Last time that the Awkward Grandparents were visiting, we got into a heated debate. It looked something like this:
Awkward Grandma: I fell asleep?
Me: Yes, I remember it vividly. I looked up from my big monologue, my only monologue, by the way, and you were sleeping. Third row, on the stage left side.
Awkward Grandma: No, that was when Awkward Uncle was in Our Town.
Awkward Grandpa: Well, it probably happened then too.
Me: No, it was a series of Horton Foote one acts.
Awkward Dad: Well, there you go. Who could stay awake during that anyway?
Awkward Mom: Wait, are you sure it wasn't Our Town?
Me: That was Awkward Uncle, and it isn't like I would forget it. It scarred me for life.
Awkward Mom: Well, forgive me for scarring you for life while I was working nights to pay for your fancy high school plays.
Me: Couldn't you have pinched her or something?
Awkward Grandpa: What? And ruined your big monologue with her screaming at me?
Me: The snoring wasn't a big improvement.
Awkward Mom: I don't snore. And anyway, I was awake for plenty other plays of yours.
Super Preschooler: What's a play?
Awkward Dad: It is kinda like a show, up on a stage.
Super Preschooler: Mommy was in a show?
I turn to face him and I can see the gears shifting behind his eyes. He is trying to insert me into his version of a play, which I can only guess is an awkward amalgam of Disney on Ice and this Shakespeare in the Park that we once walked by on our way to some swings.
Awkward Grandpa: Yep! She had a costume and everything.
I can see the floor dropping out from under Super Preschooler. He doesn't say a word (which you all know is one of the signs of the Apocalypse); he just stands there, staring at me, with unbelief and awe wrestling for control in his face.
Super Preschooler: Was it a pretty costume?
Awkward Grandpa: Ask Awkward Grandma, I am sure she remembers it better than I do.
Super Preschooler turns his enormous eyes to Awkward Grandma, who, without even blushing, pulls him into her arms and whispers, "Not half as pretty as your costumes, but it was nice enough."
That appears to be enough for him. He solemnly kisses her on the cheek, slips out of her arms, and comes over to me. He wordlessly stares at me for a moment (which is totally disconcerting), pats my hand, and then races off to play Thor with Super Toddler. Everyone shares bemused smiles and starts gossiping about some of the more crooked branches in our family tree, but I know what just happened. A momentous occasion just bloomed in our midst; quietly, like a rare night orchid. I just became human to my son.
In that moment, Super Preschooler accepted a side of me that isn't just Mom. In fact, it is a side from that murky time before children, that even I am having trouble remembering. It could be a previous life (a la Shirley Maclaine), as far as he is concerned; something mystical, even slightly fascinating, but not real and very hard to visualize. It isn't his fault. I think that I have mentioned how much like Super Toddler I looked as a child. Here is a refresher:
There are very few differences, even down to our love of cats. Here is how you make a picture of Super Toddler into a picture of Toddler Awkward Mom:
Step 1: Find a picture of Super Toddler.
Step 2: Find a red pen.
Step 3. Draw a huge birthmark on his lower left jaw line, about an inch from the chin.
Step 4: You now have a picture of Toddler Awkward Mom.
This causes trouble when one wants to reminisce or introduce one's children to memories. I will show Super Preschooler childhood pictures of me and this is what happens:
"Why did Awkward Grandpa let Super Toddler ride in the front seat of the car? I never get to, that is so unfair!" or "Why is Super Toddler wearing curtains? Aren't those the curtains from Great-Grandma's house? Well, they look like them. His hair looks weird too." or "What is that huge red spot on Super Toddler's face?"
It usually doesn't go well. But the idea of your parent as a child is a very difficult one to grasp. In fact, the idea of your parent as a person is a hard one to grasp, and it sure doesn't happen overnight. With just one story of my own mother's complexity, Super Preschooler has started the long road of knowing the complete me. It was bound to happen one day. It always does. The slow unfolding of a parent into a person. The awareness that your Mom is more than your Mom. There are levels and the process takes childhood and beyond.
There is that benign (level 1) awareness that happens when your best friend calls your mom by her first name. Maybe there is a polite Ms. in front of it, but it is still her first name. This new name of your Mom's sounds exotic, almost forbidden, so, of course, you experiment with calling her this name. The sparks that come flying out of her eyes are totally worth it. There are those moments when she cuts someone off in traffic, swears at the broken glass on the kitchen floor, can't figure out the Wii; tiny signals (levels 2-4) that she isn't merely the god-like creature who sweeps you into safety from the middle of bad dreams. The awareness that she isn't prefect culminates (level 5) on the day she can't fix your favorite toy. You are disappointed, but you get over it. It is nothing compared to the day (level 6 or 7), sometime around age 12, when you realize that her hugs and cookies aren't fixing your first broken heart. There are those explosive (level 10 or so) adolescent tantrums that reveal the true limits of your mother's patience, which seems to shrink along with the hems you are sporting these days. You run off to college or join that band (level 15), with full and complete awareness that she isn't perfect and is, in fact, totally lame. This softens (level 17) when she comes over and helps you pack your belongings the day you decide to break up the band and leave the drummer, who really is totally lame and can move that groupie in for all you care. Your admiration grows when she doesn't try to lecture you and makes sure to develop a sudden craving for ice cream on the way home, insisting that you be polite and help her eat it. You spend level 18-20 actually interested in all those stories of her life before you, around you, and even after you. You find yourself sad that time travel doesn't exist, but then you remember what happened to Marty McFly and you content yourself with the stories. By the time you have left home for good, to launch into a career she never thinks is good enough for you or to be with a person that she likes but would murder the second he/she hurt you, you have reached level 20, an awkward awareness that attempts to balance your annoyance with her flaws and your abundant adoration for her in spite of them. You rock on this balance the remainder of your life; precariously perched on an endless game of see-saw. Be assured though; she is rocking the same see-saw with you. She hasn't totally forgotten level 10. It is the circle of life, really.
We are really sorry that you now have the Lion King in your head. Just think of it as one more level of Awkward Mom to begrudgingly accept and love her in spite of. We look forward to getting to know and love all of you, Readers. At the risk of sounding preachy and Hallmarky, learning to accept other people as flawed and fascinating is a wonderful challenge for us all. Especially in an election year, eh? No worries, Readers; level 15 can take years to grow out of. Take your time, but make sure some of that time is spent here for our next blog entry. Same Awkward Time, Same Awkward Channel!