Long time, no write. I could offer a million excuses for the hiatus. In short, I was too busy enjoying summer (which can greatly resemble being lazy if you aren’t looking closely). We were just ridicuously swamped (cue, sarcasm). What with solving the endless conflicts at every turn, such as bacon versus donuts for breakfast or swimming versus creekpawing for nature nuzzling (Is that a word? It is now.)…it’s miraculous that we made it out alive.
If I had a dollar for every time that rock-paper-scissors averted a meltdown this summer, I would be the one saying a dolla make me holla. Honey BooBoo who? There were all kinds of victories penned into the history books during Summer 2012 (in newly mastered cursive, no less). Inaugural little league baseball season under the belt and, as for me, I was instrumental in orchestrating countless emotional reunions between black hole socks and their long lost mates. I take what I can get in the personal victory department. I OWN that title- Mental Health Maestro for the black hole sock population. Yep, business cards in the mail.
This one big thing did happen over the last few months though. Not in a single instant. Not like a Bam!- knock-me-on-my-tail ephiphany. But I did have one summer-long, summer-wide divination that I wanted to share. After a month of mulling it over, here goes: My kids have reached the age where they have been given the gift of a long-term memory.
This is great, right? This means that they can remember Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. It also means that they know full well when I screw up and can likewise remind me of it… for the rest of eternity, should they so choose.
These kids have invoked the handy use of their cerebral filing cabinet. The storage spot that can successfully house a timeline of events ad infinitum. Another way of looking at this is the following: There is potential for them to remember every single miniscule and venti parental botch from here forth with such clarity that they can relay the dirty specifics at the Thanksgiving dinner table in, say, 40 years in all kinds of mixed company. I should be glad that their minds are healthy enough to take note of such things. And I am…I am also utterly terrifed.
Olivia will never remember the time I dropped her right on her little bobblehead at eight weeks of age. This was before I knew that you fasten such small baby cargo in a bucket seat prior to clicking the bucket seat into the backseat, middle riding position. Turner will never remember the horrendous post-partum anxiety and depression that held me in a vise-grip for nearly the first half-year of his life. Olivia will never remember my inability to cope with stress in healthy ways during the same time period.
Oh, the parenting manuals. The worthless, overpriced parenting manuals.
The more that I try to have a measured, textbook response to a tantrum (mine or theirs), the more damage I seem to do sometimes. But here is the thing. Parenting is messy work. Messy, messy. Like yank-the-wire-whip-outta-the-mixer-while-it-is-cranking-full-blast messy.
It felt so much safer taking a few risks or liberties when I knew the kids would never remember it. No longer can we enjoy the cushion of short-term memory. In fact, they already remind me often enough with a few well-worn stories that may or may not include me slamming a door too hard (read: off the hinges). Or a raising a voice that may or may not have registered on the Richter Scale.
Since we are in the business of telling the truth around here, check out this example of how ridiculously kids are wired to be parent vigilantes.
I can remember faking an arm injury during a game of nerf football when I was just about my daughter’s age. Maybe 8-years-old. I really, really wanted that X-ray at the hospital. And I really wanted that X-ray to confirm that I needed a bright pink cast. The hard, plaster kind that everyone at school gets to sign with a Sharpie on Monday morning. And so I pulled it off. The fall, the grimace in faux pain. The trip to the hospital. If my parents hadn’t taken me, I might’ve accused them of not caring. I can even remember hoping the X-ray technician didn’t notice that I straightened my arm easily when removing it from the cold X-ray table. Slip up for the novice faker. She did not notice. And would you believe this? When a child’s arm is rapidly growing, it can appear as though there are loose bone fragments around the elbow? Lucky me. I scored the cast. And some sympathetic parents for a few weeks.
Flash forward. Approximately 30 years. My kid sustained an injury recently at a trampoline park. This happened during the two seconds (ok, ten minutes) that I was not watching him jump like a maniac down a row of trampolines manned by uniformed park staff who forbade sitting down for a rest on the bouncing area (you might get jumped on, people). In fact, I think that I was completely zoned out on a nearby bench, zonked from jumping for five minutes straight myself. And still traumatized and mortified by how claustrophobic I felt after I leapt into that foam pit in an effort to be a cool parent. Backfire. It is not easy to get out of that foam pit. Forget doing it gracefully in a skirt. That foam pit is straight up hell on earth for a germo/claustrophobe. I was rewarding myself with a little news/blog catch up on my cell phone when the kid fell.
I was flagged by the trampoline staff member who was waving his arms at me like a wide receiver who hadn’t been tossed a single pass all year. Loser mom had to be flagged down as MIA parent of lost/hurt/found child. If you know my kid at all, you know that we have a gift for the dramatic ’round here. Insert your own apple-falls-far-from-the-tree joke here. I believed that he fell. I believed that it hurt. I thought that he might be faking it beyond that. I was actually kinda mad because I thought he was faking it. While he was screaming in pain, nonetheless. Recall pink cast at all costs?
This is the part when I scooped up the injured (ignoring the staff’s wish for me to remove my shoes before plowing a few people down to reach him). Ever tried to run across a trampoline with a 6-year-old in your arms? I would imagine that it feels similar to trying to tapdance in jello. We went down together. Twice that I can remember before reaching the bench. The bench- scene of neglectful parent playing on her phone a few minutes earlier. Scene of triage now. There were tears. There were sweaty tears and screaming while trying to decipher the extent of the injury. There were people staring. And there was my kid in fetal position writhing and holding his ankle while I urged him to just please stand and try to walk on it. We wiggled the toes. I had visions of the ER medical bill. Dollar signs for a tie-dye cast were making me dizzy myself. It took him a good week to shake the limp of a pretty legit sprain. Kids don’t fake limps for a full week at a time. All good now but….
Guaranteed to be reminded of that one for a few years. Or fifty. Remember that time I was on the brink of fainting from pain, mom? And you stood me up and MADE me walk to you anyway?
Bottom line. The summer’s epiphany has confirmed one of my worst fears. Perfection is much more of a liability than an asset. You know what? I will go so far as to say perfection is the enemy. The good news? I have wanted to let that perfection chase go for a long time. And so my toast to fall and winter? Here’s to being imperfect parents. They are the only kind worth having anyway. They give you just enough dysfunction to be funny later. At least, that is what I am choosing to believe today.
Side note: December 20, 1999. I am 25 and break my right wrist (the one I write with) the week before starting graduate school. I was snowboarding with my boyfriend (now husband). It entailed a ride down the slope on the yellow sled. And a ski glove being cut off my hand by very large, clumsy scissors. And a stint with my arm dangling in a Chinese finger trap at the base of Breckenridge, Colorado to realign the snapped bone. The cast was blue because the Titans were making their run on a Super Bowl. They lost by an inch. Ain’t karma a little wench? Fakers, beware. We are only keeping it real here.