The "That Won't Be Us" Illusion
My older brother called the other day to invite us to a little get-together for his son’s birthday. When he gave me the date, I checked my calendar then started laughing like a teen snorting cough meds.
“Bro, I’m triple booked then,” I rattled in that same annoying laundry-list voice all the other grade school parents I know can’t help using to quantify how unequivocally busy we are.
“Our big guy will be away on a Boy Scout trip to Gettysburg, his little brother has camping at Quail Hill with Cub Scouts, BUT if it rains, he will go to a soccer tournament instead, AND that’s not even mentioning his baseball practice or their sister’s softball game that we have to work around. But maybe we can pop in sometime before, during or after all that? Though I doubt it.”
And that’s what a typical spring weekend around here sounds like.
When I look at the Mac calendar that dictates my destiny, there are so many commitments and conflicts my eyes cross like a cartoon character who’s had one too many pianos dropped on his head. It’s like staring at that optical illusion The Impossible Staircase, trying to see if the stairs go up, down, sideways or whichways, and realizing you’d rather skip all those torturous steps, pour a drink and just take the dang elevator instead.
Of course, my parents were free for my nephew’s party, and thrilled. “Can’t wait to see you all,” my mom chirped. When I repeated my impossible laundry list of obstacles to getting there, she said, “Hmmm. You sound just like your brother now. I thought you said that would never be your life?” Then she laughed.
Touché Mama. Of course I said that. Most of us parents have made that rookie mistake, ignoring the advice of those who’ve been where we’ve never gone before, proclaiming that our outcome will be different.
See, my brother started having kids nearly a decade before me, so I’ve been able to rubberneck his parenting journey in all its gore and glory. Time after time, my mate and I have watched, cringed and judged, silently thinking, No way, that won’t be us.
Babies sleeping in our bed? No way.
Family time trumping couple time? Not a shot.
There’s no way our kids will ever talk to us that way. Dress that way. Behave that way. No way.
That won’t be us.
And we will never ever be one of those hyperscheduled, overactive families with a color-coded calendar so chaotic that just looking at it could give you a seizure. We’ll never miss Father’s Day or Mother’s Day or a birthday because we committed to a sporting event or other activity instead.
Yet here we are.
We’ve got a 9-year-old with nightmares crawling into our bed almost nightly. His twin sister wants to dress like a 19-year-old. We’ve been talked to like that, had behavior like that, and couple time? That went out the window with sleeping in, peeing alone and living in a mess-free environment.
In spite of all my judgments, protests and eye-rolls, my life has become the impossible staircase. We don’t know if we are coming or going. That’s because my kids want to go places, have friends, play sports, and all that other stuff that makes us run around like cough-med sniffing loonies. As it turns out, these little beings who sprang from my being all have their own opinions, personalities and interests.
My mom knew. My brother knew. And everyone who’s been on this journey before us knew. They tried to warn us, but we stuck our fingers in our ears, sang ‘Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah’ and smugly thought, That will never be us.
Everything those other parents ever predicted would happen pretty much has. Every stage, every phase. And we still have a ways to go. So it’s my turn to pass down advice to the next generation of parents–which you’ll probably ignore, and I wouldn’t blame you for a second. Here goes anyway: Never say never, embrace the impossible, and accept that one day this might very well be you. Because in spite of what you think now, you are not alone, and somehow, like the rest of us, you will get through it all too.
My brother’s kids are teenagers now–one’s nearly off to college–and every time he calls to tell me about who smacked up the car, blew off their curfew or got caught doing this or that, my mate and I nod and sigh, knowing full well that’s where we’re headed. But when I hear about how he and his wife are off to the Caribbean on one of those trips they finally have the time to take, we cross our fingers and smile. “Oh yeah, that will definitely be us.”
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