Welcome to 300 Prompts – a weekly writing exercise to answer one of 300 prompts in a book I purchased. I’m supposed to write the answers to each prompt in the book, but I’m a mavericky-maverick who prefers keyboard to pen and paper. It’s a slow process, but eventually, I’ll get through the entire book, and hopefully be a much better writer at the end of the journey.
This week’s prompt is a question about questions. What stupid questions have you heard someone ask (or asked yourself)?
Want to play along? Feel free to answer the prompt question in the comments below, in a comment on social media, or on your own blog – and share the link in the comment section.
And away we go…
I was raised on the idea that there are no stupid questions. Almost all of us say that, but inevitably someone asks us a question that causes our eyes to roll so far back in our head they nearly roll out. So are there or are there not stupid questions?
To be perfectly honest, I can’t think of any actual questions. Not because someone didn’t ask me a question that made that eye-rolling-thing happen. But because I don’t retain that kind of information for longer than a minute or two. See, I look at my brain as a series of filing cabinets. There is only so much space in their, and for every new bit of information I file away, something else will probably be archived. The stupid questions of the world aren’t worth filing away.
That being said, I know when I consider something to be a stupid question…
Did I already give you the answer and you weren’t paying attention? This happens all too frequently with Aidan and his constant quest to know what the next meal is going to be. Once I’ve answered the “What’s for dinner?” question for the third time in an hour, being asked again will result in the eye-rolling, long exhalation, and (possibly) grumpy answer of, “I’m not telling you that again.”
Is the answer in front of your face and you’re oblivious? This one is highly subjective, and I realize that – I never said I was perfect, y’all. So what might be obvious to me could completely escape someone else. When I’m feeling charitable, I concede that might be the case and don’t think, “What a dumbass question.” But more often than not, I’m left a little bewildered and slightly concerned for the person asking the question. Are they dumber than a box of rocks? I hope not.
I have no doubt I’ve asked a stupid question before. Many, in fact. Possibly several today alone. But it’s not something to dwell on (read: don’t point them out to me if you do remember). I think we’re all entitled to a few stupid questions now and then.
I’m not often afflicted with Mom Guilt™ – sometime between Aidan’s birth and Sean’s, I kind of got over it. Well, mostly. At least I’m not consumed by it anymore.
But I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that sometimes I think I can do better, and so I try to do better, only to make myself crazy and the boys crazier.
It’s better to own who you are and be the best possible version of it than to twist yourself into knots being what you think you’re supposed to be – according to the world and/or Facebook (which sometimes seems one and the same).
It was a realization I came to when I finally admitted that the whole work-at-home-mom (WAHM) thing wasn’t going quite like I expected it to.
I thought I wanted to be a WAHM to spend more time with the boys. I was going to stop watching their childhood zip right past me and be right in the middle of it.
Of course, as someone who can’t fathom the idea of volunteering at their school, baking 50 cookies for a bake sale, or whatever the hell else it is I thought was going to happen, I’m really not sure what I expected.
There were supposed to be more afternoons reading to them.
We were supposed to make stuff, do stuff, and go places.
I was supposed to actually see the different stages they go through, instead of hearing about it after they were in bed.
After more than a year of this, I figured a few things out…
I’m not the arts and crafts mom.
I’m not the bake cookies at 3pm, watch them ride bikes at 3:30 mom.
I’m still not the read to the class, volunteer at school, share lunch in a loud cafeteria mom.
What I am that I wasn’t before is present. I’m a presence in their lives, a meaningful one – instead of just a shadow which is how I felt most of the time.
I don’t just hear the funny things they say. I get to watch their developing personalities: Aidan wants to be liked by everyone and has big dreams of making a billion dollars with video games. Sean is a hardcore introvert, stubborn, and a prankster who really doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks of him.
I might not be the one teaching Aidan how to ride his bike, but I’m the one that takes care of him when he falls. Hell, just being around to watch him pedal his heart out and become more fearless every day is pretty amazing.
I’m watching Sean learn to read and enjoy school, while remembering the lessons learned from the trial and error that were Aidan’s first years. I’m getting out of the way and stepping in only when he really needs help. He’s smart enough. He doesn’t need me to hover, only to be available.
The moment I realized that being who I am (not a joiner, not a coddler, not an overly maternal person) is exactly what they need, any feelings of guilt faded away.
I have, now, what I didn’t have before. I’m here when they need me, and I’m strong enough to shoo them out the door when I know they don’t. (At least for now, when they’re 10 and 6 and it’s easy. Who knows what will happen in a few years when shooing them out the door means they don’t come home at night anymore.)
For me, it’s more important to be present than it is to be in the middle of the action.
To say that we’re not big fans of the great outdoors in my family isn’t completely accurate.
John loves to fish and kayak, and if his back would let him, he’d be out on a river or lake every weekend. The man used to make his own fishing lures, fishing pole holder-thingys (it’s a technical term), and own his own kayak. Back in the day, at least.
Aidan and Sean are a little bit like me. They’ll go outside, but only if their friends are out there, Easter eggs need to be found, or if they’re going door-to-door
begging for candy trick-or-treating.
Me? I like nature – as seen through a glass window from the inside of a temperature-controlled home. Okay, not totally true. I enjoy walks through the neighborhood and sitting on the beach, under an umbrella. That counts, right?
A random Monday with no school – aka Teacher Workday – and I’d let John use my car. Home and carless. I was also jonesing for a sweet tea from Dunkin Donuts (my near-daily habit). I had a brilliant idea!
Let’s all three walk down the street – a 15 minute walk at most – get ourselves a little something yummy from Dunkin and walk back! The plan had everything – fresh air, movement, and sugary crap that would keep us all high as kites until the pre-dinner sugar crash. I was so proud of myself for thinking of it.
Out we went, striding down the sidewalk with purpose, passing little old ladies, dodging cars. It was great! It was an adventure!
And then…shit happened.
Something splatted against Sean’s hand – and mine, which was firmly holding his because the walk might be an adventure, but a 6 year old darting into oncoming traffic is not.
We both looked down. It was brown. It was white. It was slimy.
It was bird poop. Bird poop, y’all!!
And from the look of it, that bird ate something that didn’t agree with him.
Slime covered Sean’s wrist and forearm, and my fingers, thumb, and (hand to God, I’m not making this up), a spot on my shirt, right at nipple level. Fuck you, birds!
We were in the middle of the sidewalk, the Dunkin Donuts was in sight. We simply had to get there. I would not freak out over bird shit – not in the middle of a sidewalk with the sun steaming up the joint and boob sweat becoming a very real issue. Nor would I vomit all over the place, because I figured that was ten times worse than bird poop.
Sean held his hand up for me with a horrified expression on his face, silently telling me to Do Something. I’m a mom, right? We do the things that need doing, even if and especially when they’re gross.
I wiped his hand on my shirt. Oh yes, I did.
Now I had more than boobie bird poop on my shirt. Great. Just great.
We continued our walk where I promised we would wash our hands the moment we arrived. Sean refused to hold my hand anymore – fear of contamination, I suppose.
At Dunkin Donuts, we cleaned up, ordered our sugary crap that I was no longer enthusiastic about, and quickly made our way home. I was spending too much time too damn close to bird poop.
Aidan, who never felt the slimy touch of bird feces, made me check him everywhere. “Just in case, Mom.”
Aidan: “Oh my God, Mom, when I realized bird dookie was on you and Sean, I was so worried it got on me!” He shuddered in horror. “I just don’t think I could handle it!”
Sean: “Why did my birdie friends POOP on me, Mom? Why? That’s not very nice! I don’t think I can be their friends anymore. Why are we even walking? Walking outside isn’t a good idea.”
Aidan: “I have to agree. I don’t like walking outside, and if we hadn’t come on this walk, I wouldn’t be worried about having bird poop on me. And, ugh, now I’m sweating.”
Sean: “Sweat isn’t cool, Mom.”
Mental sigh. Faster pace. Time to get home. Now.
We arrived home, to everyone’s delight. I slammed my stuff down on the kitchen table and ran to my bedroom.
“I’ll be right back. I need to change my shirt!”
Aidan: “Why, Mom? It’s just bird poop.”
Sean: “Yeah, Mom. It’s fine. It’s just bird poop.”
And that is why we should never go outside again.
Welcome to another 300 Prompt kind of day. It also happens to be a very special day – my mom’s birthday! I won’t tell you her age (because that’s rude) but I will say she’s 19 years older than me and I will be 36 by the end of the month. You can do the math. Love you, Mama!
I like this week’s prompt – Were you born to shine in one special way? What makes you really stand out? – and I like that it falls on my mother’s birthday, considering she’s partly responsible for the answer.
Want to play along? Feel free to answer the prompt in the comments below or on your own blog (and share the link in the comment section). And here we go…
Back in the day, waaaaay back, when I was the straight A student who thought grades proved intelligence, I thought the thing that made me special was how smart I was, how easy school was, how involved in school I was. School, school, SCHOOL! Then I went to college and met people so much smarter than me. At first, I was threatened and walked around with hurt feelings. Then I realized that the crap they tell you in high school about needing to be at the top of your class, be in all the clubs, and Do All The Things was big fat lie. Yes, you need that to get in to college, but once you’re there, very few people give a crap about what you did in high school, certainly not your professors.
I had to rethink what made me special – my thing that made me stand out. Sure, I’m intelligent but it’s not the defining feature of my uniqueness.
Once I graduated college, got married, and got a “real” job (also known as the life-sucking-make-you-hate-life job), the thing that made me unique was my work ethic – or so I thought. I showed up early, left late, forgot to eat lunch, and killed myself for every job I had from age 20 to age 34.
Working hard is what you did to get ahead (and survive). It’s how you proved your loyalty and your desire to move up the company ladder. A work ethic is (still) a rare trait in many places. I valued the people who had a similar work ethic – they were often my closest friends. But I didn’t understand (then) that work ethics like mine and others aren’t valued by many organizations.
Oh, the people in power certainly appreciate the hard work – but they also know they don’t have to pay you much more than you’re already making because you’re clearly willing to work hard at your current rate of pay. They also know they couldn’t find someone to do all the things you do at your rate of pay, so anyone new would have less responsibilities or a higher rate of pay (or both). At a certain point, my own work ethic became a detriment. I killed myself for companies that appreciated me but couldn’t or wouldn’t do much more than pat me on the back. Well, hell, pats on the back don’t feed a family, put shoes on growing boys, or send anyone off to college.
I decided to take my work ethic and apply it to the one person who could most benefit from it. Me.
Working for myself definitely required this crazy work ethic bred into me by both parents. The willingness to keep going through illness, tragedy, and zero positive feedback is test of character.
I went freelance. Digital marketing, then writer. Work ethic is important when you work for yourself, but I’ve come to new realizations about work and productivity. I spent years “working” on tasks, projects, and assignments that had little value and definitely weren’t productive by any stretch of the imagination. Now that I work for myself, being a work horse is still important, but definitely not a defining trait. I need to be productive rather than put in a lot of hours.
My abilities as a writer may be decent, solid even, and they’re definitely still growing and improving, but they aren’t what makes me special at all. There are thousands of writers out there better than I’ll ever be. No, I’m not hating on myself – just acknowledging that I’m not the end-all, be-all.
So what is my strength, my unique thing that makes me shine?
I think it’s my ability to be honest with myself, even when admitting the truth sucks.
Yes, I’m an intelligent woman, but I’m no MENSA candidate. Graduating at the top (or near enough) of my class in high school and college certainly didn’t guarantee any amount of success later in life. (And success is a squishy concept that means something different for everyone.)
Sure, I can work my ass off for the right person, company, or cause but so do other people. And sometimes working yourself into the ground is the worst possible thing to do – for a variety of reasons. Especially when it teaches the less savory among us that they’ve found someone who will keep working without extra benefits, pay, or anything that acknowledges their contribution to the success of the organization. Even worse, working that hard to do things that don’t matter and don’t further the goals of the organization is a massive waste of time.
I’m a writer, a decent one, getting better all the time, but many people write.
I’m a thinker – but not an innovator.
I’m a good mom but I have no desire for the Mom of the Year Award. Never would win that thing anyway – my kids eat junk, weren’t breastfed, and ride their bikes without helmets which means I’m out of the running, lol.
But what I am, as often as I can be, is honest with myself. I’m just as fallible as anyone else, and denial is a powerful force – it’s the only explanation I have for staying in a bad relationship for 12 years.
The difference, though, is that once I open my eyes and take a good hard look, I can point out my every flaw (some of which are imagined and seen only by me) and my best qualities. I admit when something isn’t working and try something different. Oh, don’t be mistaken – being honest with yourself doesn’t hurt any less when you realize you’ve screwed up. It just means that you recognize the problem. And recognizing the problem is only half the story. It’s what you do about the problems that really count.
I’m brutally honest with myself. Sometimes, it sends me down a spiral of near-depression because I always want to be better than I am. Other times, it spurs me on to try something new, think new thoughts, and change my outlook. I’m constantly evolving and changing on some level, even as the core of who I really am stays the same.
I know I’m not always right, and I acknowledge that I may be wrong. (Which is why I rarely share my thoughts on controversial matters unless I feel strongly that I can back my opinion up with something other than talking points from memes on social media.)
At the end of my life, the best thing anyone could say about me is probably, “She never lied to herself and she knew exactly who she was.”