Monday, October 5, 2015

Positvely Parental at the Chili Challenge

The morning had dawned gray, rainy, windy and downright miserable.

Ethan's soccer game had been cancelled, and the two older kids were acting like angry bears when I shared that despite the weather, I still wanted to go to the Chili Challenge on the town green. We try to go every year. Town businesses compete under their own (sometimes quite creatively decorated tent) for who has the best chili. Usually half the town is there. It's a fun fall thing to do, and the weather was supposed to improve.

They weren't having it. And I wasn't having their whining. After I lost an informal vote, I put my foot down and started acting downright parental.

"Sorry, a parent's vote overrules two kids' votes. Parents' prerogative," I said, then launched into a little Bobby Brown from 1989 ("I don't need permission make my own decisions, that's my prerogative...").

Yeah, I was feeling a little punchy. I just didn't get it. I knew, when I was Anna or Ethan's age, I wouldn't have dared to launch into the litany of whining, complaining, and back-talking that seems to well up every time they have to do something they don't want to do.

After much cajoling, we all made it into the car...and then Anna and I proceeded to get into an argument about an incident that shall remain nameless here, but resulted in lots of raised voices, huffing and puffing, tears, and unsolicited from comments from Ethan ("Is this even worse than when I bit Anna?").

"I just want to go home!" wailed Anna. So did I because honestly, this seemed like too much work. But no. We'd come this far.

"We are going," I said through gritted teeth. "We're going to take the next four minutes, and you're going to calm down, and then we're getting out of the car."

I knew we couldn't throw in the towel. They needed to learn a little self-control and a little about doing something they didn't want to do, about grinning and bearing it and learning to find something to enjoy about maybe a not so enjoyable experience.

Plus, I really wanted some chili.

We got out of the car and stepped into a huge puddle. The rain had stopped, but after a month of 80-degree September temperatures, 47 felt pretty darned cold. Anna calmed down, but Ethan started in.

"It's TOO COLD! The wind is freezing my face!!"

We pushed the stroller onto the town green. Chloe kept losing her shoes.

"Mama, two no votes should NOT get beaten by one parent vote! We voted no!" Ethan kept saying. I bought tickets and took a bite of my first steaming sample of chili.

Apparently the rest of the town was as crazy as I was. There was still a good crowd there. We saw some of Anna's friends (and Brandan C. -- or was it Brendon? -- Be still our hearts!). Ethan saw several teachers from school. Someone gave Chloe a balloon and Ethan a toy saxophone. At the Wizard of Oz-themed tent the Good Witch Glenda greeted everyone next to someone in a swirling tornado costume.

The chili warmed me. A promise of hot chocolate for the kids calmed them. Some snacks for Chloe kept her happy. On the steps of the town hall, two guys started playing 90s alternative hits from Oasis and Smashing Pumpkins. I looked over and saw they were my age. And they looked officially middle-aged. That depressed me for a moment and then I decided I really didn't care and started singing along to "Wonderwall."

As we walked and Anna ducked her head in embarrassment, I suddenly realized that there was no turning back. We had truly come full circle from my days of dragging my feet, walking behind my parents and glaring at their backs because they were so mean!

I am convinced now that becoming a parent happens in stages, and I think that's like anything in life. You have the title, but easing into the role takes time. You don't necessarily feel it. In fact, at first you feel immensely unqualified. Then you start to get the hang of things. Then everything changes again.

In little bits and pieces you start to understand a little better just what your parents may have been thinking on those days when you were convinced they were the most horrible, unfair people in the world. Over the years you suddenly realize that more and more, you're empathizing not with the child's, but the adult's, point of view.

And then there are those moments when you feel strangely, completely parental. It's not holding a newborn in your arms. For me the first was sitting at a desk in Anna's preschool while the teacher addressed me as "Mrs." That day I felt a bit like an imposter.

But that was eight years ago. As we walked on the green, my kids sniffling and whining and groaning as I sang along with Oasis, I realized after a decade I was getting this thing. I wasn't an ogre. My parents hadn't been, either. We're just imperfect people trying to do this thing, trying to teach our kids, loving our kids, and attempting to still take some moments for ourselves sometimes, too. Even in the form of some tiny cups of chili on a freezing, soggy day.

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