Thursday, October 05, 2006

the person I want to be

Before I had kids, I wanted to be the kind of mother who never got angry or yelled or lost it in any way. I wanted to be the infinitely patient, caring mom who answered all the questions and dealt with everything fairly and never spoke to her children in a horrid, tight voice.

I didn't know if I could be that kind of person, but I did know that back then, I wasn't.

What I found, when the babies came along and grew and grew and grew, is that I am not that person, but that's OK. I realized that no one can be that person. Everyone makes mistakes, especially during 24/7 kid duty, but as long we own up to it, there's no harm done.

Lately I've noticed that I may not be infinitely patient, but I do answer all the questions, even when I don't want to. I recently fielded an intense discussion on whether or not silicone could really be a basis for life (thank you, classic Star Trek), which led to a discussion of the periodic table of elements with a 9-year-old. And later, I had to talk about why there are oil rigs out in the ocean and how did that oil get there, anyway? One kid learned about grafting for plant propagation in school so we looked up fruit salad trees on the web. I am a walking dictionary/encyclopedia, and I love it.

I am a caring mom, too, even though I yell at my kids from time to time. Stuff happens, we have to deal with it, sometimes at loud volumes. I very clearly wanted to be the kind of mother who talked to her kids with respect and kindness, and for the most part, I am. I don't nag, thanks to countless tutorials in parenting books and mags. I say things like, "I see shoes in the middle of the floor," or sometimes, just "shoes!" which inspires the kid to put the shoes away without me having to screech. In fact, I pretty much avoid screeching at all times, these days. Tone of voice is nearly everything, and through long practice, I've mastered the ability to say just about anything to my kids in the tone that I want. There's nothing worse than slamming a kid with a nasty-sounding question just because I'm tired; that's so not fair. So I don't do it. Did you finish your homework? can be a pleasant, give-me-a-status-report request, or it can be an accusation you throw at your kids to beat them down. It's your choice, and I've made mine.

If you ask me, that's a miracle, since I used to be a shrew. Is it my husband's good influence? the kids? my own desperate need to change? the cumulative impact of all the medical stuff? eight+ years of practice? I don't know, I'm just happy about it. I'm glad I can look at a situation that 10 years ago would've made me freak out and come up with Well, that wasn't what I expected, before moving right along to fixing whatever it is that needs fixing. Someone has to make things work, and as Dr. Seuss would say, Someone is me. (If not me, who? What, I'm going to wait for DH to get home from work to deal with every petty crisis? No way.)

I was talking to my middle sister the other day about all these health issues I've endured, and it occurred to me then that, even though they can be really annoying, not one of them has changed the way I live my life in any meaningful way. I do what I want to do, and having thyroid cancer or rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia or TMD or atypical moles or sciatica or whatever (because that's not even the whole list, you don't want to know) -- having these things does not prevent me from doing a single thing that I want to do.

Daily meds

Sure, sure, I have to take meds, I have to wear appliances to bed at night so I don't grind my teeth, I have to juggle many different doctors and pay attention to a lot of different things about my body that most people never even think about. But that's not my life, and I don't let all those things dictate my life, over the long term. There are shorter terms, like now, when I'm waiting on a diagnosis, and often these represent lulls where I feel like I can't do anything, but in this particular lull I can't stall out because I have commitments and I'm going to keep them -- there is no reason why I shouldn't.

I can do things like take my kids to the beach for the whole summer, and manage that just fine. I can walk around Disneyland for 3 days straight bracketed by two long days of driving. I can read to a handful of kids in a noisy school room, or entertain 20 toddlers and their parents in a bookstore. I can cook and shop and clean and write.

My mom said to me, about the lump, and worrying about the lump while having to wait for test results, and all that: There's no point, because there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Of course she's right. But it also occurred to me that even if this is cancer (I'm thinking it's about a 50-50 chance), it's not going to kill me. Some things will be more difficult for a while, but I'll get through it, and I'll go back to doing what I want to do. Somehow that certainty -- this isn't going to kill me -- expanded into the realization that none of my conditions is likely to kill me -- heck, they're not even getting in my way. (Yes, there were times when they did, but right now? They're not.)

Finally, at 43, I am (mostly) the person I want to be. There is a not-small number of things I still need to work on, of course. That's OK, there's time.


Freeven said...

A few thoughts:

1) Show me a parent who worries if she is being a good parent and I'll show you a good parent.

2) I was reading through The Federalist Papers last night and was encouraged by Hamilton's thought that, though the proposed Constitution wasn't perfect, we should be content that it was "at least excellent." That simple optimism applies to so many things in our lives--from parenting, to marriage, to writing, or playing music.

3) Those times when we let our guard down and, through fatigue or frustration, treat our kids with impatience or unfairness are important. They teach kids that the world isn't always fair, and that it won't always treat them the way they deserve. As long as kids know they are loved, and they are treated fairly and with respect most of the time, they will learn to deal with life's imperfections, to shrug off the little things and move on. If they grew up under the umbrella of perfection, they would be ill-equipped to handle the curves life will throw them later.

4) We never change; we just become more and more like ourselves. ;)

nina said...

Beatiful post. You have the eyes and wisdom of a person who has lived more than one life. Perhaps in some ways you have.

Daisy said...

Perfection is over-rated. Really. Realism and best efforts are the best we can do.