The following post was a story I told at a "Listen To Your Mother" event earlier this year. So, just imagine it with hand gestures. ;)
When my son was 4, I enrolled him in swimming lessons at the same time as his older sister. It was a small class, taught by an energetic, one-legged young man whose personality filled the room. He would get distracted talking with the other parents while the kids swam, so it was bound to happen that one day, my son took one too many laps, and just got plumb tuckered out. When the instructor pulled him out of the pool and saw a tint of brown mixed with the water running down his leg, he immediately screamed, “That’s poop!”
In sheer panic, I scooped up my son and raced to the bathroom, where, yes indeed, he had gone #2 in his pants. He was crying, I was panicked, and the next few minutes were a blur of cleaning him up, watching the evacuation of the pool, making apologies, negotiating with the manager, and sitting in humiliation as my daughter finished her lesson in the now overflowing second pool.
My son and I were completely mortified, and I believe I drank my weight in tears that evening.
And although I tried to put on a brave face, I felt so horrible about what happened, that I never took him back to the swim school, and even today, I still avert my eyes when I drive past it.
Boy, did I feel guilty. I was supposed to protect him from such disasters, and I let him down. But it toughened me up for the next crisis, right?
When my daughter was in 7th grade, she became ill and just couldn’t shake it. So, we went through a battery of tests, which, you guessed it, involved poop.
The doctor wanted to test her “business”, so I collected it, put it in a baggie, and drove it over to the lab. I hustled to the door, and just my luck, they were on a lunch break. This meant that I had the distinct pleasure of standing for an hour in front of a locked door with a clear bag of poop in my hand, nodding hopefully at the employees as they came in and out with their sandwiches. When I was finally granted entry, I received a look of horror when I explained what I had (which had now gotten a little warm) – and I found myself, once again, apologizing for my child’s poop.
As my kids have grown up, they have dealt with increasingly larger and more complex issues. Some of them have been typical teenage challenges, like puberty, friend drama, and the pain of first heartbreak. Others have been completely overwhelming mental and physical setbacks that have taken our family in directions I could never have anticipated nor prepared for.
Sigh. I miss the poop.
The guilt that weighs on me, and has kept me up every night for the last 16 years, is the difficult acceptance that I can’t bubble-wrap my children to protect them from the unpleasantness of life. They will often face problems that I can’t solve. Sure, I can give advice, buy the medicine, get the best books on the subject, but sometimes – well, many times – I have had to confess to them, “I can’t fix it.”
It has been frustrating, to say the least. But it has also opened up a new chapter in my relationships with my son and daughter. They are learning, albeit the hard way, how to stand on their own two feet, how to weather a storm, and how to accept the bad but keep looking for the good. And slowly, vey slowly, I am learning how to support them without taking over, and giving them space to find their own way. Will I ever stop worrying? Nope. Will I ever not feel guilty when I can’t save the day? Probably not. But, what I can do is hug them and kiss them, and laugh and cry and yell with them. And I can stay just close enough so that they know they only need to reach over and my hand will be there, ready to hold, the next time the poop hits the fan.
Until next time, keep crowin'