I had an epiphany today while dancing unashamedly to Do You Really Want to Hurt Me by The Culture Club in the middle of a fast food restaurant.
Parenting requires many sacrifices: most of them, while given willingly, are losses that we mourn for years. I haven’t slept more than six consecutive hours in four years. If one of the children doesn’t wake me up in the middle of the night for some insane reason like there’s a rhinoceros in my room, my legs are not sleepy, my teddy bear was thirsty, I thought it was morning even though it was dark, or I just wanted you to walk me back to my room, then my severely traumatized bladder does it for them.
I’m acutely aware of the sacrifices I’ve made for my babies; That was not my epiphany. What I realized while bouncing and singing along with Boy George was that not all of the changes I’ve been through since having my children are worth mourning. Some of the losses that I’ve suffered have actually made me a better and stronger person.
When I was younger I was terrified of being the center of attention. I never ran for student council, I never took a chance and asked out a boy, I never sang karaoke, and I never did anything alone if I could avoid it. There was safety in numbers, and I flocked to it. I used to gawk at people who would sit alone in a restaurant or a movie theater. What’ s wrong with them? I’d wonder. It never occurred to me that I was the one with the problem.
I once broke up with a boy I was crazy about because someone told me she thought he was ugly. It’s a dog eat dog world when you’re 15, and I wasn’t confident enough to challenge the junkyard mutts. It makes me sad to this day to think about that moment of weakness and I fully intend to retell this story when it comes time to teach my children about peer pressure.
Luckily, I grew up.
I went to college, I got married, and I brought two wonderful creatures squirming into this world. Suddenly I had more important things to worry about besides the opinions of near strangers. Once you’ve wandered around a hospital room naked, had more strangers groping at your private parts than a cheap stripper, and probably pooped on or near your husband as he leaned down to catch your newborn baby, you lose most of your inhibitions.
Cue The Culture Club.
I was sitting in the restaurant with my family, and about 30 random strangers, when my tired, cranky baby started fussing. I could tell from the crazed look in his eye, and the liters of drool pouring out of his mouth, that he was teetering on the edge of a very public melt down. What was a mother to do?
I took my slobbery little angel and dipped him upside down, to his squealing delight, and spun him around like we were on Dancing With The Stars. He smiled and giggled along with the rest of the thoroughly confused, but entertained patrons of the restaurant. Perhaps I should have cared what they thought of my terrible dancing or flat singing, but I didn’t. The sparkle in my baby’s eyes was the only thing I could see.
The positive changes don’t stop there. I used to worry about what I was wearing or whether my hair looked acceptable enough to be seen in public. Last week I left the house wearing slippers and didn’t notice until I stepped out of the car at the grocery store. When I was younger, there was absolutely no scenario in which I would be seen wandering through Meijer wearing my ratty, old slippers. Maybe Wal-Mart, because at least I wouldn’t be the only one.
I looked down at the fluffy, pink monstrosities on my feet. There was a Cheerio stuck to the left one and a stain I’d never noticed before on the right. Then I looked at my boys straining and whining to get out of their car seats and I realized I’d rather wear tissue boxes on my feet than listen to the screaming that would ensue if I didn’t get them out of the car in the next 30 seconds. It turned out to be the most comfortable shopping trip I’d ever taken. I’m secretly hoping the slipper shopping trend catches on.
Remember those crazy people who ate dinner and went to the movies alone? The ones I used to judge so harshly as a pack-minded teenager? Turns out those people weren’t crazy: they were parents who couldn’t get a baby sitter. Sometimes you just have to see Twilight that night, and nothing else will do. Luckily, since they were parents they couldn’t have cared less what I thought of them. So no harm was done.
Now that I hold two tiny lives in my hands every day I no longer feel the need to subject my every decision to the court of public opinion. I surround myself with people who love and support me no matter how I choose to dress my children, what I serve them for dinner, or how ugly they find my dogs, or my husband for that matter. Yesterday I was too tired to eat lunch. I certainly don’t have the energy or the inclination to worry about the judgments of others.
I’ve found that most parents aren’t looking for a fight. They get plenty of that at home. They just want someone to laugh with and occasionally sing along with in inappropriate venues.
Perhaps my life isn’t as glamorous or as exciting as it was before I had children, but I don’t miss my inhibitions. I love the freedom to sing and dance like no one is watching. I’m just sorry the rest of you have to see it.