I was already flustered when we left the house last night to attend a friend’s 6th birthday party. Like the scene in The Blues Brothers where Elwood takes stock of their situation — “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.” — I, too, listed the current state of affairs.
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s welcome to the stage, The Blues Mothers. Tonight the role of Jake and Elwood will be played by Lisa Bartelt.
Here’s how the conversation in my head went:
“It’s 7:30 at night. My kids are usually in bed by now. They’re whiny. I’m tired. I’m hormonal. I haven’t seen my husband since 9 a.m. And we’re about to go to a pool party.”
Unlike Jake’s adventurous “Hit it” in response to Elwood’s assessment, I said to myself, “This might be the craziest thing I’ve ever done.”
In truth, I didn’t really want to do it. When we got the invitation and realized my husband wouldn’t be able to go with us, I wrote the party off as another missed opportunity, thank you seminary, and figured we’d have plenty of kids’ birthday parties to attend in the future.
But then my friend encouraged us to come, offering whatever help we’d need, and Phil encouraged me to go. He’s good at that. If not for him, the kids and I wouldn’t leave the house much by ourselves.
So, I thought, “Why not.” Earlier in the week, I even attempted taking both kids to an evening library program. My courage failed a little after that. Isabelle did fine, although we barely missed having a potty accident in the middle of the presentation. Corban, on the other hand, wanted to run around the library and empty the bookshelves. He settled for moving all the board books out of their bin into a bag and back. But by the time the program was coming to a close, he was tired and ready for bed.
This last bit of behavior is what I feared at the pool party. My kids are early risers, so even staying up late, they’re often tired the next day, and the farther we push past bedtime, the crankier and less patient we all get.
Still with me? Because by this point, my mind is way ahead of our bodies. We hadn’t even gotten in the car yet and already I was setting myself up for failure.
So, the party. We were a little early, which was fine. The kids played, I helped set up a little, we got our bearings. Even though we’ve lived here 3 years, we’ve never been to the community pool, so I surveyed the land and planned our approach to pool fun.
When the time came to enter the pool, the kids wore their floatie backpacks, although in retrospect, they didn’t necessarily need them because there’s a 1-2 foot wading pool in addition to the regular shallow/deep end pool. Isabelle stuck close to the birthday girl’s daddy so I could give most of my attention to Corban. But I don’t let my guard down easily, and I was constantly watching for Isabelle while I had one eye and ear tuned to Corban as he splashed and pushed a truck around the wading pool.
Added to my discomfort was the fact that I was the only woman with a swimsuit on. All the other adults in the pool were men — dads — and a grandma who just hiked up her pants to wade with her granddaughter. I felt like an oddity, and I really missed my husband.
Anxiety set in. Forgetting that I was 33 years old, a wife, a mom of 2, a college graduate, a successful professional in my field of study, a grown-up, I regressed and felt all the social pressures, fears and worries of preadolescence. I looked around at the other moms and felt like I didn’t fit in. I was wearing grubby get-wet clothes over my swimsuit — which I hate but it’s the only one that fits me right now — while they were all dressed in casual, comfy, stylish summer clothes.
Then my son put his face in the water and came up sputtering, and I felt like a bad mom. And I had forgotten his sippy cup and tried to teach him to drink out of a water bottle, which also made him cough and burp loudly. Chalk another one up for mom of the year.
By the time we left the party, I was almost in tears and could barely hold it together to tell our friends good-bye. It was almost 9:30, WAY past the kids’ bedtime. I knew sleeping in the next day was probably not an option. My only consolation was that my husband would be home to help put the kids in bed.
Kids have a way of putting things in perspective. Isabelle, damp from head to toe in her Dora swimsuit, walked in the door of the house and announced to her dad and our overnight guests, “We had a great time swimming.”
Later, I confided to the same group that those would not have been my choice of words.
My description of the event would have been: Worst. Idea. Ever.
But then again, I have a way of overdramatizing my life. And when I’m in an emotional downspin, everything seems worse than it really is.
I’d like to say the evening ended when we put the kids to bed. But around midnight, when our conversation with our guests had wrapped up and Phil and I were headed to bed, Isabelle emerged from her room, handed Phil a brown paper bag, which had contained the treats from the party. We, then, discovered she’d eaten probably 10 Hershey’s kisses and half a container of Tic Tacs while we’d been chatting away in the living room.
Her belly hurt. Go figure.
Around 2 a.m., she woke up again. So did her brother. Both were screaming for a few minutes before tiredness took over and they went back to sleep. Isabelle ended up back in our room because I was too weary to fight anymore.
Today has been OK, but the girl is resisting nap time, throwing a fit out of tiredness. If not for coffee, I might join her.
Looking back on the party, I realize that it was all about my attitude and perception of the events. I could have seen it as a challenge and an adventure. Instead, I viewed it as a circumstance I was pushed into. I could have embraced my role as solo mom for a night and even opened myself up to more help from others. Instead, I retreated into my shell and wore my disappointment for all to see.
My daughter doesn’t know the difference, but I feel like I failed her. And since this won’t be the last birthday party she’s ever invited to, I have to make a decision about my attitude now. Will I continue to live in the past, shackled by the insecurity of my youth, or will I break free and show my daughter how to confidently navigate the waters of social get-togethers?
I desperately want the latter. And it may mean revisiting the social failings of my childhood, or at the very least letting them go.
I have to remind myself what I know, what musician Jason Gray reminds me in a song of the same name: I am new. I am not who I was. I don’t have to be defined by my mistakes and failings.
What God thinks of me is what is true, and nothing else matters, not even what I think of myself.
I have the responsibility to pass that on to my daughter. To give her the chance to live a life based on her identity in Christ, instead of other people’s opinion.
Lord, help me, it won’t be easy. But, with His help, I will try.
And I will fail at times, which is OK. But I’ll get back up and try again.
Next time we’re invited to a birthday party, the outcome will be different.
Maybe I’ll have grown up a little by then.