Last week my friend Heather and I met up for Thai food and a sold out, weeknight concert. Now that I’m a mom, it always seems like a decadent treat to get to go out on a weeknight and stay up way past my normal bedtime. And, yes…I pay for it when I am running on 5 hours of sleep the next day, but it’s still completely worth it.
We drove downtown, procured parking across the street from the Ogden theater in what I like to call the “old people lot” (because it’s close and expensive and the young kids never park there), giddily showed our IDs at the door, and went inside to get some drinks. We’d lingered too long at dinner, and the place was already packed. With vodka drinks in hand, we walked around for a while trying to determine the best place to insinuate ourselves to see The Decemberists play.
We finally settled at the back of the theater on the raised platform near the bar. Seemed like a logical location for us. When the concert started, the band asked us to introduce ourselves to the people around us. In my 27 years of regular concert attendance, that request was a first. Still, we obliged and met our “neighbors.” The guy standing directly in front of us was named Chase (we renamed him “Chaz”). The guy standing to the left of me was John.
There’s an odd thing about concerts, something I’ve always kind of enjoyed. When you look around, you see tons of people relishing the same music that you do, but despite your similar taste in music (at least in this one band) you might never socialize with them if you met them outside the concert. There is often an interesting mix of people, not all of whom look exactly like you. It makes for great people watching, and it serves as a good reminder that despite our differences we can usually find something in common with someone if we try hard enough.
Well, as the concert progressed, Heather and I noticed that someone nearby must have enjoyed a hearty meal of Mexican food before showing up to the concert. Yes. That’s right. There was a gaseous odor seeping from someone near us. Was it John? Was it Chaz? We couldn’t be sure. Whoever it was, though, certainly was in some fair amount of intestinal distress.
Must admit that Heather and I were acting a bit childishly (I blame it on the vodka). We giggled, made obnoxious remarks, and tried desperately to determine the source. We joked about finding the perpetrator and offering him (or possibly her) a cork, but in a concert environment it’s nearly impossible to locate the source of flatulence; it’s just too loud and too crowded. Besides, even if we were able to pass along a cork, the person was standing so nearby and sharing such foulness that one of us would probably just have our eye put out when a gaseous eruption forced it to launch from the offending orifice.
So, our new friend’s scent wafted around our noses the entire show, a constant reminder that we’re all human (although some of us try a bit harder to disguise that fact in public). As bad as it was that Mr. Farty Pants couldn’t keep his odiferous problem under tighter containment, it probably wasn’t much better that Heather and I were carrying on about it like fourth graders. I guess sometimes, though, it’s just better to let loose, as our fellow concert-goer was doing. Why keep it bottled up?
Sometimes the best way to deal with something unpleasant is just to have a good laugh about it. And, acting your shoe size and not your age truly is cathartic once in a while. Parents don’t need to act maturely all the time. Occasionally and in the right company, sometimes it’s fun to enjoy a cackle or two about bodily functions. I like to prove my mettle with my boys by letting out a good belch or two at home occasionally. I’m just keeping it real and letting them know I can run with the big dogs, right? Is it decent and decorous behavior? Probably not. But, I like to imagine that I’m teaching them that even when you’re a grown up, you still have a bit of kid in you.
I have this small plaque on my kitchen wall that reads, “Who are these kids and why are they calling me Mom?” No. Seriously. Explain it to me. Some days I honestly wonder how I got here…and by “here” I mean “mother of two boys.” Okay. Okay. I know how it happened technically speaking. I just mean that I never imagined myself here. I’m sure many women envision growing up, getting married, and starting a family. I just never did. But five years after we got married, hubby and I found ourselves saying, “This is great, but now what?” Apparently our next great adventure after getting married, buying a home, and caring for two dogs just in case we decided to have kids, was actually having children.
I can’t believe I thought that becoming a parent would make my life dull. My life hasn’t had a dull (read: “quiet”) moment since the boys arrived. Raising them has been incredibly interesting. Remember before you had kids when you were worried about changing diapers and sleep deprivation? As if those were going to be your biggest concerns? HA. I giggle now when I think about it. It never occurred to me that there might be actual issues with my boys. I never imagined that they might have trouble with growth and development. It never crossed my mind that one of them might be ADHD. I certainly didn’t foresee my son feeling socially awkward or having a hard time making friends. Nor did I imagine how I would handle it when I found my six year old tying Barbie to trees or my eight year old researching “skinny dipping” on Google. Why is it that I have a million books on raising children, and not one of them tells me what I should do about my son with the killer gag reflex who vomits at least once during every dental appointment.
Through my time with my children, however, I have learned more than I did in 6 years of college and graduate study. What I couldn’t get in “book smarts” from college, I learn in hands-on lessons in real life. With my boys, I truly do learn something new every day. Granted, maybe I didn’t need to know that there is a gecko in Namibia that survives the deadly desert temperatures by using its large webbed feet to burrow deep beneath the sand it traverses during the day. I also probably didn’t need to know that baby powder, when completely emptied unceremoniously from its container, would take weeks to remove completely from the walls, carpet, and baseboards of a bedroom. I know I didn’t want to know that boogers are virtually impossible to pry from heavily textured walls or that you can pick up a so-called permanent tooth that has been knocked out and shove it back into its socket in the mouth, hold it there, and probably save it.
For each thing I’ve learned that maybe I didn’t feel I wanted to or needed to know, though, I have also learned something about myself. I pick my battles more carefully these days. I understand that sometimes it’s just best to cut your losses and that doing so doesn’t have to imply failure. I’ve become much better at problem solving and much more adept at improvising. I’ve learned that worrying about things doesn’t affect their outcome. I now know that sometimes even when things don’t work out as I’ve planned they have still worked out just fine. I’ve also learned that I am much stronger than I ever thought I was.
Parenting has been my life’s greatest adventure so far. It hasn’t always been a pleasant journey, but it’s been infinitely educational. Please remind me of that the next time Luke pukes in the dentist’s chair all over himself, me, and the floor, and I’m looking around as if I have no idea whose child this is. Please remind me that there are lessons to be learned everywhere in life. And then remind me that Spray ‘n Wash will remove regurgitated chocolate milk from a khaki sweatshirt if you catch it quickly enough.
Moms are constantly being called upon to fix things. We sew stuffed animals, superglue broken toys, and settle sibling squabbles. When trouble is brewing, we’re on the front lines. I know I take this role of Caretaker of Everything quite seriously. I’ve probably taken it too far. I’ve heaped responsibility upon responsibility upon myself because, let’s face it, no one can get the job done as well as I can or as quickly. If something is broken or in need of repair, I am The Fixer.
I internalize struggles my children are having and, reminiscent of some grand, imaginary machine full of life’s answers (something like Spencer Tracy was promoting to Katharine Hepburn in The Desk Set), I try to spit out a response towards improving them. It’s exhausting. My oldest son has ADHD, and I’ve spent the past year and a half trying to coach him around it. I feel this is my responsibility. In my work with him, however, I think I’ve made him pay more attention to his deficits than I’ve asked him to pay to his strengths, which are many. How sad is that?
My mom challenged me with this thought yesterday: what if, instead of trying to fix everyone we thought was broken in some way, we focused instead on what is unique, right, and wonderful about that individual? I mean, there are amazing things about my husband that I overlook because I’m too busy nagging him about things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. If I focused on his positives, like his limitless patience with me and his constant willingness to give of himself, then the fact that he has seven pairs of shoes under our bed perhaps is a small price to pay for his genuine kindness.
Dealing with my oldest son’s ADHD has been quite a challenge for me. I don’t understand how his brain works. I’ve spent so much time being frustrated by how his true intelligence can’t be measured in his average grades that I’ve forgotten to pay attention to how truly awesome he is. The same goes for my youngest son. While his grades are not an issue, I get wrapped up sometimes in trying to rein in his boundless energy and creativity to improve him in areas where he needs focus. Why am I doing this? Because I am The Fixer. And, it’s my duty to turn out well-rounded, responsible, successful individuals with something legitimate to contribute to the world, right?
But, what if the best thing I can do for my children and my husband is not to fix them but instead to cherish them for who they are and for what they bring to our family? We each have a role to play. Why can I not let go of my queen bee hat and just accept that we’re all doing the best we can with what we were given? Wouldn’t our house be much more peaceful if I stopped harping on things I see that I believe need to be fixed? Wouldn’t I be much happier if I paid more attention to people’s positive qualities instead of their negative ones? I’ve been incredibly blessed, and yet I make work for myself trying to fix things that aren’t broken. They might be different than I would like, but that doesn’t mean they need to be repaired.
And what if, while cutting everyone else some slack, I applied the same principle to myself? What if I stopped trying to fix things about me that I dislike and I allowed myself to be authentically me, self-perceived flaws and all. I’m not broken. I am who I am because I have something to contribute from this one-of-a-kind perspective. It would be a shame to eliminate differences. They’re what make the world interesting.
Now, none of this is to say that I’m gonna put my superglue away and stop mending things permanently. I’m not sure I’m capable of that, nor do I believe my family would appreciate it. But, perhaps, I will try to tread a little more softly with myself and the people with whom I come into contact. Maybe instead of wanting to strangle the guy who cuts me off in traffic, I can approach the incident from a very zen place and appreciate his skillful maneuvering instead? Yeah. You’re right. I don’t think I’m quite ready for that either. I guess that’s just a good reminder that you can’t fix everything.