Last week, Joe and I spent five days and four nights at a dental convention in the unbelievably warm Cancun, Mexico.
Joe booked this trip rather hastily back in November. Not a man to move quickly, especially when it comes to travel plans, I was suspicious. “Well,” he explained sheepishly. “There are classes.” I told him of course there are classes, it’s a dental convention after all. I told him not to worry one bit about lil’ old me, I would be fine reading on the beach. “Actually,” he said (even more sheepishly), “You have to go too. To the classes.”
So, for the past two months I’ve been joking about this trip to anyone who would listen. My mother-in-law and I giggled about how maybe I’d return with a dental degree and start drilling and filling. I told friends that Joe had either unwittingly signed us up for marriage counseling or a swingers’ convention.
Here’s the thing. I do not do peer falls or sing kum-by-a around campfires. I do not share. And I do not cry. Especially in front of a bunch of strangers, half of whom are dentists.
“These are the ABC’s of me, baby!” I chortled to Joe, using the same tone as Cuba Gooding Jr. when he talked to Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. He begged me to give it a chance. And when I didn’t respond to the begging, he got all huffy and said mean things like it’s Cancun for heaven’s sake can’t you ever be happy.
Well, I am happy to report it wasn’t so bad.
Set against the backdrop of dentistry, the dynamic consultant took us through a series of exercises to teach us gratitude and balance, how to acknowledge one another and create healthy deserve levels within ourselves. We learned about mindfulness and living in the moment.
On the second day they introduced us to the concept of Be, Do, Have and explained it as a belief system that most people put in the opposite order: we think if we just have something (like money), then we can do more (like travel), then we will be happy. Or we want to have six-pack abs, so we need to go to the gym, and then we will be fit. But in reality, we need to believe we are fit, then work out, and we will get those abs. (Assuming Oreos don’t get in the way.)
Studies show that millionaires think in be do have terms instead of have do be; they think like they’re rich, they do things aligned with their thinking, and then they have wealth.
We were encouraged to think of examples in our own lives. It was harder than I imagined; I wrote down “I want to have a career in writing, so I need to write a book, and then I will be a writer.” One of the coaches gently reminded me I was mixing it up, going backwards, that I needed to be something before I could do or have. I gave up and spent the rest of the time doodling on my pad of paper.
And before we knew it, it was time to come home. On Saturday we left Cancun and returned to the frigid tundra that is New Hampshire these days. Basically, we flew home to three C’s; cold weather, children. And the third, you ask?
Well, the third “C” stands for croup.
We walked in the door to exuberant hugs and shouts of joy. We unwrapped souvenirs and told Jack all the license plates we saw and explained that no, we did not learn to speak Mexican while we were away. In the midst of all the excitement, Charlie quietly told me his throat hurt. I looked down at my seven-year old and noticed he looked a little pale and his voice was hoarse.
By midnight Charlie was calling for us. His breathing was labored and strained, and accompanied by the terrifying bark that every mother who has ever walked the floors with a croupy baby can identify. And although this is probably his third or fourth bout of croup, it still didn’t make it easier on any of us. All I could hope was that the look on my face didn’t mirror the panic in his deep brown eyes as he gasped for air.
For hours we alternated between steam and cold to calm his bronchial distress. Bundled and blanketed, Joe held Charlie on his lap in one of the big black rocking chairs on the front porch, deeply breathing in the crystal cold air and looking for stars as I paced in my Ugg boots and bathrobe. All at once I was grateful for the glorious sub-zero air, grateful for the way it helped open my dark-haired boy’s lungs and soothe his seal-like bark.
As we headed back inside to try some more steam, Joe suggested I get some rest and told Charlie they’d play a game of chess to stay occupied in the heated bathroom. Charlie enthusiastically agreed, and as I headed back to bed he waved to me, chess set tucked under his arm. In a raspy voice he said, “Mom, Dad and me will be in here together.”
The next morning I woke and saw Joe had returned to bed sometime in the early hours of dawn, and together we listened as the house came alive with five small voices. It didn’t take long for them to realize that Charlie—normally the ringleader for morning games and activities—was sick. Quickly they sprang into action organizing his comfort and breakfast.
Under Joey’s leadership, they all trailed downstairs to the kitchen to plan Charlie’s meal. “He needs PROTEIN,” Jack declared loudly, and I heard Joey’s voice gently directing him towards the refrigerator; Jack yogurt is protein, pick a strawberry one, Charlie likes that kind.
We heard them traipse back up the stairs to present the tray of gifts to their middle sibling. “The food is SOFT,” Henry boomed. “Because your FROAT HURTS!” Rose asked Charlie if he was cold, if he’d like the brown blanket from the couch.
And all at once, the be do have sequence of my life snapped into focus.
As parents, we are constantly setting up have do be: I want to have happier kids so I need to play more with them and then I will be a better mother. I don’t know about you, but that way of thinking has never worked for me. And so hourly, daily, weekly, I disappoint myself.
But without even knowing it, Joe and I already are the parents we want to be. Even though sometimes we yell and nachos scare us and one of us is better at roasting turkey, we are modeling and teaching all the right things.
Just by being who we are, Joe and I have taught four boys and one rosy girl how to play chess and eat protein and to make soft things when someone has a hurt froat. Because we show up and do the very best we can with Jack and his autism every single day, they’ve learned to do the same. They’ve learned to zig and to zag, to give space for zoomies, to dearly love their unusual brother.
And now we have kids who watch out for one another and know strawberry is the right flavor and that the heavy brown blanket will keep a sick Charlie warm. Kids who understand what it means to be family.
This week I’m going to think about being a millionaire. I’ll keep you posted.