Care Bears and snow cones. Smurfs and Super Mario Brothers. Barbie and laser tag. Crimped hair. Debbie Gibson. Otter Pops. Yes, I was a child of the eighties. For better or for worse, I grew up on fish sticks and tater tots, canned green beans and 29-cent McDonalds burgers. I read the Ramona Quimby series and skipped rope. I twirled on monkey bars and scooped my hair to one side. I ran to neighbors’ unlocked homes, listened for the tunes of the musical truck full of cold ice cream. I learned about choices and consequences. Discipline and respect. Happiness and hurt.
Out of all the joys of being a child of the eighties, one of my fondest is the Choose Your Own Adventure interactive book series for young children. Unlike most books, you do not read from front to back. You skip to and fro based on decisions; choices in how you believe the story should unfold.
Let’s say you’re a princess and you come upon a castle. Instead of, at the will of the author, entering the iron gates, you can choose to: (a) turn back into the forest (turn to page 2, for example), (b) jump your horse over the castle (next page) or (c) enter the castle by way of a guard standing with a shiny sword (page 7). After the options are presented, you make your decision and move on with the story.
I remember at times closing my eyes, my heart thudding, and turning the page with hopes I made the right decision. I remember other times, confidence gleaming, knowing without a doubt which decision I’d make. I remember the thrill and disappointment, the surprise and under-whelming feelings for certain outcomes. But as I read and read through the stories, I realized there was no right or wrong decision. Each choice simply brought me to another experience.
Now, a mother adapted to the lifestyles of the twenty first century, I think of the ancient Choose Your Own Adventure series. Here’s a scene in real life: I am pregnant. Do I (a) have a natural birth at home (b) birth at the hospital with an epidural (c) Cesarean? We all face these decisions and many more. Which decisions do we make and what are the outcomes? What awaits us at the other side of the page?
Here’s another: My child is crying. Do I (a) shut the door and let him cry (turn to page 5 – so far I’ve never turned to this page), (b) scoop him up in my arms (page 4 – I turn to this page often) or (c) sing him my favorite lullaby (page 7 – another page I’m familiar with). And another: You decide to give your child new foods: avocado or banana? Sleeping arrangements: Co-sleep or crib?
Our motherhood experience is a series of adventures we choose. We are the authors. We are the writers of the story. In difficult times, do you laugh or cry, sing or spank? In easy times do you praise yourself, call it luck? Do you try certain things that aren’t working over and over again? Do you work with your child or take full control? Do you include your husband’s input? Do you listen to your intuition or follow a parenting book? Do you take a nap when your child sleeps or clean the house, wash the dishes and write a friend on Facebook? Each day, each moment is an adventure with options and we are able to choose where we go. We may not know what’s on the other end of the decision, but there’s a story weaving its path.
Even as the author of my own adventure book, I’m still shocked by the surprises that lie ahead. From the words of the Choose Your Own Adventure series “Every choice leads to a new adventure.” Motherhood can be a tragedy, a comedy, a thriller or an adventure. Choose with freedom; choose with forgiveness and with courage. Choose with laughter and playfulness, compassion and kindness. Choose with trust and confidence, with fear and doubt. Choose every way you know how, with your heart open wide, and know that you can always turn the page to another outcome. You’re not stuck. You’re never stuck. You haven’t finished the book. You’ve only just begun to write the story.