Shit Happens

January 19, 2015

This past year was one of great professional stress, and I determined not to carry it into 2015.  When I did find resolution in October, it came in a better manner than I could have imagined.  While I made some contributions to the outcome, I assure you luck was the prevailing factor.

When the dust settled, I was stunned to find my life relatively drama free for the first time in years.  My kids are at great ages in which they are relatively dependable, responsible and communicative, but haven’t begun to hate me.  Life still has plenty of stress, but a bit less overwhelming.

So I have been thinking to myself often, I really need to enjoy this.  Really.  And I dare not feel entitled to its continuation.  Sometimes we get to a good place and assume it to be a part of a long and steady trajectory.  We are certain it can only go up from here.  Enough continuous rise, and descent is certain.

In my case, I have three children heading for puberty.  Rough terrain is surely ahead.

I wouldn’t change most of the challenges of the last four years if I could, because I have learned so much.  (In case you don’t know me, they involved divorce, going back to work, and a great deal of constant professional change as I regained my working legs.)  Those stresses paved the way both to goodness, and my ability to appreciate and savor it.

When I had to fight mighty battles, I discovered I had it in me.  There is no easy path to that discovery.  When I needed to let battles go, I found I could.  When I stepped out on a tenuous limb, people who loved me cheered me on, but never with the platitude that the limb won’t break.  At 42 I’m learning to let go of false assurances, and those who love me seem to know not to give them.  I know they’ll be there if I come crashing down, and that I will find a way to recover.  This is what security means to me now.

A few days ago I rushed out of work late to get home to my kids.  I started my car and began to back up, but stopped when I saw in the rearview mirror what had to be the oddest formation of ice I’d ever seen.  That wasn’t ice, I quickly realized.  It was shattered glass.  My back windshield, it seemed, had been smashed leaving a big hole and sparkling web of shattered glass.

I took the time to confer with the security staff at my office building in the hopes this mystery would be solved via video recording.  No such luck.  I had to get home.  Fortunately it was above 0 on that January Minnesota evening.  It had snowed a good bit that day, so between the window and traffic, I was an hour and a half late getting to my kids.  Since they are not always with me, the loss of that time matters.

I was mad about the lost time, the damage, the inconvenience of the repair, and so forth.  Once home I needed to cook dinner, tend to my kids, figure out a temporary fix to the gaping hole in the dark, and shovel snow.  I was also upset at the idea someone could have done it intentionally.  There was nothing missing and nothing of value in sight anyway.  Maybe it was the temperature swings, an accident, or vandalism.  Who knows?

As I drove I remembered what I’ve been saying to myself.  Things are pretty good right now, don’t forget that.  Don’t let this minor inconvenience derail you.  It calmed me, this inner dialogue.  I believed it.

I was plenty calm by the time I got home.  I visited with my kids a bit, explained what happened, and began to make dinner.  My kids commented on how surprisingly well I was handling it.  They have far more experience seeing me freak out.  I assured them it was an inconvenience that needed fixing and not worth being upset over.  We are so lucky, I tell them all the time.  The wind was bitter that night, and the day before so cold Minneapolis schools were closed for the day.  We had dinner cooking, a warm home, and each other.

After dinner one of my girls helped me cover the gaping hole in our van and shovel the sidewalk while the other two worked on a project inside.   As I struggled to tape the cardboard to the van (adhesive and cold don’t go well together), I got really frustrated, but tried to maintain my calm.  Again, she commented on how well I was handling it.  She said it was like we were having a really good evening in spite of this bad thing that happened.  I laughed and agreed.

“You know, Mom, at times like this I really admire you.”

She went on to say she didn’t think she’d ever forget this night.  I was stunned.  I think this is the only time in over a decade of parenting that I felt like I got it right when it mattered.  I will never forget that night either.

For better or worse, no one knows you better than your children.  They see you at your very best and worst.  Despite the many pieces of parenting that make you feel helpless, we have power over them.  Holding power is the greatest test of character.

My kid’s response is largely her surprise because of how many times I had not handled stress well.  At 9, she can now reflect on her own moments of freaking out, and learn to talk herself down.   With my recently calmed professional waters, I would not have appreciated my new situation so well had I not experienced the preceding struggle.  The same is true for my kids.  I just hate that “the struggle” is sometimes me.

It is heart wrenching to fail in front of your kid.  But we all mess up sometimes, and so will our children.  There is never a bad time to improve or try to get it right.  And when our children see us fail, get back up and try again, we are telling them the absolute truth that this is how life is, and they can do it too.