I Have Evolved. Really. I Have.

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I do not have a short fuse. I have evolved. Really. I have.

I am aware that I complain a lot, but that does not mean I am angry. Frankly, the complaining is what keeps whatever anger I may be feeling from being bottled up and, subsequently, exploding.

Think of me, if you will, as a carbonated beverage. A guilty pleasure. Effervescent and sweet when stable. Put the contents under extreme pressure, shake me up, and I, like that bottle of Diet Coke, will likely exhibit what scientists call “volatility”. (I think that’s what they call it. What do I know? Do I look like a scientist?)

Sometimes working the bubbles into a frenzy is accidental. Like when you’re moving things around in the fridge to make room for the potato salad, and you inadvertently knock the bottle of soda to the floor. It happens. It is best, under these circumstances, if you want to avoid an all-out disaster, to release the pressure slowly, to let the bubbles out carefully. Cleaning up a  heap of sticky goo from between the tiles is time consuming and, let’s be honest, not a whole lot of fun.

Once in a while I find myself in a situation where my buttons are being pushed by someone (or, you know, a bunch of someones; a gaggle of someones). I feel shaken to the point of volatility.

Just the other day I was out shopping. In the course of my trip I began to wonder if some sort of strange magic dust had been sprinkled upon me as I entered the mall, dust that rendered me invisible to other consumers.

Why? Because several of my fellow shoppers, in a number of different retail establishments, either walked directly in front of me — like the woman in the shoe store who was eyeing the same pair of shoes as was I — or, in the case of one clearly deranged J. Crew shopper, actually pushed me aside in front of the chino display. (Pushed me aside! In front of the chinos!)

It is when I find myself in these situations that I must stop and make an assessment, that I must ask myself, as I feel the bubbles rising, as I sense the pressure building, is this behavior deliberately directed at me, personally? Or, is this woman in dire need of a pair of boyfriend-cut cropped chinos?

After checking to make sure that my fellow chino enthusiast was not pantsless, or that the other woman was not shoeless, I took a deep breath, unscrewed the bottle cap just a bit, and allowed the pressure to escape. I took charge of how I released the bubbles, slowly and deliberately, so as not to create a mess.

I decided that their behavior, rude and insensitive as it was, while aimed at me, was not, in fact, personal in any way. It was not sinister. Alas, I just happened to be the woman standing between them and what they wanted.

Reaching this conclusion calmed me. So did slipping the shoes into an empty slot on the Men’s Size 13 rack. If I decided to come back for them, I would know where they were; ill-mannered step-in-front-of-me-without-an-excuse-me-lady would have to commit herself to a long search to find them again. There was no need for petty subterfuge over at the J.Crew; there were plenty of chinos.

What then does a person such as myself, one given to volatility when mishandled, do when her bubbles are deliberately shaken? When there is no mistaking that the bottle of soda did not simply fall, but was pushed?

If  such a situation had presented itself a few years ago I would be telling you how the bottle erupted and I had to clean soda from every last nook and cranny in my kitchen, likely down on my hands and knees, which would have put me in an excellent, but unenviable, position to pray for forgiveness or beg for mercy, whichever was appropriate. In short, it — I —  would have been a mess.

Now? I just wait. For the bubbles to redistribute. For stasis to return.

Sure, sometimes I have to loosen the cap. I have to vent a little. Let some air out, allow some air in. It beats being down on your hands and knees, though. That’s for damn sure.

It can often be a delicate and, yes, uneasy process, but I have discovered that when I am successful at navigating the minefield of my emotions I feel at peace. I rest more easily. Realizing that nestling the soda behind the jug of milk, where it is less apt to topple over or go careening off the edge of the shelf, took me a shockingly long time to figure out.

Sometimes, though, I forget and I stick the damn bottle where it doesn’t belong. And I pay the price.

I am not suggesting that I have become a doormat, nor would I suggest anyone else should be (or become) one. Passivity is just as bad as overreaction. Sometimes you have to take a swig from the soda, say what needs to be said. It is simply that I have learned that not everything needs to be said; that it is perfectly fine to leave a little soda in the bottle, put the cap back on, and toss it in the trash.

Move along.

It is fairly easy to predict, and to control, how a bottle of soda will react in almost every set of circumstances. (It’s science, kids!) The science behind human behavior being far less exact than the science behind carbonation, it would follow that it is not so easy to predict or to understand how humans will react on any given day to any given thing.

We can change. We can throw a curve. We can also learn from our mistakes. We can be shaken, but choose not to explode. The carbonated beverage does not have any say in the matter. It behaves the same way every time. We do not have to.

What it took me far too many years to learn is that people have their own best interests at heart, their own motivations for their behaviors, which may directly or indirectly affect me, but which are hardly ever ABOUT me.

Most days I try to act like the sane grown-up person that I believe myself to be. If I find myself getting angry or frustrated by a stranger I can always do something a little loopy, like hiding those shoes. Because, you know, that was FUN!

If I find that I am getting fired up by someone close to me, I remind myself that there is a 99.9% chance that it is not about me. Because it hardly ever is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy the Becoming

NaBloPoMo14DayTwentyEightEveryone told me that I would see a significant change in my daughter, the always delightful Fangette, when she returned from college for Thanksgiving break. I didn’t believe them. I am that person who needs to see it, touch it, feel it for myself. And I have. She is (almost) a different person.

What can I say? I am a skeptic. Especially when it comes to parenting. I listen to the sage words of others, I just don’t necessarily believe what they’re saying. Even though history has proven them right. About (almost) everything.

Although I should certainly know better, I, too, waste my breath giving unsolicited advice which falls on the deaf ears of younger parents. I understand. They shake their heads in agreement, but their eyes tell another story. Their eyes say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ll just see about that!” Perhaps it’s just me? Maybe I just run with a crowd of polite cynics. I don’t think so, though.

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to impart some of the wisdom that I have gained in my eighteen years of parenting. I have managed to raise an intelligent, socially adept young woman. As if to prove my parenting prowess, my own progeny was sitting beside me carrying on an adult conversation with another human being. She had also successfully dress herself that morning.

I laughingly told my cousin (the mother of a pre-schooler and a toddler) who was chagrined at her younger child’s inability to identify certain letters, most colors, and stay within the lines as he decorated a Thanksgiving turkey (or, as he called it a “chicken” — I told him that he was just being silly, that every little schoolboy knows that chickens do NOT wear Pilgrim hats!) that she needn’t worry about this, that, or the other thing, that her child would put it all together at some point. Mine did. And, I pointed out, her older one, seemed just fine. I made a motion to indicate that my kid, no coloring genius herself, had, seemingly, turned out, in my humble opinion, more than fine. All evidence to the contrary, my cousin still seemed worried about the little guy.

I jokingly remarked that perhaps the little one just didn’t care. He’s got a sunny, vibrant personality. And, let me just add, he’s cute as a damn button. Those attributes ought to get him somewhere. So what if he can’t spell, discern purple from blue, or identify fowl? It’s likely, even if he never masters any of these skills, that he, too, will be just fine. It’s also probable that, when the spirit moves him or it matters to him, that he will demonstrate proficiency at these and other important tasks. Right now, though, he just wants to live in a world where The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are real. Me, too.

It was during my tete-a-tete with my cousin that I noticed that my father — a man who wouldn’t win any spelling competitions himself — was hanging around the perimeter of the conversation. He made a gesture. He was, I realized, pointing at his nose. What, I wondered, was he trying to convey to me? And then it hit me.

My daughter came home from college sporting a nose ring. What he was trying to tell me was that, perhaps, the mother of a nose-piercer shouldn’t be doling out any parenting advice. I just rolled my eyes at him and told him, none too quietly, that “tomorrow we’re all getting matching tattoos, Da”. I may have asked him if he wanted to join us. And then I laughed and gave him my best “West of Ireland sigh”. He may have thought me serious otherwise.

I tell you this story not to give the impression that my father is a humorless and intolerant curmudgeon, which he can be, but can’t we all? I tell you this story because it says a lot about how our relationship has evolved over the years. More to the point, it says a lot about how I have changed.

The fact that I laughed. The fact that I chose to interpret his gesture as a light ribbing, which I am fairly certain it was meant to be, instead of “fightin’ words”, speaks volumes about who I presently am.

Not so long ago I would have been angry with him. (And, probably, by extension, with the daughter.) I would have felt harshly criticized and, yes, judged. Now? Not so much. I honestly thought it was funny that he could get worked up over something as ridiculous as a tiny hoop earring in the nose of a college student.

Also, because my daughter is now 18 years old, I no longer feel responsible for what she pierces or tattoos. And, you wanna know what? I kind of like it. I was kidding when I told my father that we were getting tattoos, but I am toying with the idea of getting my eyebrow re-pierced. I let it close long ago. Maybe it’s time to rethink that.

Having my daughter home from college has been wonderful. A blessing. I missed her terribly. I will miss her when she leaves on Sunday. I do love the person who is emerging, though — nose ring and all. I am enjoying the new relationship that she and I seem to be forging. It’s freeing to break out of our old roles.

Snappy retorts to criticism and eyebrow piercings, aside, I’ve been rethinking a lot of things lately, most of them to do with my daughter. Mainly, what my ruminations have uncovered is that it is comforting to worry less about who she might become and concentrate, instead, on who she is today.

Getting to this place is a journey and one that we all must take ourselves. Some of us will arrive at our destination sooner, rather than later, but, like learning our colors or our alphabet, there’s no hard and fast timetable for it, really. Telling someone this, especially a newer parent, is an exercise in futility.

As far as I know my daughter has a handle on her colors and her alphabet; my cousin’s son will get there, too. We all learn the stuff we need to know eventually. Me? I’ve learned to laugh more and stress less. Mostly, though, I’ve learned that sometimes, as a parent, the nicest part of the job is when you can let go, sit back, and enjoy the becoming.