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.

There Goes Summer

 

A summer tragedy
 
Now that our sons are older and more independent, one of my true summer joys is a day lounging at our favorite local pool, the small one with the reclining loungers, the water slide, and the vigilant lifeguards who shout “no running” at my kids so I don’t have to. Last week, the gods bestowed upon us an arguably perfect pool day. No menacing thunderheads hovered in the sky, the temperature was a pleasant and steady 83 degrees, and there was the lightest perceptible breeze, the kind that gently reminds you that sometimes all is right in your world. When mornings like that arrive, my day is set. Errands, appointments, laundry, and responsibility be damned. We’re pool bound. There is no other choice. Our fate is sealed. 

After wolfing down the sub sandwiches we picked up from Jimmy John’s on the way over, we began our idyllic summer sabbatical. My goal: complete summer surrender. From under my mirrored sunglasses, I lazily watched our sons take ridiculous leaps (meant to be impressive but in the end only exhibiting typical teenage goofiness) off the diving board while the playlist of LCD Soundsystem in my earbuds kept my feet moving just enough to burn a few calories while I let the sun work its magic. Nothing could be better, I mused to myself, swept away in the glee of a few hours’ worth of unadulterated leisure in the middle of the work week.

That was when he stepped in front of me and everything changed. He must have been about seven, maybe eight, with sandy blonde hair. He stood out because, unlike the other children who had arrived in the same daycare group, he was alone in wearing street clothes and Crocs in place of brightly colored swim trunks and bare feet. A bold orange cast with blue tape, a nod to the Denver Broncos, held his broken arm firmly in place while he stood on the side of the pool watching other kids take acrobatic turns off the diving board. As I looked at him with a mother’s eyes, I found myself wishing there were casts that mended broken hearts as well as broken arms. 

We are less than two weeks away from the start of the 2015-2016 school year here in Denver. All over the city parents are snapping up school supplies while siblings wage frustrated battles with each other in the waning days of summer break. My favorite season is slipping away, and each day closer to school is a heartless reminder of life out of the pool lounger and in the carpool lane. Today, though, I am thinking of that darling little boy with a cast who is probably looking forward to school this year for the first time ever, thinking about friends and structure and the chance to feel again like he belongs.

Our singular experiences comprise our personal tale, but in the end it’s our shared struggles that make our stories worth recounting.

The Upside of Upchuck

The reason I'm mellowing...these kids have both puked on me.
These cute kids have both puked on me.

There are some good things about getting older, particularly if that getting older occurs along with parenthood. In my advancing years, for example, I’ve discovered that I have quite a bit more perspective now than I had in my 30s before I had children. My Type-A, uptight self has been given many opportunities to learn not to sweat the small stuff. I mean, there’s a lot of perspective to gain when you’ve spent hours agonizing over the perfect outfit to wear to an anniversary party at an upscale restaurant only to have your six-year-old vomit on you in the car just as you pull into the parking lot. That’s the universe’s way of telling you to relax a little and stop fussing over things that don’t matter. The universe has been working overtime to correct my anal-retentive tendencies. My mother told me once that if you pray for something, it’s not given to you. Instead you’re provided the opportunity to earn it. My life is proof that her belief is true.

Tomorrow we’re taking the boys up for the first of five ski lessons we’ve enrolled them in. I’m a little anxious because they’re not as excited about it as we are. For most of my life, I’ve been a Nervous Nelly before a new experience. Once, in college, I drank two shots of vodka before going out for Thai food with a date because I’d never been to a Thai restaurant before and there were so many unknowns I was petrified. (A therapist would make a fortune off of me. I know this.) As I’ve gotten older and lived for years with unpredictable children, though, I’ve found a coping mechanism that won’t end in alcoholism. I play the Worst-Case-Scenario game. For example, take our skiing day tomorrow. There are dozens of things that could go wrong. We could get stuck in a snowstorm. We could forget our skis. A kid could drop one glove off a ski lift. We could arrive late and miss the lessons altogether. One of us could tear an ACL. It’s all possible, but it’s not likely. I’ve learned that worrying about the “what ifs” is a colossal waste of time. If we forget our skis, we’ll rent them. If the drive is horrific, we’ll turn around and head home. If one of us tears an ACL, well….that would suck, but it wouldn’t end the world as we know it. The more I’ve realized how unlikely it is that we’ll reach Death Con 5, the less I trouble myself over the small stuff. Gradually, my Threat Level Red decreased to Orange and now at last to Yellow. I’m making progress. I doubt I’ll ever see Green, but you gotta have goals and green is my favorite color.

No matter what happens with our planned ski adventure tomorrow, I know it will all work out one way or another.  I’m grateful that the universe found a way to offer me practice in the things I need. I once thought I did not want to be a parent. The universe knew better. Now I have two boys who are providing me with a great deal of perspective. Because of them, I’m less of an uptight loon than I used to be. I try new foods (without requiring vodka courage). I visit foreign countries. I’m interested in experiencing new things. And I don’t even lose sleep over any of it. It’s incredible how having a little person vomit on you can change you forever.