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When I was in college one of my classmates called me a cynic. I was immediately offended, but when I went home and reflected on his remark, I realized he was right. I was spending most of my 20s camouflaging the cynicism by calling myself cheeky or sarcastic. I told people I was just doling out the truth as I saw it. This truth, of course, was always of the overly skeptical, glass half-empty type.
If I was walking down the sidewalk on a beautiful day and someone pointed out a rainbow, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to look up. I most likely would have responded with “cool,” in the most pitch-perfect insincerity.
I was spending a lot of time fuming over the minutiae of my day. In my head, I obsessed over the details of a car cutting me off in traffic or the cashier at the grocery store who most definitely rolled her eyes at me. I stewed on these interactions, serving them up in conversation to family and friends, as if I were acting out an episode of Seinfeld. Except I wasn’t funny – I was sour.
Then I had kids.
And like most new parents, everyone from neighbours to complete strangers, showered me with parenting advice and clichés. They patted me on the back and said things like “being a parent is the hardest job you’ll ever have,” and “the days will be long, but the years short.” In time, I found all of their proclamations to be true. But something else was also happening. Feelings were bubbling up from under that thick layer of cynicism I had built up over the years.
I first noticed it in a drugstore while picking out a birthday card. As I stood there reading the poems and punchlines, my eyes began to well with tears. The messages I normally found to be hollow and lame began to mean something. I choked up so much that I finally just plucked a card from its slot without opening it, and paid for it using the self-checkout so no one could ask me if I was okay.
After that came the three-legged dog I saw at the park. Then the sleeping babies, snuggled on their moms’ chests in diaper commercials. A squirrel flattened on the road. A puff of dandelion seeds blowing in the breeze. The tears kept coming. I was an emotional wreck about the things I normally wouldn’t have given much thought about.
It had been years since my last child was born, the symptoms of any pregnancy hormonal imbalance had long since faded, so I turned to online mommy forums for answers.
Words such as “postpartum depression” and “anxiety” filled the screen, but their descriptions didn’t quite fit. I didn’t feel panicked. I wasn’t withdrawing from family and friends. In fact, I was eager to visit with them and celebrate my children’s milestones, and anyone else who made eye contact with me for that matter. I was waking up every morning wondering how I got to be so lucky.
Then, while I was driving one afternoon, I realized the cause for my emotional meltdowns was sitting right behind me – in her car seat.
“Look mom, a rainbow!” my daughter shouted.
I peered out through the windshield, but saw only a few clouds in the sky. I looked through the side windows, but still, I couldn’t see it.
“No,” she said. “You’re not looking.”
And then I saw it.
The distinctive arch shape of a rainbow, made by the wiper on the back window of the muddy car in front of me.
Those same feelings that emerged in the card aisle at the drugstore had surfaced again, and I realized that in the few short years I had spent with my children, they were helping me rediscover the unexpected pleasures in life. The hidden rainbows and perfect puddles. The liberating feeling of being elbow deep in Play-Doh. The art of spontaneous hugging. The fun in everything.
The fact that it might look like another rainy day here in Vancouver, but in actuality, it’s the perfect day for the beach because the sand would be wet, and that means we can build sandcastles anywhere.
Before children, I was missing out on all of this because I was too busy dwelling on the small things that made me unhappy each day.
Now that I have grown accustomed to this new outlook on life, the emotional outbursts have levelled out. Instead of crying over a flattened squirrel, I find myself hoping it lived a full life before it found its fate. I hope those babies in the diaper commercials grow up to love their moms always, and that I never get too old to make a wish on dandelion seeds.
Today I drive in the right-hand lane and I hardly notice the cashier at the grocery store. Instead, I’ll take a step back and watch as my kids help me haul the groceries onto the counter, and listen as the people walking past remind me how quickly children grow up.
As each day passes, I catch myself reflecting and soaking up these moments. There is no time left over to dwell on negative things. The insignificant things. My kids keep me focused on finding what life has to offer, even when it’s not so obvious.
I think about those old parenting clichés from time to time, especially the one about how my life would never be the same after having kids. And I’m glad.
I would much rather be looking for rainbows.
Angela Robertson lives in Vancouver.