We did it. The 30 Strangers reception a) happened and b) was a success. It’s such a gratifying thing to see the culmination of so much of Justin’s hard work curated in a gallery, and to be able to share an evening celebrating it with friends and family. I was honored to read a little something about motherhood again this year (last year’s essay here), and to be in the company of other great presenters. Read what beautifully, insightful, and hilarious things Courtney, Lisa, and Kacy had to say, and listen the song Cherie played for us (Track 6, Walk You Through the Night). I’m so grateful to these talented friends for sharing with us that night. Here’s what I read. Thanks for the photo, Brett Howell.
I’m generally five or ten minutes late for life, not missing it altogether, but chronically behind schedule. It’s like I’ve been classically trained in the art of miscalculating what needs to happen before I leave the house, before I’m ready to go, before things are in order. You can imagine, I’m sure, that this has been a source of frustration for the people I’ve lived with all my life. All of these dear people have stood at the door, waited in the hall, or sat in the car while I frantically gather my things, finish my project, or put on my shoes.
A few years ago, in a flash of inspiration, I hit upon the problem: my estimator is broken. That’s it. When I told Justin, he nodded knowingly. Yes, yes it is. Somehow having a name for it made me feel a little better. I felt like I’d discovered one of those profound things you discover about yourself in your 30s. My estimator. It’s broken.
So I’ve been working on it, and I estimate I’m 30% better—wait, I just recalculated—I’m 10% better at estimating time than I was two years ago. At that rate, I’ll have punctuality perfected by the time I’m 54.
Being a mother has also challenged my ability to predict all kinds of things. No matter what shape my estimator had been in, I believe there are some things I would have gotten wrong. Like the number of times I’d have to ask if the toilet had been flushed and hands had been washed. The number of times one of our children would pee on the church lawn. That I would someday fully understand so many references to wookies, droids, super battle droids, General Grievous, and the true identity of Chancellor Palpatine. And overall, I did not expect that I would be a much better parent before I had children.
Several years ago when one of our sons was just two, we were making the transition from crib to big boy bed. My parents had lent us a mattress and box spring, and before we assembled the bed, we had one propped up on the other like a slide, and then a fort. It stayed that way for several days before we put sheets on and made the transition official (Side note: my transition-izer is also in need of repair).
During this time when the bed was in his room, but not assembled, he took a purple crayon to the box springs and colored away. He was a really well behaved little guy, and had never done something like this before, so I was truly surprised. I would have been less dismayed, I think, if the box spring had belonged to us, but it didn’t, and also, one doesn’t color on box springs. Influenced somewhat by my interpretation of a friend’s sternness with her children, I saw this as almost a pivotal moment in which I taught my son the difference between right and wrong. Social responsibility and good citizenship were at the top of my mind as I scolded him. I imagined serious implications—for his future, and possibly society—if I didn’t impress upon him the gravity of the situation. Crayon on the box springs.
This story stands out in my memory because I overreacted, and because it represents a way of thinking that reveals more flaws in my estimator. For a long time, I overestimated the value of scolding. I underestimated gentleness. I overestimated correction. I underestimated my children’s ability to grow without critique. I miscalculated that effective teaching is rooted in love and example, and I didn’t trust in the value of mistakes—my own and others’. I’ve learned that my being angry that the toilet hasn’t been flushed and the hands haven’t been washed does not increase the frequency of the toilet being flushed and the hands being washed. I’m learning that compassion for myself is key to being compassionate as a mother, and essential in teaching our children to be compassionate with each other. I’m learning to take my own deep breaths before I ask them to take theirs.
I’m recalibrating for more patience before the mean voice, more gentle reminders before the stern ones, more appreciation for their cleverness and creativity, more respect for the things that matter to them. I’m still looking to the future, but I’m thinking more often now about how precious our time together is. And now I’m estimating how long I have to love and hold and snuggle these boys, and of this I am sure: it’s not long enough.