The other day I was having a moment— you know, when you just need to sit by yourself, take some deep breaths and organize your thoughts so that tight feeling in your chest will go away? And Mary Ann comes to check on me because she’s a little mommy, and she rubs my back and says, “Look on the bright side mom. At least you had a happy childhood. Mine has mostly been about character building.”
I didn’t know if I wanted to hug her or scream about how much worse that makes everything. Because the fact of the matter is that she’s right. I did have a happy childhood. Most of the southern stereotypes were fulfilled.
There were cow pastures and treehouses. There was sweet tea and Sun Drop and meatloaf (only not made by my mom, always by Mamaw because my dad made the unfortunate mistake once of telling my mom hers wasn’t as good as his moms. It was a dark day).
There were pool days and trips to Carowinds and trips to go tubing at Deep Creek. There were days of hiking in the Tennessee mountains and nights watching Andy Griffith and in high school yes, there were days when some of my friends drove their John Deere lawnmowers to school because they thought it was hilarious.
There were nights spent catching lightning bugs (fireflies if you don’t speak Southern), and homemade ice cream. There were cookouts with charcoal instead of gas grills and long days of home improvement projects. There was church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night and even the occasional Tuesday night prayer meeting.
But the thing that stuck out most to me after thinking about what Mary Ann said was the wonder of ordinary days. Days when we came home from school, did our homework, had dinner at 6, watched some TV, relaxed or played and went to bed at a decent time only to get up and do it all over again the next day. Errands to the grocery store where we usually got in trouble for fighting (John Wayne and me). Beach trips where we did nothing but watch the storms out the windows in late afternoons and read books on the beach in the evening, followed by walks on the pier at night.
Now that I’m old enough to appreciate the absence of excitement, I keep trying to figure out if this island of peace in my head actually existed, or if my parents felt just as stressed and anxious as I do now, but did a better job of protecting us from their worries than I do for my own children.
My parenting style seems to feel most days like I’m flying by the seat of my pants. Mostly because over the past few years I feel like life has happened to us, not the other way around. There has been so little that I can control that I have reacted, and I have damage-controlled and I have allowed my kids to see that sometimes being broken is unavoidable but we can’t give up and quit. But what Mary Ann said made me wonder if maybe in showing them my weak spots I have stolen their innocence, their peaceful summer days when they could live without thought of health scares or family stress or thoughts of the future.
Yesterday, the sky was so very dark and cloudy, and we could hear thunder in the distance, and Benjamin Button had a solemn look on his face, almost stoic. And he wouldn’t leave my side. Eventually the sky cleared up and there wasn’t even a drop of rain where we were. Later we went to eat dinner before going home, and as we walked to the car I said, “Do you still feel stressed buddy?” And he said, “No. I’m ok now. It’s just sometimes you just have to put on your man face even when you feel like you might throw up.”
I decided then that in spite of whatever parenting they’re getting, my kids are wise and amazing and strong and they get it. So today I’m going to give myself a break, take a deep breath, and trust that God has given us this particular life for a reason. And that even if my kids don’t feel as sheltered as I did when I was growing up, they are oh so strong. Maybe normal is overrated anyway. My lies might have made them happy, but I hope my honesty will make them resilient and kind and compassionate and strong. And what could be more important than that?