The Dihydrogen Monoxide Discomfiture

Me and the kid who gave me an opportunity to grow today

Ever feel like a giant dummy? Ever have one of your kids provide the reason for that feeling? Today, Thing Two and I were discussing the chemicals in our foods. Well, we’d actually started talking about the chemicals and chemical processes involved in making dog food, but we eventually got around to discussing human foods. I started carrying on about fertilizers and pesticides that contaminate our food. And that was when my son decided to test me by saying, “Yeah. There are a lot of them, especially dihydrogen monoxide.” My brain began scanning some of the chemical names I could remember from books and articles. I was coming up blank, but not wanting my son to think I was some sort of uneducated buffoon, I quickly responded, “Yeah, sure. Among others.” That was my big mistake. BIG. Because Thing Two then points out that dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for water. Yep. It sure enough is. It’s right there in the H2O terminology. And had I taken a minute to think, I would have figured it out. But I was in the middle of dinner prep and distracted. Plus, I took chemistry for a hot minute in 1985, and that was the last I ever thought about any of it.

I felt like a jackass. No. Wait. I felt like a stack of jackasses, piled one on top of another to infinity. It hurt my pride to realize I was foolish enough not to really think through what he was saying. It made me ashamed to be old enough that I couldn’t remember the chemical name my addled brain was searching for, and dihydrogen monoxide sounded like something I should be concerned about. And it is because, you know, you can drown in a teaspoon full of the stuff. At any rate, upon realizing my colossal foible and listening to my son’s gloating about getting me with his funny joke, I felt hurt. When he reminded me about the H2O thing, I remembered he had told me he and his classmates were teasing another kid about dihydrogen monoxide a couple months ago. So, not only had I failed to think it through today, but I had totally forgotten that he he told me about this before. Not once stupid, but twice stupid I was.

And while this is a story about my senior moment (handed to me courtesy of my high school senior), it’s also about something else. It’s about how I handled my humiliation and shame. There was a time in my life when I likely would have gone into a bit of a rage over this. I might have yelled at whoever set me up, trying to make them feel bad about embarrassing me. I might have wanted them to feel the same shame I felt. I might have stormed or pouted my way out of the conversation. I didn’t do that today. I sat with my mistake and felt ignorant and uneducated for a while. Then I acknowledged that I am human and I don’t know everything, nor do I remember most of what I learned in high school 36 years ago. After about 10 minutes of feeling like a complete dolt and an embarrassment to myself, my gender, and my children, I stopped. I made my peace with it. I moved on and let it go until just now when I decided to tell the world about it here. This is growth, my friends. This is what it looks like when you face the things that have plagued you your entire life and you get to know them up close and personal.

I grew up in a house where one of the worst things you could do was appear foolish. I learned it was better to not try something than to try it and fail. This has been a real issue for me since birth. But I am getting over it. I’m learning that it’s okay to say something dumb. It’s okay to trip and fall. It’s okay to suck at something. It’s even okay not to know something you should know because we all do it sometimes. It’s what being human is, and I am a human. I’m learning to be fallible, to embrace myself, even the things I don’t like, like the notion that I don’t, in fact, know much. I’m learning to laugh at myself. And growth happens when you take the thing you’re ashamed of and share it. So, there you have it, folks. Proof that I’m a learning robot. Next time I will definitely remember what dihydrogen monoxide is. And next time it will only take me 5 minutes to beat back my shame. The time after that there may be no shame at all. Perhaps then it will just be me being perfectly okay with being imperfect.

1 comment

  1. This made me smile, and I can relate to this BIG time. My spouse is a trained chef, and he likes to write out “proper” names for items on the home grocery list. For example, he will jot Apium graveolens instead of just writing celery. I understand his reason, and have common to know a LOT of proper names, but I do still occasional get stumped lucky my grocery story staff is a knowledgeable group…lol

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