I didn’t really feel like writing this week. I had the idea for the post early on, but the week has gotten away from me and here I sit in front of a blank page wishing I could transfer thoughts into words much more efficiently than with the clackity clack of my computer keyboard. Also, this stuff is hard to write about. Because it’s about me, and my need to control everything in my life and have everything be just…right…
Here’s what happened. I was hanging out at church, rehearsing for singing the next day in service, when a friend casually said to me, “[Your son]’s a grumpier baby than average.”
Everything came to a grinding halt.
My head was full of a million thoughts. The obvious, strongest thought being: “Shut your mouth, you don’t know anything.”
I try not to say things like that out loud, because they are rarely ever helpful, even if they are momentarily satisfying. The clean up from that is rarely fun, and usually involves having to apologize and losing the upper (smug) hand in any given situation. Instead I go for the long game. I blog about it.
OK, snarkety snark. Everyone will be happy to know that my friend and I are reconciled and we send each other funny text messages again and all is well and good and I promise I am not holding a grudge.
But the salient issue here is not whether or not my son is grumpier than average (though he isn’t, I swear it). The issue is that my instantaneous reaction was to reject any and every idea that my son is anything but perfect. My brain went to fifteen separate examples of compliments we’ve been given by random strangers, without bias, about our perfect child. Or even better, it went to thinking about all the examples of other babies who are much, much fussier than my son.
Because comparison always helps every situation.
And it isn’t that any of those things are untrue, but I was so violently angry and defensive. “How dare you!” was much faster to the front of my mind than I would have ever expected. I remember being told about the Mama Bear syndrome, but I didn’t expect the paw swipe to be so instinctual.
My son isn’t perfect. I say this with no conviction, more because logically it makes sense. I’m not perfect, nor is anyone I know. And since I don’t remember an angel coming to me to tell me that I was giving birth to God, then there’s a pretty good chance my son isn’t perfect, either.
So as I sit and clackity clack on this keyboard of mine, forcing a reflection I don’t really want to have, I think my desire for him to be perfect is something I need to think about long and had. Because what happens when I get the first phone call from a teacher at the daycare telling me he hit another child? Will I stand adamantly on the fact that there is no way MY child would do such a thing?
Or will I allow my child to make mistakes, to fall down, to not be the best (a word my friend says is loaded and should be removed from my vocabulary.) Will I allow him to make mistakes and even better, to come alongside and help him learn from those mistakes?
Perhaps more important, will I allow my son to be himself? Even if that means he is grumpier than the average baby? (But seriously, he isn’t.) I thought that giving my son the freedom and space to be who he is would be a lot easier than it is, and I certainly didn’t expect these feelings to arise in me only ten months into parenting.
But I have this wiggling, nagging feeling that allowing my son to be who he is means letting go of my expectations of how things should be, and accepting how things actually are. It may just look a lot less than a raised bear claw and a lot more like open hands, willing to receive feedback, willing to learn from all of it. It may even mean (sigh) starting to say with conviction that my son is not perfect. (Which is easier to do when he’s arching his back in protest or waking up multiple times at night. Can I get an amen?)
The truth is that I don’t really know who my son is yet. I know so much about him, like the smell of the top of his head and the way his pinky toes curl I know how to tickle him in just the right place to make him laugh until he can’t breathe. I know that putting him in a swing on the playground will bring endless joy, and trying to feed him bananas will bring endless pain.
But there’s so much I don’t know yet. And the miracle of watching him explore and discover the world around him more often than not leaves me breathless.
I don’t want my desire for a perfect son to get in the way of loving and appreciating the son I have.
A son who is not perfect. But also not grumpy.