If you’ve read my about page, you’ve heard about Wilma. She’s bossy and torments like a bully on the playground. She is rude and abrupt. The problem with Wilma is that she makes unannounced visits at the most inopportune times. She’s been known to show up as I am merging onto a crowded highway, or just as I am about to board a plane. She’ll interrupt what should be a peaceful kayaking float or a walk in the woods with her incessant nagging. She means well, you see Wilma worries, she worries enough for all of us. If I let her get her way Wilma would sit at home biting her nails, watching America’s Most Wanted. Wilma rents a space in my head, but like most unwanted guests she sometimes takes over the whole house.
As a single mom, Wilma has been around since before my daughter (fondly referred to as Dude) was born. We started out as close friends. She was quick with advice and motherly instinct through the toddler years, often stopping things before they could get out of hand. As Dude got older though Wilma became really intrusive. She’d ask things like “are you really going to just let her jump on a trampoline, what if she breaks her neck?” or “walk home from school are you crazy, she’ll end up on a milk carton!” it got to the point where she was questioning every decision I made. What’s worse is I noticed she was starting to push my daughter around too.
Something had to be done. I couldn’t just let her run our lives.
There were times she came in handy of course, like reminding us to look both ways and hold hands in a crowded festival, to have a meet up spot in case we got separated. She even helped us make an emergency plan in case of a fire, which unfortunately came in handy when we really did have one. She wasn’t all bad, but we needed boundaries and I didn’t know how to tell her. Until one day I inadvertently asked for help.
We were preparing to take a trip with my daughter’s school, this wasn’t like those choir bus trips we had done where I played the chaperone, disguised as the “cool mom” and the Dude, the mortified pre-teen. This one was BIG, passports, immunizations and 13 hour flight, 8 days overseas BIG. China BIG. You can read where that idea came from on the about page too.
Anyway, on this particular day I had found out that Dr. Staplin, the person leading the trip would not be in attendance, her husband had taken ill and she would be sitting this trip out. She had been to China many times, had even given a speech to all the concerned parents about what a safe and sophisticated system they had developed over the years for this sort of thing. She was our trusted assistant superintendent and possessed both authoritarian and maternal qualities, the matriarch of the school district.
I called her frantic, rather Wilma called her.
“I just don’t understand, what do you mean you are not going? Who will look after us, run the show? What if something happens while we are there, who could we possibly trust in a foreign country, with our children?”
It was as if Wilma had no regard for her situation at all; her ailing husband, the costs she’d incur canceling her ticket a week before departure.
Wilma had a one-track worry mind.
“Be Brave” Dr. Staplin interrupted.
“I’m sorry, what? How can you say that when so much is at stake?” I cried (no literally, I was sobbing). “we can’t possibly go on this trip without you!”
“Be Brave dear” she said again, in a sweet but stern voice. “Everything will be alright, you will go on this trip, you will have the adventure of a lifetime and you will come back and tell me all about it” she continued “but most importantly” she paused,
“you will show your daughter you are brave.”
It was as if she said, “here is a sacred gift and I am entrusting it to you to pass along to her.” No one had ever told me I could be brave. Mostly I had been told what I couldn’t do, so much so that over the years I had gotten used to others doing things for me, making decisions so I didn’t have to make the wrong ones.
I had never thought I had possessed this hidden super power she spoke of, bravery.
With that I apologized profusely for being a babbling fool, gave her my best wishes for her husband’s speedy recovery and promised to return safe.
“I know you will she said” so certain and so right.
Wilma moved out after that incident, but she still visits from time to time. With each visit I don’t hesitate to remind her of Dr. Staplin’s advice, I even tell Wilma she is brave too.
Sometimes it takes a near stranger, someone outside our safety net to show us our strengths and force us to confront our weaknesses. Dr. Staplin did this for me, as I am sure she did for many other cool moms over the years. She has since retired, but the other night as I sat in the beautiful performing arts center that bears her name, to watch the Dude’s college orchestra perform right here at her alma mater, I was reminded of a brave little violinist that sat on that same stage just a few years before and on one 6500 miles away.
Until next time,