By Rachel Wallace–Oberle
Sometimes when I’m with a group of moms and we’re swapping stories, I can’t resist contributing one of my most memorable examples of parenting finesse. Nothing strengthens the mystical bond of motherhood as much as the confession of an absurd predicament.
Several years ago, my husband Jay, and I, and our young children were traveling on the 401 to visit friends in the village of Ajax near Toronto. Thomas is notorious for his pit stops; it doesn’t matter how many times he uses the bathroom before we leave the house, invariably the plaintive call goes up mere miles down the road.
In anticipation of these emergencies, I make sure a paper cup or something is on hand, but on this particular trip there was, alas, no paper cup to be found.
“Thomas, you’ll have to wait until we get there,” I explained.
“I can’t,” he said desperately.
“You’ll have to.”
“But I can’t!” he wailed.
I wasn’t sure what to do. There was no rest area in sight and pulling over during rush hour on the 401 was unthinkable. Then I spied an empty plastic grocery bag in the back. My finely honed mothering instincts took over. “Here Thomas,” I said, rolling down the edges to make a potty, “we’ll use this.”
Thomas looked at me as though I was mad. “A grocery bag?” he squeaked in disbelief.
“It’s that or wait,” I replied. Jay was watching me incredulously in the rearview mirror. Barrett was doubled over in the front seat with laughter.
Thomas began to undo his little jeans, looking dubiously out the windows. Cars whizzed by oblivious to the drama unfolding in the blue mini van. Thomas began to utilize the grocery bag.
Everything seemed fine until I felt something soaking through my shoe. I looked down. A bright stream was spraying out of the bottom of the bag as fast as Thomas was filling it up. “Thomas!” I screeched. “There’s a hole in the bag!”
I will never forget the look on his face. He was utterly dumbfounded; the ludicrous situation had suddenly become too much for him to comprehend. “Hurry up!” I bellowed.
What exactly does one do with a leaking grocery bag of urine on the 401 during rush hour? It’s a dilemma of mammoth proportions, but in that dire moment, I made an executive decision. Once again my superior mothering skills sprang into action; I rolled down the window and heaved the whole shebang outside. The wind smacked it right back against the window I had just barely finished rolling up. Yellow rivulets streamed down the glass and whipped around the back to run across the rear window.
As if that wasn’t startling enough, a fierce gust then peeled away the still-dripping bag and hurled it across the highway where it bounced crazily off the windshields of several stunned drivers. Then it soared off into the distance, a curious flapping creature against the sky.
At this point, we were laughing so hysterically Jay was having trouble driving. “Look at it go!” Thomas shouted, pointing and howling with glee.
What is it about motherhood that thrills, amazes, stirs, and humbles? I’ve had my stall door in a public washroom flung open by Thomas as a toddler; dignity does a disappearing act when you're caught with a pair of pantyhose slithering around your ankles. I’ve reached into my purse at a social function needing gum to freshen my breath only to find empty wrappers and my children chewing happily beside me. I’ve toppled an overloaded grocery cart while turning a corner because my child was hanging on the side.
And like countless other mothers, I’ve plunked pungent bouquets of dandelions into Tupperware cups with tears in my eyes, taped pictures of grinning, toothless, stick figures with four strands of hair and club feet titled My Mother on the fridge, and worn necklaces made with string, playdough and love.
Growing up, convinced my mother was doing everything wrong and determined not to repeat her errors, I planned to be a paragon of exemplary parenting, a fount of wisdom, an unflappable mother. My children would be well-behaved, quick to listen, clean and neat, and refined. I remember one incident when Barrett and Thomas had a sleepover at my best friend’s. She informed me she’d caught them spitting at unsuspecting tenants from her fourth-floor balcony.
“They did not,” I protested, gathering up their pyjamas and pillows.
“They did too,” Cathy said.
“They wouldn’t do that.”
“They would so.”
“I have never, ever seen them do such a thing,” I huffed.
From the balcony we heard the unmistakable sounds of spitting. Cathy grinned at me. “Told you so.”
If anything, being a mother has taught me pride has no place, plans are made to be broken, rules change constantly, dreams don’t always come true, and zippers in snowsuits seldom last longer than six weeks. It’s a profession of bewildering yet exhilarating proportions; qualifications are unnecessary, recognition is rare, and quitting time is nonexistent. The demands are colossal, but they are dwarfed by the rewards. Every day is an adventure. Every moment is precious. Every child is unique.
When my children are parents, I anticipate they’ll make the same miraculous discovery I did: mom’s mistakes weren’t as dreadful as imagined. I hope they'll be able to say that in our home hurts and adversity were soothed with the ointment of laughter, love and grace.
If my sons can take their places in this world as men of honor and distinction, then I will have done well indeed. It’s a responsibility and a privilege beyond mothering or fathering; it’s the living out and the passing on of all that is admirable, true, lovely, and good of the human spirit.
At times it’s a challenge I meet beautifully, but often I fail miserably. I believe, however, the road ahead will always abound with pit stops and pitfalls; it’s the way it’s traveled and the tracks we leave that count.
Rachel Wallace - Oberle has an education in Radio/Television Broadcasting as well as Journalism/Print and writes for numerous publications. She also works in radio and for a foundation that provides assistance through sustainable development. Rachel loves walking, classical music and canaries.