It was 12:35 PM. Amy and I were sitting outside the chapel in the prayer garden at St. Mary’s enjoying lunch with the kids. All was relatively quiet until suddenly our oldest, Zach, came over crying. And bleeding from the head. In his race to clear the bushes ahead of his brother, he had caught the corner of the chapel wall and nicked his head nicely. As quickly as the accident happened, we headed over to our family physician, Dr. Blanke, to see if there was any possible way he had an emergency slot for a family lunch gone awry.
Upon reaching the waiting room, we found out that Dr. Blanke and his staff were in the middle of an interview with a potential recruit. But, in a true act of selflessness, he took Amy and Zach back to examine what would later require two stitches. 12:50. I had called my staff to tell them that I would be a little late to my 1 PM not knowing that my patient would arrive in his own crisis. Meanwhile, out in the waiting room with four young kids, I suddenly noticed peculiar, small, dark yellow nodules scattered on the floor. The realization that Will’s (cheap) diaper had exploded set in, and for the next few minutes I did my best to scrape up urine pellets from the waiting room floor. 12:55. Meanwhile, I noticed Noah talking to the elderly couple on my left. I heard him ask them how old they were, and I quickly reminded him that we didn’t ask adults this question. No matter. The man politely responded that he was 80. Without missing a beat, Noah replied,
“You’re going to die.”
Actually, I thought I might be the one going down. Long story short, Zach and Amy came back at the waiting room, and I quickly said goodbye as I rushed to my office where my patient was waiting. 1:20. Seated in my office as I tried to orient myself to the crisis that was being presented to me at this particular moment (not the one I was previously involved with), my direct line rang. Normally, I wouldn’t answer, but the number was Amy’s, and I was really concerned about why she would be calling.
“Do you have my keys?”
Somedays parenting is extraordinary for the number of things that can happen in just a few minutes. Taking a page from Cosmo Kramer, stories like these “have got to be true.” Fortunately, though, most days don’t rival the tale I have just told. But as I have mentioned before, there is little doubt that the essential elements of parenting are endurance, emotional regulation, and empathy.
But beyond these, two other essentials loom large. They are flexibility and humor. Over the years, I have admired my wife, Amy, for her ability to demonstrate both on a regular basis. I am still a work in progress. By flexibility, I am referring not so much for the need to meet our children exactly where they are (although this is important), but to the ability to meet ourselves in our own expectations and hopes, and then at a moment’s notice, be willing to revise a plan that is necessitated by what comes our way. Although our ultimate vision and ideals may remain intact, there is a particular type of flexibility that allows for one to go from expectation, to revision, to baseline, and then back again in a way that can truly take anything on. And do it again and again.
Yet in some ways, flexibility probably doesn’t occur without at least a little bit of humor, whether an internal chuckle or an outright blubber. It is the ability to laugh at the circumstances that have ensued and to know that parenting reminds us that sometimes we are only as important as the urine pellets we can clean off the floor. We are serious people with serious responsibilities, but at times we just have to laugh (even into stitches) at the humility it all provides, and the great stories it leaves to be told. Otherwise, we might live in fear of the next diaper to explode.