Parent Who You Get
A couple weeks ago I did a shrimp boil (go ahead and pronounce accurately: "bole") for dinner. Andouille sausage, yukon golds, sweet onions, corn cobs, and big, shell-on shrimpies all took turns jumping in a pot of boiling water, beer, and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, Old Bay seasoning. I made cocktail sauce, sliced lemons, spread brown paper grocery sacks out on the table and dumped the pots contents out to be devoured. When I was a kid, deeply inland and disgusted by the foul smell of the seafood counter at the grocery store, I never could have imagined making such a meal. My kids love seafood. The only thing that would have made it better for Ezra would be a pound of mussels.
Love for seafood has been a pleasant surprise. Parenting is full of them! From matching birthmarks, curls, and eye colors to shared affection for betta fish, dancing, and costume parties, the signs of our shared blood abound. When Brendan and I were dating, we would swing at Ravenna Park and imagine what our children would be like someday. We couldn't wait to see what kind of private language and inside jokes would enrich our family culture. It has been as wonderful as we dreamed. I'd give you examples, but those things are only funny to us. Just take a second to recall your own favorite inside joke instead.
Not all parenting surprises are delicious or adorable. Some of them are downright terrifying. Some of them stop me in my tracks and make me wonder why I ever thought I was fit to have children. Some of the surprises embarrass me, and many reveal my ugliest, most humiliating behaviors and patterns. My mom always says, "parenting is not for the faint of heart," and she is right.
Don't go guessing about why I'm writing this now. It's just something I have been thinking about a lot this school year. Parents are always encountering feelings on a spectrum from joy to sorrow as surprises come along. Difficult diagnoses or academic awards. Beautiful, blossoming friendships and deep, emotional wounds. Amazing hidden talents and debilitating hidden fears. To some degree this is on my mind as I imagine being a parent seeking asylum and having my child taken away from me. I can imagine being gutted as I listen to the receding cries of my son or daughter. I can feel the helplessness and anger that would tingle in my bones. I think about all of this when I see my friends post pictures of their kids in operation recovery rooms or when I see the school's phone call lighting up my purse and wonder what in the world has happened now.
"Not for the faint of heart," but so often that's how I feel: faint, feeble, but fascinated! Even when I'm dazzled by my daughter's strong, straight knees as she dances, I go weak in my own. "How is the precious creature mine?!" I wonder. I am humbled and amazed at once. When difficult circumstances arise, I have the same bittersweet cocktail of emotions. I am overwhelmed with awe (at my children's capacities and at the depth of difficulty in all our lives) and frailty (at my own insufficiency to protect us). I'm grateful to see and fall on God with every flood of feeling.
I'm kept on my toes. We all are. Kids, even the deep relationships we allow in our lives with other people, expand who we are, our values, and the scope of our work and impact. I love the concept of "Yes, and" from improv comedy. It's so useful in parenting. The idea is that whatever the other performer suggests or presents to you, you respond, "Yes, and..." Then you fill in the blank; you take what they bring, join in, and make it your own story. That's parenting, family, friendship. The idea that so many people feel like they "don't fit in" their own families or communities pains me.
Let's just leave alone the fact that sometimes we need community to correct damaging behaviors by expressing discomfort and disagreement; I acknowledge the importance of that community role! Here I'm focusing more on the importance of being seen and valued. I'm not going to go wild for every hobby or personality trait brought to my proverbial table. And that's ok, but I sure do not want my friends or children to ever feel rejected, unappreciated, or just plain dorky because of what they're into.
I know what it feels like to be dorky. I was the thirteen year old at STEM magnet school, a year younger than my whole class, still losing tons of baby teeth, and wearing my parents old clothes from the 70s. The Gap Girls were not fans, and I was treated like a big, ol' dork. "Nerdy" is a whole other thing now here in Seattle than it was when I was a kid. Even then, nerdy was preferable to dorky. Nerdy is considered pretty desirable in my kids' world. And I'm thrilled.
I have had to repair my child's black, crushed velvet cloak more times than I can remember. He has now attached a medallion with a scorpion trapped in yellow plastic "amber." This wardrobe choice is a surprise. His brother's fedora, another surprise, constantly needs repairs. That day of the shrimp boil, one half of my dining room table was covered in shrimp shells and the other was draped with a legitimate Dungeons and Dragons playing mat. These things are not at all what I expected my life with kids to look like! BUT, OH WOW. I love that they are pursuing their own interests!
we have to parent who we get. Some of the surprises are kooky and cute, and some of them will be the most difficult parts of our lives. I practice the "Yes, and..." mentality on the small things because my prayer is that they will come to me with the big things. So, yes. I will fix that cloak, and do you want this fingerless glove too? How about this pocket square?