcohol. She would get off work at 5:00 p.m. and disappear. I memorized the phone number of every regular bar she visited, every jail, and every hospital in the area. I called so frequently looking for my mother that I knew every phone number by heart.

She drove drunk, picking up a friend and me from the movie theater, drunkenly yelling out the window. Meanwhile the grease she’d put on the stove to cook chicken at home had caught on fire.

She passed out half-naked in my room when I was thirteen and a friend was spending the night. We had to try to drag her to bed. This event occurred after a special night of her hurling pornographic obscenities at a Craig T. Nelson character and a Jim McMahon commercial while watching television with us.

She ran into a dumpster while driving home one night. She called us, but was so drunk she could not explain where she was.

I am now conscious of the fact that I am guilty of that same Julius Caesar line regarding my mother. The good that she has done remains interred. The evil tends to run unfairly on repeat in my mind.

My mother was a good mother. She was flawed, as I am, as we all are, but she was my biggest ally when I was a child.

I am going to make a commitment to remember the good. I do not want it interred with her bones. I owe her the same that I hope for myself. Let my kids remember the good. Let that be my legacy. I owe it to my mother for the good that she has done to be her legacy.

I cannot ever take back the hurt I’ve caused for my children, but I also know that I can strive to be better. That's all any of us can do. We're all only human. We all make mistakes. And we all have the choice to honor each other by remembering the best moments instead of focusing on the worst.

About Jennifer Gregory

Jennifer Gregory is a former teacher and school librarian who lives in rural Texas. She is the proud mother of two adult children and the grandmother of one perfect grandson. She now shares her home with her beloved, but neurotic Dogue de Bordeaux.

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  • Annemarija Linka

    Thank you for sharing this powerful article. I really hope that your children will read this, they should know how strong of a person their mother is. I really think that you were THE perfect mother for them. Thank you, really inspiring!

  • Anya Anne Light

    Greetings Jennifer! I really appreciate you sharing your personal story. Your courage is inspiring! I want to offer you something to ponder. You wrote that you will fight addiction “for the rest of your life.” But…I wonder…is that true? Why do you believe that’s true? Who told you that’s true? Did you come to this idea within your own heart or has this simply been conditioned into you by others? As well-meaning as the field of psychology is, there are some very limiting beliefs that they teach people. And this idea–that addiction is essentially always going to be a lifelong battle– is one of them. AA also propagates this well-intentioned, but ultimately false belief. Just because you struggled with alcohol does not mean that you always will. I have personally worked with many people who have gone from addicts to living free, happy, easeful lives. It IS possible, Jennifer. Thanks again for your article! xo

  • Elka

    Hi Jennifer. Your story, oh your story…I can relate, in shame. As a single mother, I had to be strong. But so many times I felt so weak and too embarrassed to admit it. So I turned to “mommy juice”, the occasional glass of wine to take the edge off. One glass became two, then three, then the whole bottle….every single day. My journey has been a long one and I hope that more than my “evil” is remembered. You are not alone. We are not alone. Too many mothers are now in the same boat, overwhelmed by the pressures of work, home and family. It’s an epidemic really. Men can leave and start new lives and us women have to keep it all together and put on a brave front. It’s certainly not easy. We must be compassionate towards ourselves and others. Support our sisters. We can’t do it alone. It takes a village.

  • Siddharth Karunakaran

    Free proof-reader alert!

    I am going to make a commitment (TO) remember the good.
    I made sure (I) stayed involved in (MY CHILDREN’S) tennis, soccer, and swimming (SESSIONSCLASSES).
    I do know (I) was not a terrible mother.

    There may be more, but these were the few I could find through a cursory reading of your article. Typos in (CAPS). You’re welcome.

    I could relate to this article. There are many things I have done in my life which I am not proud of. I don’t want to be remembered forever for these things. I want to be remembered for the good I did. I can’t emphasize your point enough of showing empathy for other human beings who make mistakes like we all do.

  • piper

    I feel like I’m living this story. I did the same things as you did (but in a different form) as i have 2 girls, and did things with them as you did with your kids. They were young, but before they left the house they noticed that there was something different about me. I did to. But didn’t know what. That year my youngest moved out. Then, it all fell apart, i didn’t have to be this strong woman anymore, I could just be. I got really bad,didn’t leave the house,slept, was angry, pushed people away, didn’t clean, cook, and then out of the blue I got happier than ever, went anywhere I wanted, spent money like running water, never slept for 3-4 days. the best person ever.Till I would crash, then I would sleep for days again, and get in that rut. I would go after my kids and make them hurt inside like i was , with words , words that were so mean and I didnt remember doing it till a day or so after.i finally went to a Dr. and found out I was bipolar 1.
    Its been 22 years now since then, and I have caused so much trouble, hurt, and problems in the family, that now,that the age when they moved out they may remember me the way i was. But for sure they will remember me forever for what I have become. My only wish was that no matter how hard I tried, no one would try to understand this illness, and me, not even my husband, to this day. I fight everyday the demons, that are around me, and try to be as normal as I can. But I think why should I always be the one who has to be like them , when they wont try to understand me, and when something goes wrong, and it still does sometime, they turn and walk away. I no longer share my stories of what i see and hear, they laugh at me. i am alone, and lonely

  • Kelly “Serenity 45”

    Wow so many of us with similar stories!! I have been in recovery now for about 4 years and am currently making Living Amends as well as having made Amends in person verbally to my son. I do go to 12 Step meetings and the support I get there as well as the sharing of Experience, Strength, and Hope has made a huge difference in my life. I don’t struggle with addiction- it is a disease just like Diabetes and requires daily care to keep in check. I have good days and bad days but my worst day in recovery is better than my best day when I was in my addiction. Thank you for sharing your story. It really helps me to keep going..

  • Ari Maayan

    John Bradshaw (Bradshaw on the Family, Healing the Shame that Binds You) said that 96% of American families are dysfunctional and I, for one, believe it. Certainly mine was. Both parents were alcoholics as am I (30 years in recovery) and my late sister. It took a personal diagnosis of terminal cancer for me to finally my father (abusive rageaholic). I could find no anger in my heart for my mother because she was such a warm, loving mom. I only ever found love and compassion for her. I’m grateful to have found it for my father also.

  • What a beautiful, honest and powerful post. Thank you

  • Nothing like looking over the past and still having fond memories irrespective of what they were. You are who you are, because of life’s experiences.