Sometimes in life we need an honest conversation. Life is full of polite coverage. The messy parts get avoided or skimmed over. You can’t always say things out loud, and there are also some things that you don’t even want to admit to yourself. But the best gift is that tiny moment of truth. Sometimes, you need to say it out loud. Recently, I got that moment.
We met a friend for drinks. He is the father of three daughters. His oldest is 4 and his youngest was born just six weeks ago. He and my husband have known each other since they were kids. They grew up on the same street. This friend was in town and he met us at the bar. No wife. No kids. Three gin and tonics and a lot of laughs and memories shared.
It was fun to watch them replay their childhood and share the easy conversations you can only have with old friends. Their memories revolve around playing ball. On teams at school, in the park, at the playground and in each other’s front yards. As I listened to them, I realized that those memories create the thread of their youth. This friend even went on to play baseball in college for four years. Playing sports was a huge part of his identity growing up.
My husband asked about his daughters and the friend started shaking his head. “Man,” he said, “I try to throw a ball around with them and it lasts about 30 seconds. They just have no interest.” He looked up at my husband and said, “Playing ball was all we wanted to do. Remember?”
Aaron nodded. “Yeah. I remember.”
The friend continued. “You know what’s going to happen to me? I am going to end up sitting at dance recitals!” he lamented, shaking his head. “Can you believe that? Dance recitals! I’m going to be a dance dad.”
This is when I chimed in. “I would love that,” I said. I looked directly at him. “I would give anything to get to go to dance recitals for my kid. Instead, I have to sit at baseball game after baseball game.”
He and I looked at each other and smiled. There was a pause. “Yeah,” he said. “Funny, huh?”
But it was freeing. It was freeing for me to hear someone else say it out loud and I hope that it was freeing for him to hear me say it, too.
This is like the third rail of parenting. We don’t go there. I, especially, never say those things out loud. I had a hard time getting and staying pregnant. These two gorgeous boys of mine did not come easy. I honestly feel so incredibly lucky to have my two healthy kids. They are fun, happy, a little nuts, and I love them so much sometimes I can’t even speak.
But the tiny piece of truth I rarely say out loud is that a part of me is sometimes sad that I won’t get to live out my childhood through them in a certain way. I get to use my imagination with them and I love that. We play with stuffed animals, we chase frogs, we watch movies, eat peaches and cream on the front step, pop bubbles, sing songs, tell stories and … I could go on and on.
But I spent hours in dance studios as a kid. I remember my mom and I in my basement as she helped me practice my routines. I even still remember some of the steps. I loved dance for years and years and it was a big part of how I spent my childhood. It was a huge part of my identity.
I had my older son in dance but he did not enjoy it. I’ve tried several times to encourage my younger son to try dance, but he’s even more resistant to the idea. So, the truth that I have learned to accept is that I probably won’t share that with my boys. The visions I had of sitting in my kid’s dance lessons or nervously going over their steps in my head as I sat in the darkened audience don’t seem likely to be in my future.
I also realize that many parents with a child of the same gender don’t get what they bargained for either. Just because your child is the same sex, doesn’t mean that he or she will have the same interests. It’s probably one of the first lessons we learn as parents. This is not about you. This is their journey and you are there to guide them, but they are their own beings with their own lives, dreams and interests.
And so we learn to move on. You find other things to share and other memories to make together. I have learned to enjoy going to watch baseball. I don’t relive my own memories but I love watching them live out their moments, create their memories and build their own identities.
But I have to admit that it felt good to share a tiny moment with someone else who understands. I am grateful for that nod, that sigh and that honest conversation.
Stephanie Olson is a mother of two boys who lives and writes in Seattle. She believes her golden rule in parenting “Just wipe it off on your pants!” will be her epitaph someday. It has gotten us through pretty well thus far! Read more of Stephanie's work on her blog, Ma Swell Vie.