At the ripe old age of three, Margaret has begun to question the validity of some of my statements. When I tell her it is cold outside, she has to test the air herself before putting on a sweater. Her eyes hold a little doubt every time I explain why we need to wash our hands. And the poor girl was positively incredulous when I told her that if she whined one more time I was going to put her in her room until Daddy got home. ( I guess she believed me after the 40 minutes she spent on her bed waiting for Riley to walk through the door.) Sometimes I love that she questions me (Oh the spark! The independent thinking!), other times her uncertainty makes me a little sad (I am your mommy. I love you. Listen to me.) and still more often it drives me absolutely bonkers (But really. LISTEN TO ME!). I do empathize with the little girl. Parents aren't always the most trustworthy sources. Growing up, my dad's method for getting us to eat new things was to tell us that they tasted like candy. I still remember the meal where he had me convinced that green beans tasted like a jolly rancher until the moment I put a forkful of them into my mouth. Talk about disillusionment. I didn't always believe my parents. I thought they didn't understand, couldn't remember being young or were simply naive. I didn't know that someday I would be just their age, earnest and wishing my babies would take comfort, take care, take hope from some of the things I had to say. Looking back my mom and dad said quite a lot and most of it was even true.
5 things my parents said that weren't big-fat-green-beans-taste-like-candy lies:
1. You will be happier if you always assume everyone is doing their best. This comes from my mom. Growing up, I thought her Pollyanna mentality left her open to hurt and disappointment. It drove me absolutely crazy. Now, that same sunny outlook makes my days brighter and so much simpler. It also drives the people around me absolutely crazy.
Exhibit A: Riley and I driving happily down the freeway. Singing. Doing choreographed car dance movements. And then a speeding car cuts us off and Riley has to brake quickly, which totally disrupts our jam.
Riley (under his breath, we are civilized after all): What an idiot!
Me: Maybe there was an emergency and he is racing to the hospital. Perhaps he is trying to get to the church before his true love marries someone else. Or maybe there is a bomb strapped to his car and it will explode if he goes under 90 mph.
At which point Riley rolls his eyes at me and I am left to car dance alone.
2. We are blessed with work. I remember being five and doing the dishes with my dad. Handing him the plates gingerly, doing everything I could to avoid the half eaten food and splashes of water. He would take the dish from me and scrub and polish and shine. All the while water ran down his arms and the occasional fleck of food stuck to his hands. It was more than my delicate little soul could handle. (I was only fastidious when there was work to be done.) Dad saw my grimace and smiled. He dried the last fork and washed his hands. "Meggi, it is alright to get a little messy. That's why God gave us skin." Twenty some years later, I am beginning to understand that there is something glorious about digging into the work of this life. We have been given the ability to restore and create. I will get messy along the way and it is alright. That's why God gave us skin.
3. The second taco always tastes better than the fifth. As a teenager I was on the juicy, soft, really not that small, side of things. I blamed the extra pounds on baby fat, a slow metabolism and the gravitational pull of the moon. The cause really lay with after school snacks of ice cream, hot dogs and FRIED bread. (Note: My mom tried to get me to eat all manner of healthy and delicious foods. I was the one frying the bread.) My parents loved me in all my pleasantly plump glory. I did not. I cried when I tried on jeans. Sobbed when I bought bathing suits. Bawled when I watched She's All That. (Okay. I can't blame that on the weight...but I would like to.) My mom and dad talked to me about exercise, healthier eating and the joy of self confidence. I would listen intently and then go eat a second lunch of brownies and peanut butter. One night after more tears, my family and I sat around the table eating tacos. Delicious, greasy, can-I-get-another-scoop-of-guacamole, tacos. I had one and then two and then three and then four. When I picked up the fifth taco, my mom reached over and took it out of my hand. "Meggi. You need to learn to know when you have had enough." It was mortifying, shocking and exactly what I needed. I saw the world differently after that and have since applied her words to things much more important than portion sizes.
4. Don't worry. Life just gets better. There is so much more. They said this to me over and over. When I got second place in the 3rd grade writing competition. When the girls in ninth grade English made fun of my big bangs (they were huge). When my first boyfriend in college broke up with me.
And they were right.
5. I can always come home. The grade school slumber party. Pizza and popcorn and movies that I wouldn't be allowed to watch at home. It should have been a fifth graders' paradise. Instead, it was a midnight phone call, "Dad, can you come get me? I am scared." and waiting in my pajamas by the front door. My Dad always came right away. And my heart would leap when I saw his slept on hair and understanding smile. Those drives back to my house were a comforting lesson. I learned that no matter where I am or what I have tried, I can always call home and my parents will be there. Ready with understanding and love, even if it is in the middle of the night.