It was Silly Day at preschool. My 4-year-old, Elise, was wearing pajamas, mismatched silver and ladybug shoes, and big, floral sunglasses that accompanied the numerous wild buns in her bright blonde hair.

As we stepped in from the cold sunshine outside into the warmth of the preschool hallway, I peeled off her coat.

The mom next to me straightened from where she crouched over her son, removing his coat and hat. But as she stood, I realized her son was wearing regular clothes. Not. One. Silly. Thing.

For a moment I panicked. Did I get the wrong day? Would my child be ridiculed, maimed for life if she was the only one who wore something outlandish? (Yes, I am sometimes as ridiculous as that sounds.)

“All ready for silly day!” I blurted, trying to cover my discomfort. The mom next to me looked at her son, then at my daughter. I could see her mind weighing my comment, the realization dawning that she’d forgotten to dress her son for Silly Day.

Noticing her look of ire, another mom stepped in.

“I think it’s all week,” she offered casually, offhand.

“Well, you can do it Thursday or Friday,” the first mom told her son. But as she followed us into the bathroom to supervise her son’s handwashing, I felt the weight of her stare. How had I gone from the Awkward-Mom-Who-Doesn’t-Want-Others-to-Think-Her-Kid’s-a-Weirdo to Judgy Mom?

But then I realize that it’s not just a preschool thing, it’s a fact-of-life thing. It is my human response to uncomfortable situations in life. How many times have I said something foolish to mask the fact that I have no idea what to say? How often have I unintentionally hurt another in order to cover up my own failings?

As our children trudged into the preschool room to hang up backpacks and find their nametags, I offered the other mom a hesitant smile. A small gesture of apology. A silent plea for grace.

Because the truth is that my inadequacies should never be a reason to undermine someone else. Instead, they should be seen as opportunities for grace — for them and for me.

“Say only what helps, each word a gift.” Ephesians 4:29b (MSG)