Do you ever do something because it’s the right thing to do, and afterwards wish you’d taken an easier, less selfless route, as your well-intentioned plans backfire all around you?
I don’t mean big life choices like whether or not to take a year out to work for Doctors without Borders (à la every US medical drama), and nothing serious like whether or not to let your friend know that her fiancé is courting the chief-bridesmaid (à la every US medical drama love triangle sub-plot)
I just mean regular every day plans, particularly in the parenting domain.
Today was a beautiful hot day in Dublin, and I was lucky enough to be at home instead of at work. I considered what to do with the kids for the afternoon. I could take them to a playground, one with a coffee shop nearby for my benefit. Or I could arrange to meet up with a friend, so that I would have adult company for the afternoon while the kids played. But I decided that I didn’t need to get out of the house to entertain the kids, I didn’t need cappuccinos or grown-up conversation. We would spend the afternoon in the garden, enjoying the sunshine and each other’s company. I told the two girls that we’d wrap pass-the-parcel presents for the almost-four-year-old’s upcoming party and then we’d have a picnic of strawberries and ice-cream after all our hard work. “Yay! This is going to be the best day ever!” was the response, and I knew right then I had the mum-of-the-year medal in the bag.
I laid out paper, scissors, sticky-tape and prizes on a picnic rug, as well as chocolate so that there would be a prize in each layer (apparently you HAVE to do this nowadays). The girls started to argue about who would go first, and couldn’t hear me explaining that pass-the-parcel involves a huge amount of wrapping so there was plenty of work for everyone. Then the five-year-old got upset about how badly she felt she was wrapping her prize. I tried to explain that it didn’t matter, but the mood was dipping seriously low at this stage.
Then the baby toddled over and walked right through our “work station”, crumpling the paper underfoot and leaving with sticky-tape stuck to his heel and a melting chocolate in his chubby fist. The girls cried, I took the chocolate from the baby, he cried, he then fell on his bum and bawled. The three-year-old gave out to me for making the baby cry and the five-year-old said it was the worst day ever.
It really should have ended here – I should have thrown them all in the car and headed for the playground and the sanity of a cappuccino but I persevered. The crying continued, the baby became inconsolable for the rest of the afternoon – perhaps hot and bothered and confused on experiencing the first true summer’s day of his 17 months of life so far. The guy next door who is a few years younger and doesn’t have children was off work today too, and unfortunately for all involved he was in his garden listening to all of this. He had music playing and turned it up three times during the meltdown to try to drown us out, then threw me a pitying look when we passed each other out front later on. I don’t blame him.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve made what I felt to be the “better” choice albeit the harder road, only to wish I’d taken an easier option. It happens me all the time. Yet I continue to expect that if I do the right thing instead of what suits me, or push myself out of my comfort zone, I will be rewarded.
Like a conference I recently attended for work; I didn’t know anyone else there, so when lunchtime came, I was faced with eating alone. It was a buffet lunch, with people taking their plates to stand at high tables, so clearly very informal. I decided to be brave – the grown-up thing to do here would be to walk up to a table and join some other attendees. So I helped myself to some food, and approached a table with three women, as there was some space, and asked if I could join. They looked at me, half surprised, half bored, and said “no…sorry…some other friends are joining…”
I walked away, DYING. Like seriously, DYING. Not a big deal really but it was for me – it had taken a lot for me to walk up to strangers and ask them if I could eat with them, so the response, though by no-means ill-intended, was stinging my pride and burning my cheeks in equal measure as I departed, tail between my legs and confidence on the floor.
It happens with driving too – I’m not confident about driving to unfamiliar places, so when a my five-year-old was invited to a play-date on the other side of the city, my instincts told me to say no. But the RIGHT thing to do would be to go. And I’d be surprised at how easy it turned out to be, and delighted that I’d done it.
Long story short, a few hours later I was clicking the auto-lock from inside the car, driving along the scariest looking street I’ve ever seen and in a panic phoning my husband to try to work out where I’d ended up so he could direct me back to more familiar surroundings.
People always say “you’ll be glad you did it in the end” about life’s small, everyday challenges. But no more for me, I’m taking the easy option every time from now on. Apart from inviting fifteen small people for pass-the-parcel and homemade cakes at the upcoming four-year-old’s birthday party. Oh dear.