Only Count the Wins!
I try to see the humor in existence—even when sometimes it is hard to find and masquerades as a horrible life experience. (Anybody else have a car muffler that sounds like a congested, forty-year smoker? That will teach me for running over that deer.) Sometimes that humor cuts sharper than a scalpel and hurts as much as it heals. And sometimes, what looks like failure, is actually a win.
This past weekend I had a moment where I tried to figure out what kind of parent I am. (I’ve been meaning to get around to it; it’s been eleventy years now and it seemed about time.) We all think we know what kind of parent we are going to be before we ever set a foot in the baby aisle or pee on a stick.* We know we are going to be kind, patient, and fun, in other words, nothing like our own parents. Then reality hits.
Forty-thousand diapers later and about two-thirds of me going grey, I now approach parenting as a mostly hands-off, break-glass-in-case-of-emergencies involvement. Hear a crash upstairs followed by a total absence of any sound? Immediately investigate! Discover grandfather clock which has mysteriously moved from wall to couch on its own. Child plays nearby, innocent of any involvement. As no one is concussed and the clock still works, avoid pointless lecture and hope he’s learned some sort of lesson about gravity.**
This pretty much sums up my parenting skills—except for in those extraordinarily rare moments when I pull my head out of my…places unmentionable…and actually pay attention.***
So Sunday, when my son is losing his ever-loving mind for the thousandth time about who-knows-what and was beating himself and the area furniture in frustration, I try to be the lonesome voice of reason amidst the chaos: “What’s wrong, sweetie? How can Mommy help?” (Subtext: I will give you anything—you name it, A mountain of bacon? A vat of ice cream?—if only you’ll shut up!) But, my non-verbal son can only cry incoherently and continue his self-destructive rampage. I cannot fix what I cannot understand. I try to leave him to ‘calm down’ only to be drawn repeatedly back by his anger and tears. I am the tide to his disconsolate moon. I finally force him to try and explain what is wrong using his iPad. (A communication of last resort—he hates typing and is just as likely to hit me as to tell me anything when we use it.)
I type as I talk:
Me: “What’s wrong? Why are you so mad? What do you want?”
(A tumbleweed rolls past and somewhere a coyote howls.)
I repeat this message despite his attempts to shut down the device and snatch it away. I persist. He finally gives up fighting my efforts and writes:
Son: “I want you to be really…”
Me: “Really what?” I say and type. “I don’t understand. You can’t be ‘really’ without a verb. Really happy? Really sad?”
I am often stymied by his word choices and I think, he is equally confounded with expressing any feeling beyond pain or hunger; but after a moment, he answers.
Son: “Really sad.”
Me: “What are you sad about?”
Son: (No answer.)
Me: “What can mommy do?”
Son: “I want you to be really.”
It feels like a communication failure and then, I realize, he wants me to be really. Whatever really refers to…he wants me to be it with him…fully focused and engaged. He can’t really explain how he feels and I can’t entirely understand. But I can ‘be really’ for him.
And really, that’s all he’s asking me to be.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Or hand, in my case.
**You can spin most accidents into a real-time study of scientific principles—not the least of which is how to tie a tourniquet in an emergency.
***Moments when I am a clued-in parent are as rare as Haley’s comet, but not nearly as predictable.