Parenthood Part 3 – Do Something, Even if it’s Wrong!
Submitted by admin on Sun, 12/04/2011 – 20:50
It’s 1986 and I hand my mom a crumpled permission slip for the fifth grade maturation assembly. A week later all the girls are squirming and giggling next to our mothers. Turns out it’s kind of a letdown. Had I known the assembly was really only a pretext for opening The Talk, I probably would have lost the form.
Too late. In an hour Mom and I are home flipping through the booklet. She pauses and asks, “Do you already know how babies are made?” I’ve always had the feeling that my mother was comfortable with her sexuality but this conversation is awkward and we both want permission to skip this part.
“Yeah, I know all that,” and I did, mostly from calling my older brothers names. “Do you even know what that means?” They would follow up with enlightening, if not always genteel explanations.
She elaborates on male/female plumbing and in a rehearsed voice leads into, “Sex is a loving act between a husband and wife.” Uh huh. Then her voice shifts. I sit up. She is leaving the script.
“I hope you will wait until marriage. But Rhonda, I want you to know something. If you ever got pregnant or anything, I would always love you. I would never want you to be afraid to tell me. We could get through anything.”
Maybe it didn’t need to be said, but then again maybe it did. Maybe it was the most important thing a daughter could ever hear. I packed that conversation away like a parachute, ready to deploy in case I ever messed up big. And prayed I wouldn’t.
Six years later my dad and I are having a driving lesson in my new ‘79 rust bucket, just bought with eighteen months of after-school earnings. Before the exhilarating promise of freedom, though, I have to learn a manual transmission. So I’m trying to memorize his primer on how the gears work. Clutch in. Shift to first. Ease gas. Let clutch out gently. Gently! We lurch and I hesitate for a long time. He teases, “For cryin’ out loud, do something, even if it’s wrong.” Classic Hartley.
I get the hang of it and he has me slow to a stop, “Now crank the wheel right.”
I grimace, muscling it without power steering.
“Now drive ahead and straighten the wheel. Easy peazy, right? So tell me, is it harder to steer while stopped or moving?”
“Stopped,” I say in a “duh, Dad” voice.
He smiles. “I’m not talking about driving now, Rhonda. You’re almost grown, and you will be on your own in a blink. I just want you to know that you can correct for anything if you have enough faith to keep moving.”
His words hang in the air and he says, “Now drive us to Burger Bar. We’ve earned a shake.”
In another seven years I’m a young general manager in the company my parents founded, agonizing over a very difficult decision. I’m paralyzed with fear and I want their advice.
They listen and Dad says, “It’s a pickle, but remember that doing nothing is in itself a choice with consequences, but not of your choosing. Don’t lose by default.”
“But how do I know what to do?”
“You’ve thought about every angle so make your decision. Then talk to God. If it is right you will feel peace. Trust yourself and you will know what to do. Then have the guts to do it.”
As I stand up, his eyes twinkle. “Remember. He who hesitates is lost.”
I take action, make some mistakes and keep moving until six years later I have to deploy the parachute. I land in a crumpled heap on their doorstep in an imploded marriage, feeling humiliated, afraid and indicted. The voices in my head are merciless. “You are so stupid. Selfish. Weak. You knew better, but you just had to push it, didn’t you?” I fear everyone’s judgment and disappointing my parents. But I see no traces of these things in their eyes, only compassion and love for a wounded child. “You can rest here as long as you need. It doesn’t feel like it right now, but you will be okay.” I do not know whether their restraint comes easily or from practiced will, but they do not press me for explanations or push advice.
Another seven years later, I’m in a better place and have come to believe this is how God loves His children. I once thought He was like Santa making a list of the good and bad kids, preparing sermons about how we deserve our consequences for flaunting the rules. But a good parent, the best parents give us a parachute, a place to land and the courage to fix any mistake if we just keep moving.