“Sorrow is a fruit. God does not make it grow on limbs too weak to bear it.” –Victor Hugo
One late evening when my child was seven, I decided to finally replace a fluorescent bulb from my kitchen’s light fixture. Here I am, an engineer, surely I can accomplish this minor household task, I thought, despite my procrastination. As bizarre as this sounds, I had never replaced a long tube fluorescent bulb and wasn’t familiar with these type of light fixtures. In great part that is why I postponed this. As a single parent, I have found myself in need of performing many “firsts” out of necessity.
I pulled the existing bulb, but met resistance. Upon closer examination I realized that the bulb ends were oriented in such a way that it required rotating the bulb, to line up with an opening in the fixture's track, in order to be released.
I was confident I had figured it out, yet it still did not release. I gave it a strong pull, which instantly freed it from the fixture, and then from my hands. It free fell onto the tile floor, where in slow motion it bounced repeatedly before the inevitable crash and loud pop, as it released a puff of mercury gas.
Startled, I scurried about like a mad bug caught in a spider web— not knowing which way to turn to escape both inhaling it, and the chards of glass beneath my feet. In my fright, I yelled at my daughter “Get out of the house!” as she sat sleepily watching TV in the adjoining room. Disoriented with my command, she was frightened. She came into the kitchen despite my, “Don’t come in here!”
I made my way to the front door to open it, yelling at her like a mad woman, to come to the door and stand outside. She was frightened by the darkness of the night, and the confusion of her mom’s bizarre behavior.
“Why?” she logically asked.
I was irritable and barked, “Don’t ask why. I don’t have time to tell you, just do it!”
Concerned that she might inhale or touch mercury, I took her to my bedroom where I told her to stay until I was done cleaning up. I closed the bedroom door, and heard her crying, “What’s going on? Mommy stay with me, I’m scared.”
I rushed frantically until all the outside doors were open. Immersed in doubt, not knowing what to do next, I thought to call someone who might know. Falling to stereotypes, I thought, Who are my male friends, whose wives won’t mind me calling at this hour?
Instead of risking becoming a persona non grata, I opted to call a single dad I know, but was frustrated to hear a recording, “The number you are calling does not accept calls from an anonymous number.”
“Drats! My number is private listed and it won’t put my call through!”
I called my brother-in-law (Thank God for him), who lives across the country, and woke him up. He was very reassuring and confirmed that I did the best thing by opening doors and windows to air out the house. [See here for proper cleanup of fluorescent bulb mishaps. Thanks to going green (insert sarcastic tone) we will be introducing more mercury into our homes as they take incandescent bulbs off the market in a phased approach beginning in 2012.]
I felt completely helpless and torn in half, hearing my daughter crying in the background, while needing to take care of matters immediately. The stark reality is that I was alone, without reinforcements. It is precisely in these moments where I am called to be superwoman, that I step up to the plate, but not without the sting of vulnerability.
When I was done on the phone, I took a timeout and went into the bedroom, where I found my baby tearfully squeezing a pillow. I apologized for yelling at her, hugged her for a while and explained what happened and why she needed to listen to my instructions.
Since kids are often slow in responding to parents’ requests, I told her that if ever in the future my voice sounds urgent, that she needs to act immediately on what I say, and that I promise to explain later when it is safe to do so.
Rubber gloves on, I proceeded to painstakingly pick up broken glass as I wiped the floor and countertops with soapy paper towels. The repetitive motion of my hand, transposed me into a trance-like state of distress and disappointment, as I wondered, Where have all the months of prayers for a loving husband found their way to? Have they merely dissipated into oblivion like the fluorescent bulb gases? Have they wafted into the atmosphere, disappearing into nothingness?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Fast forward several years later, my daughter suggested, “Mom you need to change out the bulb in the kitchen.”
I laughed, “My goodness! Do you remember the last time I changed that thing?”
“You don’t remember that whole fiasco? Me dropping the bulb and shattering it, and then I yelled at you to stay in the room, and you began to cry?”
“I kind of remember that you broke the bulb but that’s all I remember. I don’t remember you yelling or me crying.”
“Are you serious?”
“Wow! How amazing! I was sure that you would have been traumatized by this event. And here you are, not even remembering.”
After some silence I realized, “I guess I was the one who was traumatized by it...because I remember.” We both chuckled.
This experience taught me that there are moments in parenthood when one doesn’t handle things very smoothly or perfectly, and yet our children turn out okay. Not only that, they don’t even remember the incident because it doesn’t traumatize them as we sometimes guilt ourselves into thinking it will.
I believe that for our children to get over something, it’s imperative how we “close” on the situation. Granted, I freaked out initially, but I think that because I came back into the room to address her fears, and hug her, it acted as the closure she needed—answering her confusion and validating my love for her—never allowing something negative to take root.
Sometimes we parents can be extra hard on ourselves. We can’t be perfect no matter how hard we try. But our children are always ready to move on, as long as we (finally) address the situation in a loving manner and apply the healing balm of reassurance.
Copyright © 2011 Ella Venezia. All Rights Reserved.