It was their 8th birthday. I forgot to order balloons. We were set to go on a weekend trip where I would compete (that’s a loose term) in a mini triathlon. I was just behind on life, and frankly by May 1st, I was exhausted and ready for the school year to be over.
I ran to the bakery to pick up the cake, the only thing I remembered to pre-order. I opened the box and there it was…. a mistake so weird, so random, so out there….
Happy Birthday Emily and Mayo.
Margo has been called a lot of things~ Margie, Marg-a-barg, Peg (as a joke that we started and can’t quite end), but Mayo?
The cashier looked at me expectedly and asked if everything was alright. It was perfect, I said. This cake was completely us.
We try to teach our kids to go with the flow, but admittedly, we are a family that craves routine. We learned about flexibility the hard way when the twins were small and routines had to be thrown out the window. Just as Amelia Bedelia dressed the chicken and drew the drapes, expectations were left with plenty of interpretation.
Before I had kids, my life was completely 100% in order. My house was spotless, my bills were paid on time and in full, my routine was predictable.
I think back to the dog days, with two babies in car seats, a three year old wearing her ballet leotard with tights on the outside, and how my life went from complete order to complete “Whatever. As long as you’re safe, clean, and happy, this day is a win.”
Then there was the day when I walked around Target completely oblivious to the fact that my toddler stuck a “try me” sticker on my chest. Did I get a lot of looks? Yep.
There was also the day when we thought we were crushing life, you know~ really dripping with overconfidence. We went to a restaurant for lunch (my husband and I each strapped down with a baby in car seat). I had a diaper bag and my purse, he had the hand of our toddler. As we walked over to our table (center of the restaurant, amid all the action) and before we even sat down, my three year old vomited everywhere. It came out of nowhere but struck her tummy like lightning to a tree. It seemed like gallons! Complete and utter pukefest.
We didn’t even flinch~ just turned around and headed for the door. It was one of those moments where everyone else in the restaurant must’ve thought they were being punked. No time to talk to a waiter, no time to ask for help, we just had to flee. As we walked across the outdoor patio, we were next to a businessman dining alone. He was on his phone, and I’m not kidding you, she puked again, about two inches from his Ferragamo’s.
Sorry Sir, no time for this. Back in the car we went.
My husband travels a lot for work. During those early days, he’d pack his suitcase and promise me that going to Fort McMurry in the dead of winter was no picnic, but I would have LOVED nothing more than to drive to the airport, board a plane (five hours of silence?), sleep in a sub-par hotel, and go to work! Enter my own humble lessons on flexibility. We learned to pick our battles, keep life simple, eat dinner at the Starbucks drive-thru (because milk + croissant + fruit is perfectly acceptable in France, and thus, in my life too).
Going with the flow might be a challenge at first, but so is the adjustment of getting married, having a baby, starting a new job, or bringing home a new pet. It’s less about the actual THING in front of you and more about how we choose to react to it.
We have to laugh.
We have to accept that the house will be a complete disaster when a friend pops by for an unexpected visit, and that the dog will likely pee on the new rug within 24 hours of unrolling it.
Can we help our children become flexible thinkers? Gosh, I hope so. Maybe as parents, our role isn’t always to fix… but to coach our kids to figure out their response. There will always be blunders, bloopers, unfair calls, peers who don’t say or do the nicest things. What is our role? How are we going to see this play out?
In another life, I would have probably freaked out over the Mayo cake and asked for it to be redone.
But what good does that do my child? Life is going to throw them all kinds of unkind curveballs. Perhaps teaching them how to deal with their emotions and reactions, how to think big picture and not get caught up in the moment, is actually a better plan. Our reactions will become their reactions.
It was just a cake.
We have to remember that these life experiences, whether big or small, silly or important, will either become teachable moments or really great memories. Even for my daughter, Mayo.
Jen McDonald is a modern calligrapher, home stylist and DIYer. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Houston, Texas. She has retired her “try me” sticker from Target and still forgets to order birthday balloons. Follow along on her adventures in family & home at www.instagram.com/jenmcd.letters.styling.home
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