You Get What You Need

Mini mobile characters by Alexander Calder. He made this small figures for his wife and gifted them in a wooden box. There is an amazing exhibit at the National Gallery in DC. You should go see it.

I was reading an article written by a mom who became newly enlightened on an important topic. So enlightened that she thought her lesson needed to be shared. And so enlightening that her post was passed on. It was in my newsfeed. Clickbait. God knows that’s the only way I read mommy bloggers. Click.

I’m not in their demographic. The mommy blogger demographic, that is. My kids are grown. I am without extant parenting angst. I did not take courses in hipster in graduate school. My idea of having it all was getting my kids to school on time and making it to my 8:30 a.m. meeting no later than 8:35 a.m. Bonus would be bringing my lunch–leftovers in a tupperware–and no coffee stains on my shirt. This scenario may have occurred twice. Maybe only once. If we skipped the lunch, the tally would rise to maybe five or six.

My failure was early, right at step one. We were usually–read every day–late for school. I’d get salty when they called me out on it. Having it all had nothing to do with homemade cupcakes with two types of icing for a school party, mani-pedis, mimosas and brunch, flexible workdays, antibiotic-free organic milk, educational screen time, choruses of Let It Go followed by all purchases emblazoned with characters from Frozen, finishing emails to my boss via Siri in my hybrid on the way to a practice, training and running a half-marathon or “me” time. Who the hell is “me,” anyway?

So, I’m reading this post that promises a great discovery. (Also, damn you clickbait. Damn you all to hell. Fake news is nothing compared to fake importance.)

I’m waiting to get to the punch line, because like with this here post, it’s all in the building of anticipation. Are you hanging on by your fingertips yet, Loyal Reader? Breath sped up a bit? Pulse quickened? Wondering, “What could it be?!?”

Yeah, well Prince and Princess, get used to disappointment. Her amazing parenting discovery was that it was better when she didn’t make her kids share.

That’s it. No forced sharing.

Now work with me for a minute. What the hell is compulsory sharing? Sounds like a simple and totalitarian redistribution of goods to me. Where is the agency in sharing when it’s a commandment. Sharing? Sounds more like stealing. From me to you via our mom.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I intervened more than once when a fleetingly beloved object became the impetus for a round of ultimate mixed martial arts–aka kicking, punching and biting. But my intercessions were both limited and clear. If you all can’t figure this out, I’m removing the object of the communal desire. Seriously, do I look like Solomon to you?  No I look like a stone totem. See my avatar.

There was a little girl at pre-school who had this warped idea of sharing down. She’d walk up to another kid and, like a cornerback forcing a fumble, grab the toy out of their hands all the while glaring and saying the word SHARE! She was learning English, but she had the idea that share was a synonym for mine.

So this mommy blogger had been divvying out the spoils between her kids based on who sounded the most put out. She would tell the older, usually, to share with the younger. She trained the younger to complain in order to extract the prize. This was not her intention.

My intention was to avoid the petty disputes between my kids. Maybe even squeeze in a nap. Just kidding!

My intention was to get them to learn to work things out. And, my intention was to encourage them to share from their hearts versus from a script, written by me. You see, sometimes you don’t get what you want. And sometimes you don’t have to give up what you want. And sometimes you find out that what you want isn’t a thing in your hands as much as something that you can’t hold–built from compromise and close quarters–and that is what you want to hold on to.

Do the Mashed Potato

An erupting volcano. It looks hot. And dangerous.

When my mom would get mad, she would use her words–occasionally at a deafening volume. Usually, though, just at an extremely loud volume.

I really can’t remember exactly how she would get wound up. In my memories, she could blow at any time. She didn’t go zero to sixty. She was more like a rocket launch, minus the countdown. Or maybe an exploding mountain top that exposes roiling lava in a crater. Perhaps there were some seismic gurgles or telltale belches of ash, but we were too young, and then too self-absorbed, to predict the eruptions. We weren’t scientists with well calibrated instruments. We were the simple natives that managed the fallout as it occurred.

My dad was the usual target, but when the moon was right, nobody was excepted. The moon was a character in the drama. Her blasts seemed to be tied to hormones. Dad would stand in the garage and warn us before we’d walk into the blast furnace, whispering that she had her period.

Once she was on, it could be days before it was safe. She’d be so primed that the slightest slight could train her sight your way. When she’d blow, we would be very quiet. Don’t poke the bear.

This day the Goddess of Yelling was present. I think Dad was mowing the lawn. We were goofing around in the other room. Since we were kids, and we heard it all the time, we could sometimes be oblivious to the conflict. When we were called into dinner, we brought our foolishness with us.

Mom was yelling at Dad out in the back yard. We were laughing around the table. I threatened My Older Sib with mashed potatoes on my fork. She laughed and loaded her own. She drew it back. I dared her with a raised eyebrow. Her hand slipped and the potatoes catapulted past my right shoulder and landed with a horrifying plop on the rug in the next room.

Horrifying in a way that spawns shrieks of laughter that we could barely contain–but we had to because Mom was walking toward us. But worse, she was walking in her stocking feet toward the potato landmine. Oh God, if she stepped in it, we would be dead. We started to giggle. She didn’t know why we were laughing but she was not happy. She turned her ire to us.

I am sure she asked, in her outside voice, why we were laughing. We, of course, could not tell her. We were both terrified and dangerously amused. One step to her right and she would find out for herself. She was so angry that she started to stomp from one foot to the other, like the angry troll underneath the bridge that the Billy Goats Gruff crossed.

The closer her small white-socked feet came to the potatoes, the more excited we got. Not in a good way and not in a way we could control. “What was so funny?!?”

Big Sib burst out laughing. She had a clear view of our mother and her foot almost touched the food. I turned around and desperately started a long tale of what happened at school. Something in this train of thought had to be funny.

Most fortunately, she wasn’t interested in my narration and the the mad-hopping slowed. She turned, and we held our collective breath as her foot hung in the air over the mashed potatoes piled on the carpet. Everything seemed to stop, except for the giggles that we had to choke back down to their origin. Do. Not. Laugh. It is almost over.

She moved her foot forward above and then past the floor food and stepped away. It was over.

I don’t remember where she went, but I know that we had to remain at the table until the coast was clear. A furiously whispered argument followed on who would defuse the bomb. Big Sib thought it should be me. Her argument was that it was my fault since I, in the parlance of children, started it. I, on the other hand, was sure that it was her responsibility since she was the one who lost control of her fork which was the actual cause of the almost-disaster. Bottom line, neither of us wanted to get caught while cleaning it up.

As was typical, we likely came to the solution of sending in the rookie–the Youngest Sib. The logic was that she was least likely to get in trouble. Mom, at that time, usually spared her the venom. In fairness, she caught her share years later.

So goes my story about mashed potatoes. You know how you grow up and sit around with your folks and come clean about your childhood misadventures. Didn’t happen with this one.