Saturday, June 1, 2013

Learning to Laugh at Yourself and Other Things

I feel like so far parenthood has been one long string of I can’t believe’s.  I can’t believe I’m pregnant.  I can’t believe I’m a mother.  I can’t believe he’s starting preschool.  And now, I can’t believe Hudson’s starting kindergarten.

I’m nervous for him.  I’m nervous for him because he is usually nervous about everything.  I’ve been trying to talk it up and get him excited about it.

One night I was tucking him into bed and we were talking about kindergarten.
“It’s going to be so much fun!  You’re going to learn so much and make so many new friends.”
Then he said this thing that was so innocent and cute and adorable and I can’t tell you what it was because after he said this cute adorable thing I laughed and he buried his face in his arm.
“What’s wrong?  Are you embarrassed?”
“Don’t tell anyone I said that.”
Oh, how it hurt to see my child upset that I had laughed at something that I just thought was precious and sweet in its child-like innocence.

The most difficult thing about being a parent is seeing your own childhood repeated for your children.  It’s seeing your children struggle with the same thing that you struggled with.  The thing that took you your whole 34 years of life to overcome and really you still work at it everyday.

I completely understand his need to be perfect, to never mess up, to never look or say something silly.  I spent my whole childhood trying not to mess up.

When I was in 5th grade, we had punch cards.  If you got in trouble you got a punch in your card.  After so many, something bad would happen.  I don’t remember what that thing was because I never got punches.  Until one day I did.  I forgot to bring my Social Studies book to class.  I got one measly punch on my card and you would have thought I got thrown in jail.  I came home sobbing.  I went to school the next day still sobbing.  Even my mother finally said, “Sabine, it’s one punch.  It’s nothing.”  But to me, it was everything.  I messed up.  I don’t mess up.

Really, it’s not like I didn’t know I messed up sometimes.  I messed up a lot.  I said things that were silly and sometimes I was clumsy, but I didn’t want anyone else to know that.  It’s taken me my entire adult life to be okay with being human and now I see my son starting down that same road.

It’s painful.

I told him that an important part of life is learning to laugh at yourself.
“You know what? People like people that are honest and that can laugh at themselves.  And you know what else?  People that say they never mess up, they’re lying.”

I shared my own stories of silliness and embarrassing things I had done.  I told him about the time I put bananas and honey in my hair.  I told him about the time a lady in the Chinese grocery shop in NYC had to stop me from eating a raw dumpling (I thought it was cooked).  I told him about the time in high school when I walked into a glass door in front of a grocery store full of people.

I got my husband to share his own embarrassing stories.

“Momma, when I was at Kye’s house I saw a pretend snake and I almost yelled out because I thought it was real.  That was silly.”

That night he must have gotten out of bed at least 5 times to tell me stories of something that he did or said that he thought was silly or embarrassing.

So we’re getting there.  I think I’ve realized that this is more than a lesson in learning to laugh at yourself.  It’s a lesson in learning that he can be anything he wants.  Not that he can be an astronaut or the president of the United States (although I certainly hope that he knows he could be if he wants and if he works hard enough), but that he can be the kind of person he wants to be.  He may not be the kind of guy that’s comfortable laughing at himself or that comfortable around new people, but he can become that person.  He just has to be willing to work at it, to do it anyway even when it’s uncomfortable.

There are some things that he will have to learn to accept about himself.  Like that he will inevitably go through a lot of sunscreen.  Or maybe one day he will have to accept that he is too tall or too short for his liking.  These things I want him to embrace.  He can’t change these things.

The need to be perfect, to never say something wrong, that he can change.  You can learn to laugh at yourself.  You can learn to be ok with messing up.  You can learn to fail and not have it crush you.

I just hope it doesn’t take him 34 years to figure that out.