Disappointment, Truth, And Chocolate Cake

Is it Monday yet?

Because I’m really, really done with last week. With the last fortnight, actually. (“Fortnight” – let’s bring back that word. Isn’t it delightful?)

In the last fortnight the members of our household have suffered: a (thankfully, minor) car accident, a decently bad fall, a fever, a mild stomach bug, an ear infection, a glass shattering high enough up that we needed to clean a fine dust of glass off half the kitchen, two thwarted birthday celebrations before we hit upon a successful one, enough internet connectivity issues to make me somewhat concerned for my mental health, and a pickle juice spill in the refrigerator. (You might think that last one’s silly, but you didn’t have to clean out the refrigerator.)

Lesson: Steer clear of our family right now. You don’t want to be standing next to us when whatever’s-coming-next happens.

Folded into that litany of woes were two great disappointments for yours truly: First, due to my boy’s little stomach bug, I had to miss Jen Fulwiler’s talk at the Catholic Information Center in DC. And second, what “should” have been a nice evening of board meeting/reception/birthday dinner/walk by the water/maybe-even-ice-cream turned into a sad, stressful, embarrassing couple of hours of trying to distract my boy from the intense pain in his ears. And stop him screaming. (Poor boy – he suffered all those ailments in the span of three days.)

However, as disappointments sometimes do, these gems helped me recognize a few truths:

1) It’s not so awful to miss out on a good thing when you do so for the sake of someone you love. I’m definitely an angsty, crying-over-spilled-milk type of person by nature, so I surprised myself a little last Monday evening when I wasn’t a whiny, resentful mess over missing Jen’s talk. In fact, once the decision to stay home was made, I relaxed. I gained some clarity. I left my dress laid out on the bed and took my freshly-made-up face downstairs to spend some time with my sickly boy. We snuggled on the sofa and read his brother’s new books. I don’t do that often enough – just sit with him on the sofa to read. It was a lovely silver lining to our disappointing change of plans and it felt so right and so good.

2) Small children don’t care as much about plans as grown-ups do. My middle son turned three last week. Because we had a commitment the evening of his birthday, I made a few days’ worth of birthday plans so we could fit in everything I thought necessary to “properly” celebrate the occasion. Then most everything went wrong.

On Sunday, when we were to have our birthday dinner as a family – spaghetti and “wochate cake”* and presents and all – our oldest son and Brennan’s mother were both unwell. They ended up half-way joining us for the meal, present but not entirely so. Most of the birthday boy’s gifts (all but the bedtime books) were put off for another day. We sang “Happy Birthday” tired and deflated and sad about the unwell grandma and the glassy-eyed, red-cheeked, somber little boy who just needed to go to bed. We ate just a little bit of cake.

When they don't eat their cake, you know they're sick.

You’ve got to be sick when you won’t eat your cake.

On Tuesday (the actual birthday), we were due to head to Annapolis. I was to attend a board meeting while Brennan watched the boys, then we were all to attend an informal little reception. Afterward we planned to walk toward the water for a pizza dinner, maybe some ice cream. But as soon as we arrived, (though he’d seemed perfectly fine all day) my oldest son mentioned that his ear hurt.

Soon, that little off-hand comment turned into full-on wailing. The poor child couldn’t stop moving; he seemed to be trying to walk away from the pain. He wandered around, screaming. “My ear huuurts! I want Daaaddy!” (Daddy had gone to the drug store for some Children’s Advil.) “I want to go hooome!” (Please understand that this might be the first time in his life that this child has ever uttered those words. Our little social butterfly would usually rather be anywhere but home.) I tried to help. I sat on some steps and tried to hold him, to comfort him, but he was beyond comforting. All he wanted from me was pain relief, but until Daddy arrived, I couldn’t provide any.

But the birthday boy? (Getting back to my point now – promise.) He was fine. I could wish that he’d had enough empathy to be concerned about his brother’s plight, but I’m really just glad he was fine. He followed us around wherever we walked, singing and performing and pretending that a formal little flourish to the concrete steps was a trophy he’d won racing back and forth across the lawn. He showed me how fast he could go. He threw himself down on the ground and rolled in the grass. He ate a little cupcake.

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He didn’t care that we’d driven so far for a couple of hours of confusion and concern and wailing. He didn’t care that we never got the pizza or walked along the docks or ate the ice cream. He was fine with pretending to be a race car. He was fine with the mini cupcake. He was fine with the chicken tenders he ate on the way home. He was fine with the frazzled, grumpy parents on his birthday evening. He’d been fine, too, with his sad little birthday meal on Sunday night. He was fine.

The plans, as it turned out, were for me, not him. He had people who loved him and wished him a happy birthday. He had a couple of presents. He had a “wochate”* cake. He was a perfectly happy little boy.

*(When I’d asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday, he answered, “wochate.” “A rocket cake?” I asked. “No, not wocket, wochate.” (They sound the same.) “Oh, you want a chocolate cake? We can do that! But what do you want it to look like?” “Wochate,” he repeated, “wiff eminems.”)

I obliged.

I obliged.

3) As hard as you try, as well as you mean, as much as you plan, sometimes taking your children out into the world is going to go horribly. I’m a very stubborn person. I tend to think I can just force something into place. I tend to think that if I’ve thought something through and tried very, very hard to achieve it, I will. And even though I know theoretically that everything can fall apart for reasons outside of my control, I really don’t expect them to.

So it’s not like I went into Tuesday’s meeting/reception/dinner plans thing on a whim. I usually don’t take my children with me to such events. (Or the mobile children, at least; I routinely bring my infants to meetings.) I’d arranged to have my husband meet me there to watch our boys during the meeting. I knew he’d enjoy chatting with some of the people at the reception anyway. I knew we’d be at a location where the boys could run and play with some freedom. I knew that my boys enjoy being around new people and that they’re generally well-behaved in public. I knew that we’d only be at the reception (i.e. my little people in the same space as all the grown-ups) for about an hour before we walked into the land of pizza and ice cream and water viewing. We weren’t there because of a thoughtless, “Hey, I want to do this thing! Let’s bring everybody, regardless of temperaments/accommodations/situation!” I’d thought it through.

But it didn’t matter! Just as small children don’t care about plans, neither do ear infections. My poor boy was caught unawares by a sudden onslaught of pain, and so were we.

I wish I could tell you that when my child was wandering around that beautiful place, wailing his sad little head off, he was my only concern. But he wasn’t. Though I felt horrible for him and hated how helpless I felt not being able to make him feel better, I was concerned about the other people at the reception too. I felt badly about our family creating such a distraction. I was embarrassed. (What a cliché we must have seemed: harried parents chasing after screaming children!) I was frustrated that I couldn’t force this situation back into place.

Just keep thinking about the cake.

Just keep thinking about the cake.

This must sound like another cliché, but I feel like I learn something new from this motherhood gig all the time. And even when the something isn’t entirely new, it becomes more present in my mind or more relevant than I’d previously considered. So it was during this (wonderful! terrific! ha!) past fortnight. And like so much of what I learn, this fortnight’s truths can be boiled down to one simple message:

“Chill, Julie.”

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One thought on “Disappointment, Truth, And Chocolate Cake

  1. Ay me! What a rotten time y’all have had (except for the ‘wochate’ cake, that looked amazing!) I hope that everyone is feeling better and things are looking up heading into the weekend. 🙂

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