Thursday, March 02, 2006


I never liked surprises as a kid. I enjoyed the anticipation of the event too much. Like many children, I made the construction paper chain where you counted down the days to Christmas, but mine was twice as long as normal and it started with orange and brown instead of red and green, to indicate how many days were left until Thanksgiving. I didn't want to know what my presents were in advance, but I loved seeing them ahead of time, shaking and prodding and sniffing them just for the hint of what was coming.

It seemed like the sort of thing I might outgrow, but it wasn't. It is a standing joke between my husband and me that he had to make an appointment with me to get engaged. Of course, when he tells the story, I always have to defend myself by explaining that he did choose to propose on the last Friday before finals week my senior year of college, which also happened to be the opening night of the Christmas choir extravaganza for which we'd been rehearsing for months. It was a busy day, and I was so afraid of losing the really important event in the shuffle that I gladly sacrificed the traditional element of surprise, to his initial irritation and (fortunately) eventual amusement.

Thank goodness for ultrasounds -- I still didn't like surprises when I was pregnant with Mary. Since I am slow to get on board with most new technologies, I wanted to do it the old-fashioned way and find out the gender in the delivery room. But when it came down to it, I decided to find out what we were having so I could be prepared, as much as one can be for the total joyous disruption of one's life. Getting to know her would be surprise enough for me.

Mary quickly made it clear that parenting meant being surprised day in and day out. If I didn't get used to it pretty soon, I was going to go crazy in short order. I had expected a calm, easygoing child who learned to read early and spent most of her childhood immersed in a book, just like her parents. (Anyone who knows Mary personally is probably already laughing.) Suffice it to say that Mary's personal theme song is "Wild Thing", she has proved herself capable of talking for three and a half hours without stopping, and her favorite time to practice her spelling words is while she's jumping on the couch. She is exuberant and loud and energetic, and her room is an explosion of color -- ribbons, beads, paper, and bright scraps of fabric decorate every available surface.

Mary was not what I expected.

Peter brought his own set of surprises. What he lacks in his verbal skills is balanced by a cleverness that never ceases to amaze (and occasionally appall) me. Before his second birthday, he was able to open a closed door, turn on the water in the bath tub, and pull the lever to activate the shower. At two, he moved a chair into the kitchen, climbed onto a counter, opened a cupboard, and helped himself to several chewable children's vitamins. Last month I caught him retrieving a banned toy from the top of the refrigerator via an ingenious application of couch cushions. And last week, he gained access to a coveted board game by simultaneously releasing two childproof locks on the kitchen utility drawer, removing a carpenter's tape measure, extending it, and using the metal tip to manipulate the hook-and-eye lock on the upstairs closet containing the game.

Peter was not what I expected either.

I didn't expect this much noise, this much mess, this many hours of unintelligible conversation. I didn't expect it to be so expensive or so exhausting, and I certainly never expected that there would be days I was tempted to see what the going rate for a three-year-old was on eBay. (Kidding. Don't worry.) I didn't expect to go to the emergency room so many times, or to know the number for Poison Control by heart, and I never could have imagined the nearly miraculous proliferation of small plastic toys in dark corners of the family room.

I also didn't expect the internal burst of joy at my daughter's first clumsy crayon drawing that included her baby brother. (He had no legs and was mostly head, but at least he was there.) I never could have anticipated the day she and I got a serious case of the giggles in the middle of a very proper restaurant, sounding more than a little like my sister and I did twenty years ago. I couldn't have imagined how I'd go completely still with surprise when my son, who had to be painstakingly taught all forms of affectionate touch, climbed onto the back of my office chair and began to gently stroke my hair, patting and smoothing and caressing in a way that I had not thought him capable of.

I still don't like surprises. I'd rather know what's coming, put it on my calendar, and gleefully count down the days. But I've realized that on the meandering path of mothering with all its secret bends and hidden marvels, many of the best things can't be predicted, and they wouldn't fit on my calendar anyway.

I am learning, albeit slowly, to delight in the unexpected.


At 3/05/2006, Blogger Church Lady said...


I will read everything you write.


At 3/05/2006, Blogger Brenda said...


Then I will keep writing.


At 3/05/2006, Blogger Church Lady said...

I'm set then!


At 3/06/2006, Blogger XSRocks said...

Brenda ~

Their creativeness is not so surprising, it's the age at which they resorted to outwitting you.



Post a Comment

<< Home