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The most difficult adventure on earth… more strenuous than summiting Everest, more heartbreaking than a DNF at a race you’ve trained your ass off for, more confusing than the most challenging orienteering event you could ever imagine… is, hands down, the task of parenting.
My experience thus far has been a lot like my experience with obstacle course racing: every time I think I’ve got it down, or I conquer an obstacle that has eluded me, say, slippery rope climb or uneven monkey bars, the race director (in this case, my kids) will throw something COMPLETELY unexpected and even more difficult into the mix. And just like obstacle course racing, I never feel 100% prepared. I know I’m a decent athlete (I’m not a horrible mom), I’ve got a lot of physical training under my belt (I make sure my kids are happy, healthy, clothed, and fed), but I’ll be damned if I’m not always cautiously running around corners waiting for the next insane obstacle (parenting moment) to pop up. Like flaming, slippery, uneven monkey bars over a pond full of rabid crocodiles. Or a low crawl under electrified wires in a pit full of electric eels. You know, the kind of things that leave you thinking “this is a joke, right?” and looking around for hidden cameras.
Today was one of those moments for me.
My seven year old has been slipping lately, and as his mother, I take 98% of the credit for that, because after all, he’s only seven. So when he stops listening and starts talking back, acting like an entitled, disrespectful human in an adorable little body, it’s my fault for not fully and quickly nipping it in the bud. It’s my fault for not enforcing and reminding him of the reasons why it’s not cool to be a jerk to other human beings, never mind your own mother. But the guilt I feel in my heart often causes me to be far more of a pushover to those cute little faces than I KNOW I should be.
You see, broken homes and shared custody are not something most of us imagine the day we bring our babies into this world. So needless to say, I hold a lot (or, a ton, as it may be) of guilt over the fact that I am not around my kids as much as I know they wish I could be. The irrational side of my brain is almost certain that my kids are going to end up somehow messed up and in and out of therapy their entire adult lives because of this. The rational side of my brain knows that divorce is (sadly) the norm these days, and the most important thing is that my kids have stability, and even more so, love. But sometimes, the irrational side of my brain wins, and I am far more lax than I should be.
Sunday afternoon, I take the little (adorable) monster out to the trails, in hopes that a few miles will calm him down. He LOVES to run and will be the first to tell you such. My oldest, however, doesn’t love to run, so while I ruck him down the trail, piggy back style, I explain to him how some kids have a lot more energy than others, and it’s a really good thing for them to be able to “burn off” the energy. He agrees that his brother is indeed one of those kids, and tells me that if he won the lottery, he’s buy him his own forest-track so he could run all day.
This makes my heart smile.
The grin on my seven year olds face as he barrels up and down the trail, always remembering the “run until you can’t see mommy anymore, then turn around and run back to mommy” rule (FYI, this nearly doubles his distance, working well in my “let’s tire him out” favor), also makes me smile.
The sun on my face makes me smile, hearing the birds makes me smile, the beautiful, quiet forest makes me smile. Everything makes me smile, until I get a message from Geoff.
“You need to come home right now.”
My mind goes to the worst possible places. Someone has died. One of the cats died (we have a lot of cats). He’s having a medical emergency. The apartment burnt down. This type of message is NOT like him at all. So I rush home, keeping 100% cool on the outside, for the kids sake, but running through every possible scenario in my head, accompanied by that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I fly up the stairs to our third floor apartment and throw open the door. Nothing is on fire. No one looks sick. Nothing about Geoff’s demeanor says someone died. What’s going on? I ask, confused and concerned. He sits us all down, and informs us that someone closed the drain on the boys bathroom sink…and left the faucet running. And there were now INCHES of water in the boys bedroom.
Seven year old starts crying. Guilty party identified.
I run into their room to confirm that what was once a bedroom is now an industrial carpet swamp. And now I’ve got to deal with a frustrated partner, a questioning nine year old, the guilty seven year old, and likely a crap ton of damage. I want to turn and run, shouting “NOPE! Not what I signed up for!” but I can’t. I can’t quit. This is my flaming, slippery, uneven monkey bars over a pit of rabid crocodiles, and I’ve somehow got to navigate it and make it to the finish line.
Instead of crying, which I really want to do, I do the next best thing…reach for my phone to text my friend Hope. It was an equal parts “You’ll never guess what just happened” and “do you have a wet-vac that I can borrow” text.
And I spend the next four hours on my hands and knees, navigating a swampy carpet and soaking up enough gallons of water to fill a substantial fish tank, the kind you would see in a dentist’s office (I emptied the 6 gallon vacuum at least 6 times. ) The entire time I wonder what is appropriate punishment for this crime. The root of the crime was indeed an accident, but it was carelessness that led to the accident. While he certainly didn’t steal a car nor murder someone, the same carelessness could burn a house down, and in theory COULD kill someone. Plus, did I mention half of my apartment is now a swamp? I can’t even imagine what the downstairs apartment must look like. All actions have consequences, and there have to be some for this one. And as much as I don’t want to, *I* have to be the adult, the one making SURE a lesson is learned.
My gut reaction is to make HIM do the hours of cleaning, but the wet-vac is heavy and complicated, and this water needs to be cleaned up NOW.
So I make him watch me. And then, while still watching, I make him write a letter of apology. Then a list of new rules for mommy’s house. And lastly, a list of consequences that happen when we don’t follow those rules. And I tell him there will be more. No video games. No TV. Early to bed. But for now, we’re just going to sit quietly.
And then, with tears in his eyes and in mine, I call him over. I get down on my knees (on the carpet swamp) and look him in his eyes. I remind him that no matter WHAT he does, I will always love him.
Flooded houses, bad grades, missing curfew, crashed cars, and I can only imagine what other disasters may come our way in the future…we’ll somehow get through it together.
He is my low crawl under electrified wires in a pit full of electric eels.
And as much as I can look at each unexpected obstacle with fear, anger, and “oh, HELL no” emotions, I will never, ever quit. We’ll make it to the finish line, little buddy. And hopefully there will be medals and a cold beer for the both of us.