Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What I Signed Up For

This is not what I signed up for.

Whenever a particularly onerous duty falls my way in the course of my day-to-day activities as a mom/wife/general all-around household troubleshooter, this thought sneaks its way into my brain. No matter the roadblocks I’ve put up—this is what a mom does or this isn’t as gross as it could be, at least—the thought creeps in.

Yesterday the thought became un un-ending mantra as I carefully (and while holding my gorge) extracted a—and this is where it gets truly gross and I apologize—large and painful poop from my dog’s rear end (using about 6 layers of paper towels of course!!). The poor dog—incredibly constipated. (My fault, I’m sure—I let her eat several left over pieces of filet the night before from the girls’ unfinished dinner plates.) After a day of straining to get “her business” over with, she just made it worse. So when she finally did go, it didn’t all come out and—well, you get the picture. The poor thing was whimpering in pain. So my brave daughter Nati (whose express goal is to be a veterinarian when she grows up) held up Daisy’s tail while I did what I had to do. Eeewwwww. The dog felt better instantly, and quickly returned to her normal, happy self. And while I washed my hands in ultra-hot water at the sink, sudsing up to my elbows, that thought circle around in my head.

This is not what I signed up for.

It occurred later this evening when said-same lovely girl Nati “accidentally” twisted the handle off the bathroom faucet and water started shooting up (she was trying, she explained later, to see what would happen if she took the handle off—and I still don’t really know how she managed that—it takes a lot of strength. She’s 7!) Anyway, amid heaps of towels and hysteria (Nati is terrified of floods—my fault; I let her watch “Deep Impact” when she was four, and she’s never looked at water the same way), I managed to screw the handle back in, all the while trying to calm my screaming, sobbing child and reassure her that there would be no flood. The rushing water stopped—stopping the tears took longer.

This is not what I signed up for.

But fortunately, those moments are far and few between. But when they do occur, it confirms a simple truth: being human, we're all susceptible to the idea that somehow, some way, life hasn't turned out the way we'd thought it would (or thought we deserved). I for one (and I doubt many of the people I know) would have imagined when they decided to "take the plunge" that part of that new role might include frantically yanking towels off their ranks to stem the upward rush of a spouting bathroom geyser.

It's a simple truth that we all give tacit acknowledgment to, yet seldom seem to think applies to ourselves: life is hard. For some it's hard in tragically life-altering ways--a loved one's sudden death, the loss of what was thought to be a secure job, the breakup of a marriage, the devastation of one's entire life savings in a Ponzi scheme (ala Bernie Madoff)--and for others, it's hard in little ways that build up, up and up until the cumulative effect makes each day less bearable than the one before: a spouse that, day after day, year after year, works 14 hours days, comes home, works some more, and shares no conversation with you more in-depth than "Did you get the mail?"; a car that breaks down again and again and again; a thoughtless neighbor who lets their dog poop on your lawn despite your requests that they stop it or has one loud, ear-thumping, end-at-3am party after another, knowing you have a baby in the house; a relative who has made it his or her personal mission to dominate every holiday with their own bitterness and frustration. Life is hard because of both huge things and little things.

But's its all just life--that's my point. And all of us being human, it's easy to fall into the "this is not what I signed up for" trap. Don't get me wrong; I'm no Polly Anna eager to tell you to put a smile on your face and just muddle through it. And I'm not particularity religious, either--I'm the last one who will tell you "It's all part of God's plan. We can't see it now, but someday we will." (Having heard this trite phrase from several well-meaning but clueless people at my dad's funeral, I can tell you from personal experience that those words are not comforting. Sorry.) But I will say that if we understand--as friends, spouses, neighbors, colleagues and people who share the same block/city/country/world--that we're not the only one out there having a rough day, I think we will all better for it.

So what did I sign up for then? In life? In marriage? In parenthood? I signed up for the good stuff: the successes, both large and small, that give me enough energy to move to the next level--be it planning a fundraiser that brought in gobs of cash or making a recipe that actually tasted like it was supposed to; the small moments, like the way Daisy leaps with excitement each and every time she sees me even after the briefest of absences; the warm, sleepy goodnight kisses from my girls just before they drift into dreamland. The friends I love, the people I admire, the places I've been fortunate enough to see in my life.

So yeah, yesterday, I spent my fair share of thought-energy thinking This isn't what I signed up for. But then, when I really gave my day the thought it deserved, I realized that it actually was what I signed up for-- I signed up for taking myself out of the "center" of it, and putting someone else there. That's why even though "helping" Daisy last night made my stomach do the long, lazy flip-flop that tell me I'm about to puke, I didn't hesitate to do it because I knew she needed me. Or stanching the bathroom flood (both of water and Nati's tears). I signed up for letting the guy in the car in front of me ease in, and for holding open the door for the harried mother with three little ones and only two hands. I signed up for listening when an ear is needed, for advising when an opinion is sought, and for holding when love is the only thing that will make it "all better." I signed up for doing my part to make the world (my small piece of it, anyway) a little better than I found it--a work in progress, always.

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