Accepting the Unexceptional

My boy is about 10 months old, and he doesn’t exactly crawl yet. He just rolls across the floor or scoots on his belly. He has a normal amount of teeth. He kind of says “mamamammam”, but he ain’t referring to me as he babbles. He sees the cat and says “kah” or “kee-kah.”

So far, he hasn’t set the world on fire with his precocity. I assume he will not be scooting to the prom on his belly, so I’m not worried. Sure, there’s something fun about having the kid who crawls at 5 months, walks at 6, talks in full sentences at a year and writes in iambic pentameter at 2. It’s undeniably cool having one of those stunning children about whom versions of the same story are always told: “We were out to lunch, and an agent said he’d be perfect for commercials.”

When my parents said they just wanted me to be happy, I kind of believed them, but empirical evidence showed me that they weren’t exactly bummed out when I won the spelling bee or the state poetry contest. Side note: Earnest poetry written by a 9-year-old from the point of view of a concentration camp inmate might win a contest or two, but could also be the worst prose ever written.

I knew where my bread was buttered, and in the land of American Jews, it’s buttered on the side of achievement. I don’t hold it against my people. My grandparents came here as immigrants and were thus obsessed with public displays of “making it” here in the land of opportunity. But it sucks when the only way to stand out or to be unabashedly loved is to become a concert cellist or a chess master.

One of my first epiphanies as a mother is that I am not unique. The bliss, the boredom, the sense of grief for the old life, the panic over poop color and rashes, the elation over milestones, the wanting to drive away and never come back between bouts of wanting to stare at his tiny face forever, this is basically how it is. I didn’t break the mom mold, and instead of needing to be different, I find deep comfort in being the same. While the banality of my maternal concerns can bore me, so can a good night’s sleep and a bowl of broccoli, and I need those things.

It follows that accepting my child for who he is will also be comforting in the long run. Most moms, most babies, toddlers, tweens, teens, young adults, old people, most of us will be unexceptional. We’ll all need buckets of love and acceptance just because, and not just because we have an eight-octave range or can dunk.

The thing I notice about Buster, the thing that makes me want to brag, though I usually manage to shut up about it, is that he smiles at strangers. And sometimes he just smiles at the front door. But he smiles. I can’t believe I’m not even slightly full of it when I say that this thrills me and makes me more proud than anything.

If my child is a happy person, if his little soul is peaceful and his moods moderately mild, if he enjoys himself and seems to interact well with others, I’ll be kvelling. Happiness has eluded me like the cat (mostly) eludes the baby. I grab at it, I eyeball it, I grasp it momentarily by the tail, but it outruns me and scurries away before I can get it to curl up in my lap.

I hope I won’t ever need Buster to do anything extraordinary, but if he keeps up the smiling and, by extension, the overall sense of joie, that will be good enough for me.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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