Faking it


As a kid, I remember imagining myself as a grown-up: I would be a veterinarian (I wanted to be a vet FOREVER, until I realized how much chemistry I would have to take to make that happen).  I would have a husband, who was always kind of a shadowy placeholder in my imagination, since I never had anyone particular in mind.  I would have a daughter, whom I would shower with all of my worldly wisdom.  And somehow I would magically know exactly what I was doing.

I guess some of that came true.  Instead of a vet, I became a librarian, because after my freshman year of college, I stumbled into a part time job  at the town library, and was shocked that someone was willing to pay me for something I enjoyed doing so much.  I do have a husband, who is thankfully not at all shadowy.  And I have a daughter, AND a son.  That part I never pictured. Also, I suspect my daughter is never going to be particularly receptive to my showers of worldly wisdom, given that my attempts to brush her teeth usually involve her clamping both of her tiny hands over her mouth and screaming, “No toobush!  No toobush!”

But the part where I magically know exactly what I’m doing?  I’m still waiting for that.  And I’m beginning to suspect a scary truth about becoming a grown-up: Most of us are faking it.

I like to imagine that this didn’t happen in the old days.  Those pioneer women who gave birth in the back of the covered wagon, then got up an hour later to fry up some bacon and brew some coffee over the campfire.  They knew what they were doing, right?  And when their husbands came back from hunting with, oh, I don’t know, a bear, they said, “Oh, no problem!  I’ve cooked bear hundreds of times.  Would you like that medium or well done?  Oh, and I think tomorrow I’ll start building that sod house we’ve always talked about.  I’m thinking brown curtains to match the dirt?”

Maybe I just never listened closely enough to my own mother’s worldly wisdom, but I’m pretty sure nobody ever told me that being a grown-up would involve so many things I had never been taught how to do.  Things like buying a car, or its even more nightmarish counterpart: buying a house.  Paying bills.  Taxes.  Saving for retirement/college/cat food in our old age. Insurance.  Car maintenance.  House maintenance.  Landscaping.  Gardening.  Pet care. Politics.  Social politics.  Getting and keeping a job.   Coming up with and preparing twenty-one tasty, yet nutritious meals a week.  And most of all: parenting!

When I was pregnant with my son, I dutifully signed up for all the prenatal classes: childbirth (where they made us put clothespins on our earlobes to simulate labor pains), breastfeeding, and infant care.  In infant care, we got to practice putting diapers on smiling plastic dolls.  The dolls did not roll over on their stomachs in the middle of the diaper change and take off down the hall naked.  Clearly my daughter never took the class.

After all of the classes, and a brief, but unpleasant stay in the hospital, we drove home with our newborn son.  Yes, the classes had taught me how to change his diapers, and how to carry him, and how to bathe him.  Breastfeeding was a lot more challenging than the class led me to believe, but a nurse in the maternity ward had helped us work out some of the kinks.  But the really important stuff: how to guide him through the next couple of decades without him ending up on the FBI’s Most Wanted List?  Yeah, the classes never covered that.

Parenting is a daily reminder of just how little I know.  Sometimes it’s in the form of questions I never thought about before: Do black holes ever disappear?  I don’t know.  Let me fire up the laptop. (What did parents do before Google?)  And sometimes it’s things I’ve never tried before: Mom, could we make an Angry Bird out of felt?  Well, we can try (never mind that it takes me two hours to thread the sewing machine.  Still, I’ve learned you can do a lot with hot glue).

But mostly it’s all the potentially life-altering decisions you have to make as a parent:  Should I take him to the doctor for this fever?  Should I sign him up for soccer/piano/swimming/Tuvan throat singing?  Does he have enough interaction with friends at school, or should I arrange more playdates?

I try my best.  I read a lot (one of the perks of being a librarian is that I have access to thousands of free books.  Wait, so does everyone else…).  I talk to my own parents, my friends, and the local mother’s club.  I know I am really so much luckier than those women in the covered wagons.   They were pretty much on their own, in an age where their only recourse in many cases, like illness and injury, was to hope for the best.  They had no phones, no Internet, no supermarket, and no directory full of specialists they could call on to say, resod the roof, or replace the wagon wheel.

Still, I think about those women a lot.  I’m pretty sure they complained less than I do.   Probably they didn’t have the time.  And although I like to think that they grew up learning most of the day-to-day things they needed to know to survive, I’m sure that in reality they were hit with just as many unknowns that they had to muddle through.  I think that’s what being a grown-up is really all about: muddling through the daily challenges, even when you aren’t quite sure what you’re doing.  You can always learn from your mistakes (and hopefully laugh about them) later.  And, hey, as far as parenting goes, that’s why they invented therapy.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gouthum Karadi
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 10:49:13

    They had far fewer surprises Ash; their biology and chemistry were better suited to their environment then we to ours. The unknowns suited to thousands of years of training and culture. Further, they also expected less certainty knowing how precarious our very existences are. I might die in shower this morning or in the tub this evening.

    Our lives involve a dizzying array of mindless bulleted tasks we could all do without. My greatest joy does not come from the technological terrors I manage and create, but from simple conversations with those I love. This has never changed and never will. Thank you for your thoughts.

    -Om
    Gouthum

    Reply

  2. headhaunchos
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 10:53:23

    love it! I somehow have managed to have 3 kids and I never even babysat prior to that. I am so blessed and proud of my 12,10 and 8 year olds mainly b/c they seem to not act at all like me. (although the 8 y/o is the running) My cussing seems to flow right over their heads and they don’t seem to notice all the broken things and state of constant disarray that we live in.

    Reply

  3. mandalaymai
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 15:58:00

    Gotta be talkin’ bout E! We were talking about how M was in kindergarten and they were learning the letter “F” in school (I think you can see where this is going). I still sometimes say, “Fish, farm and fu*k!” as those were the words she chose. And then had to admit that she learned it from when Daddy watches football.

    I think they could do a lot worse than act like you, Boss Lady!

    Reply

    • AnotherVulgarDaddy
      Aug 31, 2011 @ 14:28:13

      I made the mistake of wearing my Nashville Pussy (rather cheesy but fun and loud rock band) t-shirt around my son too much when he was in kindergarten, pre-K? Got called into the class one day to see where he had mimicked the shirt in giant letters on the chalk board. I ❤ PUSSY. He left off the "Nashville that is" part, lol.

      Reply

  4. Gwen S. Gain
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 19:09:33

    Ash, you clever one, your log was just swell! (A word we folks in the eighties used a lot.)
    I became a grown-up at the age of eleven, when your mother was born and I had two older sisters to show me the way, and three smaller sisters to look after whenever I was the oldest girl present. Little by little, over the next few years, I acquired three more, until Mother and Dad decided they had tried long ehough to produce a son. Having eight siblings, all girls, was the best training in the world. Wish you and I lived close to each other, Ash!
    Gunny.

    Reply

  5. Bill
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 10:20:58

    That ain’t fakin’. That’s goin’ with the intuitive flow, and still having time to write a well turned little essay. Kudos…

    Reply

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