In spite of days of planning, all my complex backup plans had fallen through. My husband was on a business trip. My in-laws were on vacation. My nanny was caring for her elderly mother overnight. The sitter service had come up empty-handed. No one on my pediatric team could trade call with me. So here I was, on call and in charge of my four-year-old son. Nightmare! I knew there was a 100% chance I would get called into the ER for an admission. Grrrrrr.

And, as I knew it would, the phone rang at 4 AM. I listened to the ER doctor on the other end, describing the asthmatic child who needed admission, and steeled myself for the inevitable. I needed to go see this new admission and get them tucked in.

I pulled on clothes, and padded silently into my son’s room, smiling as I watched him sleep for a minute. Then, grimly, guiltily, I pulled him out of bed, as he protested, half-asleep. I tugged him, Buzz Lightyear pajama-clad, into a winter coat, pushed fluffy elephant bedroom shoes onto his feet, trudged to the cold car and buckled him into his car seat. As I drove to the hospital, a litany of self-blame crowded my thoughts.

“What kind of mother can’t arrange coverage on a call night?”

“Why am I making my child suffer on a cold night to care for a stranger’s child?”

“Other people seem so much more organized.”

“Why does it have to be so hard?”

Halfway to the hospital, my son Harrison piped up in a happy little-boy voice. Not asleep after all.

“Know what? I’m not gonna be a fireman when I grow up. Gonna be a doctor!”

“Really?” I answered. “Why?”

“Dat way, we can stay up after our bedtime EVERY NIGHT!” he exclaimed gleefully.

We drove up to the ER entrance, parked, and entered the bright fluorescent busy night-time ER.

“Wow!” Breathed Harrison, “Still open! Cool!”

I found an empty seat for Harrison at the nurse’s station, armed him with crayons and paper, and threatened him with something serious if he didn’t stay RIGHT THERE. Finding the ER doctor responsible for my patient, I got an update, and went to see her, a four-year-old asthmatic, in the middle of her second hour of continuous nebulized albuterol. I spoke with her worried parents, took a history, examined her, and then sat down to tell her parents what to expect after admission. Just then, Harrison appeared at the side of the stretcher. A severe asthmatic himself, he was unfazed by the nebulizer mist and medical equipment.

“Hey.” He waved crayons, “When you’re froo, I got crayons. We can color.” Everyone smiled and the tension in the room dissipated.

I scooted him back to his spot at the nurse’s station, finished admission orders, and returned to find him. He was contentedly eating crackers, watched by doting nurses. He was wide awake and enjoying watching all the bustle in the ER.

We celebrated sunrise by going to the hospital cafeteria for an early-morning breakfast, getting lots of smiles and hellos from hospital staff who knew me but had never met him. We wandered to the lobby to check out the fish tank, while we waited for Nanny to come pick him up. It was morning and time for my next day of work, so there I stayed.

As Harrison left with Nanny, he hugged me and said, “Thanks Mom! I loved it! Can I stay up after my bedtime with you again?”

I’ve reflected on this event for many years. I saw only the deficiencies in myself and berated myself for poor planning. I felt the pressure of being the perfect doctor, perfect wife, and perfect mom. I was falling short and didn’t realize the goal was unattainable.

My son is now grown and remembers this night fondly. He saw a nighttime adventure, a break from routine, a capable mom, and another child with asthma getting better. And pancakes for breakfast!

It’s all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?

So, let’s cut ourselves some slack. Let’s be kinder to ourselves. Let’s allow ourselves to fall short of perfection. Let’s have some “adventures” instead of shortcomings or failures or problems. This change in perspective made a big difference for me. Try it!