What Parenting Has Taught Me About Myself

MMIbadanduglyParenting has provided a coming-of-age experience for me — that age being the one in the middle of a lifespan, of course. Here are some things I have learned about myself:

1.  I am stronger than I thought. 

I often wonder if parenting is really harder nowadays or if we are just drinking less martinis and smoking fewer Pall Malls than our parents so it feels harder. Maybe it’s a bit of both.

There are still times when I find myself paralyzed by how adult a job parenting is. I am responsible for the lives of other people. And they know it. And they themselves cannot be responsible for their own lives.

It takes a badass to do this job right.

2.  I am weaker than I thought.

When did I become so anxious all the time? When did I stop being able to sleep peacefully? Start needing people so much? Stop being able to read or watch anything about — I can’t even write it! Think every Shonda Rhimes storyline ever and the heartbreaking premise of every Disney story.

I once hiked a canyon where the ledges were so narrow that the more experienced hikers with us walked on the ledge below, holding our ankles as we moved. I have slept in a car overnight — in Mexico — and traveled all over the world, once to live for a year in South America on my own. Where is that woman?

I’ll tell you where she is. She’s cuddled up in front of the fireplace (played on a TV screen because — real fire around the kids? Never!) in the fetal position, rocking back and forth, worrying about her daughter’s impending surgery, her son’s IEP, and the potentially deeper meaning behind her other daughter’s rather bizarre Christmas list, the one that says “Oxygen Mask, real, not pretend”.

3.  I can shove an entire Trader Joe’s Meringue cookie into my mouth and have it chewed, swallowed and my ability to speak restored in the time it takes my child to walk from the living room into the kitchen to see what I am doing.

Same goes for a handful of M&M’s.

I used to be able to unwrap Hershey’s kisses, silently, and pop them into my mouth, while driving, without anyone knowing. But now that the kids can all sit in the front seat, I have to share.

I believe this skill will carry me into old age, when I shall unwrap butterscotch candies at the theatre.

4.  I can extend “I just need to use the bathroom” to a good half hour, sometimes peeing several times in case spies are listening at the door.

Conversely, I can hold my pee an entire day if necessary, especially at public parks. Or the beach.

Though I STILL rarely pee without interruption, I make it work.

5.  I can read minds.

Parents have been saying this for centuries, but I think it’s true. I think we get to know our children so well that we can often predict what they are thinking. It freaks my kids out. When I can’t figure out what they are thinking, but I know they are up to no good, I give them a look, the look that says, “I can read your mind, you know” — and they immediately confess.

The flip side of this is that our kids get to know us so well that they can also predict what we are going to say. I completely believe them when they yell, “I KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO SAY THAT!!!” It’s also impressive when they start a request or confession with, “Mom, I know you are going to say X, but…” and they are totally right.

6.  I can have absolutely no idea what I am doing and still do the right thing.

Sometimes, when a child needs my advice, I just talk until something comes out that clicks for them and they nod or smile. I am pretty sure this is how palm readers do it.

And I can make a crisis look totally manageable even though I am flipping out inside.

Conversely, I can think I am doing the right thing but actually have no idea what I am doing.

7.  If I had to go on Iron Chef, I would totally win.

I have made an entire, edible and well-received meal with some old frozen white fish forgotten in the back of the fridge, cheerios, the left-over contents of our snack cooler, and grape jelly. You wanna mess with me?

8.  I can be an integral and witty part of a conversation despite having tuned out the entire thing.

Look, one can only stand hearing every single page of Harry Potter, all SEVEN books, summed up so many times. A parent learns to cope. I came up with some of my best knitting patterns, recipes, and writing topics during that series. The same goes for the third, fourth, and fifth performances of the same production and conversations that go something like this,

“So then she said uh-uh and I’m like, ‘No way’, but then she was all, ‘Really, it’s true,’ but then I said, ‘Are you sure?’ and she said she was and I was like, ‘Are you super sure?’ and she said she was super sure and that her mom even said so and that if I didn’t believe her, I could ask her mom, so then I asked her mom and she was like, ‘It’s true’, so the more I think about it, the more I think it’s true, but sometimes I still wonder if it’s not true, but why would she and her mom say it was true if it wasn’t because that doesn’t seem like her and I did ask her, ‘Is it true?’ and she said, ‘Yes’ and I did ask her mom if it’s true and she also said it was true so I think it has to be true. What do you think, Mom?”

BAM! I’ve got the pattern of an awesome new scarf all worked out in my head.

9.  I am an introvert who can act like an extrovert on a dime.

Likewise, people treat me like an introvert when I just need an hour or 14 to myself!

10. I can remember an entirely made-up, epic story from night to night — with all the voices, but cannot remember why I walked into the kitchen (Hint: it was to make dinner).

I think this is one of the cruel ironies of parenthood.

11. Though I love to cook, I hate having to come up with multiple meals a day, every day.

I also hate to grocery shop. When my husband and I are empty nesters, we shall eat cold cereal, ice cream, and chili from the can every single meal for six weeks straight.

12. I use my education every day.

I never thought I would stay home with my kids and certainly not for this long. And I never ever expected that I would homeschool. What a waste of a good education, I once thought. I wanted a career. Now, as I am easing my way back into working full-time (Publishers, are you listening? Give me a contract and a really good advance and I’m all yours!), I realize how essential those degrees have been for me as a parent.

My undergraduate degree in drama has made me an animated story-teller, able to act calm/funny/together/interested when I didn’t want to, a problem-solver, a team-player, and a really good last-minute costume/pillow/gift/outfit maker (just not yoga pants). It also makes me an expert at sussing out the infamous fake-cry utilized by children everywhere.

The graduate degree I attained to be a Lutheran pastor has helped me counsel my kids and their friends, teach, think and process all kinds of deep parental thoughts, write, meander through our family’s spiritual up and downs, survive on coffee and hot dishes alone, know enough to expose the corrupt American orphanage directors disguised as Lutheran pastors, and possess an arsenal of sleepy hymns to use as lullabies.

13. I need way more than eight hours of sleep a night.

You’d think the opposite would be true, that I would have learned that I can survive on very little sleep, but it’s not. All this lack of sleep is unnatural. When my husband and I are eating only cereal and ice cream (a la #11), we are going to sleep 17 hours a day.

14. I am just superstitious enough not to make a list with 13 items on it.