Friday, May 6, 2016

A Dangerous Word In Your Vocabulary (It Isn't What You Think)

Dangerous word

I was pulling out of the school parking lot when I saw them: a mother and daughter running hand-in-hand into the school parking lot. They were obviously running late, but they were laughing, and from where I sat behind the steering wheel, watching their hair bouncing in the wind, appeared carefree. I half expected music and to realize that it was a commercial for laundry detergent or some other inane advertisement.

Cue to a few weeks later. We are walking to school. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping. I’m pushing the wheelchair with one hand and motioning at my son like an air traffic controller with the other. My four year old, has inexplicably plopped down in the middle of the sidewalk and is refusing to budge.

“I’m tired,” he said, “and hot,” clearly oblivious to the fact that if he got up and walked his bum would no longer be planted on hot concrete in the beating sun.

In the midst of all this, my daughter pipes up with, “Those are honeysuckles. Right, Mama?” We have in fact taken this inopportune pause in front of a large patch of honeysuckles. Given the temperature of the moment, she is showing the good sense not to directly ask for anything, just to let the idea linger out there. I mutter a distracted “Right” at her while trying to prod her brother into motion.  At just that moment, I hear the bell. We are going to be late. My hair is not gently dancing on the breeze, it’s becoming matted to my head because I’m in the bright spotlight of the sun. Sweet loving.

Cut to another scene. I overhear two other moms discussing Mother’s Day. The one mom is lamenting how she always throws the Mother’s Day brunch at her house and that it is, predictably, a lot of work. There is tepid laughter and the other mom commiserates with a similar story of her own.

I spent a lot of years waiting for my kids, literal actual years when my arms stood empty. They ached to be filled. Often these days my arms feel overflowing. I’m holding book bags and homework folders and I’d be happy to wrap that present for the upcoming friend party if someone would just tell me where they put my dang tape!!!

Often in the moments I’m hunting for the tape or walking-not-walking to school, a word loops through my head.  I heard the same word implied in the other women’s conversations.
It is a dangerous word. It triggers negative emotions and bitter reactions. It’s powerful and it can lick through our lives, singeing what is.  It’s a word so innocuous we don’t even notice it.

“This should be so much easier.” “It shouldn’t take this long to walk from Point A to Point B.” “I shouldn’t have to cook Mother’s Day brunch.” “I should be the kind of mother who makes running late a fun, picturesque memory.”

The problem with “should” is that it is about expectations, not reality.  It’s about what you want, not what’s happening in the moment.

Someone once wished in another piece of writing that anytime we did something for the last time, a little light would come on to indicate we should mentally take note. The example given was that you typically don’t know that it’s the last time you’ll rock your child to sleep until after the fact when they've decided they’ve outgrown it. Wouldn’t it be nice, the writer had said, if a little light let you know when it was the last time.

At first blush, that does sound nice. But upon greater reflection, it isn’t. It’s really just a way not to be fully present in your life until you have to. A light like that, even an imaginary one, lets you coast, until you need to apply the brakes and give life its due.

The word “should” is like that.  It keep you from being fully present. It removes you from your present reality to a fantasy life built upon expectation.

Do I have to keep plowing through life with the tape always AWOL? No.  Do you have to cook Mother’s Day Brunch if you don’t want to? No. Order in. Get Costco muffins and fruit. Go out to eat. Have the men cook. 

But, don’t "should" on yourself. Don’t let anyone else do it either.

PS - A few days later, I did stop and get my daughter honeysuckles. Not because I’m a mom who should stop and smell the roses but because being the mom who stops and let’s her kids eat the honeysuckles when they aren’t late is the kind of mom I want to be. It's the kind of person I want to be. Maybe it's the kind of person you want to be. It's never too late. 

1 comment:

  1. I have trouble w/ the shoulds. I think those of us who are very Type-A generally do!

    - K.