BY CHERYL DUMESNIL
I’ve stomped into the kitchen to tell my wife Tracie this: “Guess what I just found out? One of the requirements for chaperoning B-man’s overnight field trip is that you have to own a car that can seat four children. How is that fair? Just because I choose not to drive a gas-guzzling SUV I can’t chaperone the trip? I mean… ”
But before I can list all the reasons that I would be an awesome chaperone, and how they are totally missing out on my chaperoning awesomeness because of their ridiculous policy, T cuts me off: “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.”
I slam the brakes on my monologue, squealing to a stop at a conversation crossroads we’ve come to many times in our thirteen-year relationship.
I would call this junction “Tracie’s Utter Disregard for my Feelings.”
Tracie would probably call it “Derailing Cheryl’s Neuroses-Fueled Diatribe.”
At this intersection, I have several options:
1) Get sarcastic: “Guess who skipped the ‘Compassionate Listening’ chapter in the Lesbian Relationship Playbook?”
2) Formulate a therapist-approved ‘I statement,’ like “I hate it when you do that.”
3) Pick up the shattered pieces of the conversation and continue: “Anyway, as I was saying . . . ”
Of course, option three begs the question, “What was I saying?” which brings me to the option proven least likely to drive us into an argument:
4) Pause and reflect.
As I was saying: I’m pissed that I’ve been disqualified as a chaperone for our eight-year-old son’s first overnight field trip.
And, yes, I realize that “I’m pissed” is a thin cover for “I’m scared.” As in: I am terrified by the thought of sending our first born on a 150-mile road trip with his class, during which he will 1) ride in the car of a parent with a questionable driving record (not really—the school administration checks these things out first), 2) take a treacherous pontoon boat cruise through an ocean inlet teeming with testosterone-amped, territorial harbor seals (also not true—I’ve been on this cruise before; it’s perfectly safe), 3) spend the night in a hotel room filled with strangers (a.k.a. classmates and parents he’s known for three years), 4) hike barefoot in a bacteria-filled marshland swarming with flesh-sucking leeches (except he’ll be wearing shoes, they won’t go in the water, and nope, no leeches), and 5) if we’re lucky, he’ll return to his school, traumatized by the fact that neither of his mothers had been there to tend to his every need for a full 36 hours. If. We. Are. Lucky.
And, as usual, once these thoughts have washed through the spin cycle of my brain, I find myself pissed about something else: Tracie is (sort of) right. I mean, the tone of her statement sucked big (we will talk about this later), but the content was annoyingly accurate: instead of continuing to draft my editorial for the Soapbox Herald, I need to un-bunch the fear behind it.
Being of the genus parentus overprotectus, subtype sapphic variety, I’ve met this fear a least half a zillion times. Like the vast majority of PO/SVs, I worked hard to become a parent. Not just the meticulous fertility charting, the needle-in-haystack search for the perfect donor, and the near-obsessive (okay, yes, totally, completely, and mind-fryingly obsessive) insemination planning, but also the three miscarriages I suffered before our two beloved children came along.
Once those kiddos finally, seemingly miraculously arrived, I had an overwhelming urge to fit them with helmets, safety goggles, and padded, fire-proof coveralls, then tether them to my body using a wire that, if in anyway compromised, would trigger an ear-splitting alarm, just to be sure that I didn’t, you know, lose them somewhere.
For me, each “letting go” step of parenthood has been fraught with a certain, well, PANIC!
Case in point: our eldest child’s first day of school. Not unlike my peers gathered on the school yard, I shed a few tears as B-man crossed the threshold into his classroom. Unlike most of my peers, I then walked to my car, slumped over the steering wheel, and sobbed for a full half hour. I proceeded to reenact this scene for about ten days, during which period the tears were not confined merely to drop-off time. My eyes welled up multiple times throughout B-man’s five-hour-and-twenty-minute school day, always accompanied by this thought: I worked so hard to get him here; how can I possibly let him go?
When I mentioned this phenomenon to my therapist (yes, rest assured, I had one), she suggested that given my history of pregnancy loss, those inevitable letting go moments would be hard for me.
In the years since, I have learned not to trust the PANIC! response, but instead to read it as a sign that this mom needs to be gentle with herself and fair to her children as they move through their character-building rites of passage, like a first overnight field trip.
It would not be fair to B-man for me to insist that he needs me on that trip. He doesn’t. He will be well cared-for by his teachers and the carefully-selected (gas guzzling, SUV-driving) parent chaperones whom I have come to know, trust, and love. I can rest assured that B-man is perfectly capable of advocating for himself when he needs to, and experience has taught me that coping with discomfort helps him build his confidence.
In other words, as anxiety-inducing as it can be, I know that my letting go allows my kids to grow.
In fact, if I can get these panties out of their bunch in time, maybe I can send B-man off with a smile and a wave, expressing my enthusiasm for all he’s going to learn. Who knows? Maybe I can even wait until the SUV pulls away, before I slump over my steering wheel and sob.
Poet, writer, activist and educator, Cheryl Dumesnil is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Love Song for Baby X: How I Stayed (Almost) Sane on the Rocky Road to Parenthood.” She spends her free time jumping on a trampoline and telling potty jokes, because the sound of her kids’ laughter makes her really, really happy.