Saturday, January 16, 2016

The spectrum of the unexpected

I love surprises. I love surprise gifts, surprise parties, and surprising moments. As I was telling this to a friend recently, he responded with, "so I should jump out and scare you sometime and you'll like it?"

No. Definitely not. I have never enjoyed being scared: not by my brother in a werewolf mask, not by scary movies, and never by haunted houses. Never. This got me thinking: why do I love surprises but not scary movies? Surprises tend to connote something good. Whereas scary movies often lead to something bad happening.  Being scared fuels fear, paranoia, and doubts about the goodness of the world. Yet whether I'm talking about surprises or something scary, they both involve the unexpected.

Unexpected situations in my life rest on a spectrum. On one end of this spectrum, we have good surprises. One morning, Seancito got up with his alarm clock at 6:30am, got dressed, and came downstairs to see me dragging the recycling out into -9 degree weather (real temperature).

Sean: Mama, is there something I can do to help you?

He can't melt the weather, but he sure did melt my heart.

Other great surprises include Frances discovering that her sweatshirt has pockets. This resulted in joyous shouts, shoving her hands in and out of the pockets, and quickly finding things to stuff inside. Or seeing a video of Audrey during her dance class, watching her return to this activity she loves deeply, beaming from ear to ear.

But the other side of this spectrum resembles the payout of a scary movie: a pit in my stomach, fear, and anticipation of despair. A flat tire on a -5 degree day. The dealership's inability to fix our van's sliding door, resulting in me womanhandling the door repeatedly in subzero temperatures. It's a miracle the cursing happens only in my head and not into my children's ears.

Recently Tom was gone for 9 days. It's the longest I've been without my husband since we were dating. It's the times when I'm dealing with the unexpected on my own that I most question my ability to roll with it. A child dumping soggy cheerios and milk all over herself and the floor quickly becomes a large event in the day, one that is peppered with anxiety and frustration, when I'm parenting by myself.

And a recent diagnosis of an egg allergy for Audrey has fluctuated on the unexpected spectrum. When the nurse called to confirm the blood test results about an egg allergy, I was nothing less than surprised. Flummoxed even.

me: Eggs? She eats eggs everyday. She loves eggs!
nurse: Well we know this is a low class egg allergy.
me: So you want her to take 2 weeks off eggs?
nurse: That's right. And then we'll go from there before we prescribe her an epi pin.

WHAT? How did we go from "the girl struggles with constipation" to EPI PIN?

me: Wait. What? She has eggs all the time, why would we need an epi pin?
nurse: Well just make sure you have Benadryl around the house -

This is the most bizarre conversation...

nurse: - in case she breaks out into hives, or anything like that. The doctor wants her to take 2 weeks off all eggs. Including any baked goods. You're just going to have to check the labels on everything.

This was one week before Christmas - the baking Olympics of the year. I suddenly thought of no "cheesy eggs" for Audrey in the morning. I thought of chocolate chip cookies. I thought of my mom's banana bread. Eggs are in everything, right? When Audrey got home from school that day, I told her what the doctor had said. She was still in her winter coat, hat, gloves, boots, still had her backpack on, yet she crumpled up in my lap.

Audrey: But I love eggs.

Tackling food labels and reinventing breakfast has been tricky, but we've done it. A two week trial of no eggs has turned into a year of avoidance of all egg products. I expected that breakfast would become the hardest part of Audrey's day, but she has handled no cheesy eggs in the morning quite well. The more unexpected thing was her behavior around the Christmas break, out of her routine, a ton of presents and sugar, traveling, and a constant reminder that she can't just pick up food and eat without checking with me and Tom first, that led to a rocky couple weeks of behavior from Audrey. Then Tom took a 9 day trip, and I suddenly had to reinvent how to parent this firey, sassy, bold 4 year old.

I felt fear, anxiety, and paranoia: I thought that perhaps all this rocky behavior was caused by me yelling too much at times, or being too hard on Audrey. Slowly over the course of the past 4 weeks, I've started picking apart my knee-jerk reaction to our kids, and tried taking a step back. Especially with Tom out of town, I've asked myself, "is anyone bleeding? has anyone done something to truly HARM another human being?" If the answer is no, then I've tried all sorts of new tactics to redirect, re-engage, and reconnect with our kids, most importantly Audrey.

On this spectrum of the unexpected, I don't anticipate or like the hard, scary things. However, I am beginning to see that good things can come from even the situations that create anxiety within me. Life can't be full of good surprises, but the more seasoned of a parent I become, the more I'm surprised at my capacity to deal with the spectrum of the unexpected.