If I had to describe myself in a single word, I'd proudly say "capable." That may not seem like the most desirable of all human qualities, but I find that it works for me. Give me a task or a responsibility, and I will ensure that it is done and done right.
This quality made me an excellent junior associate when I practiced law. All someone needed to do was provide me a general overview or outline of the task at hand, and I would follow it through to completion, making sure all the I's were dotted and T's were crossed. For the most part, it makes me a pretty useful person to have around. I'm certainly lacking in other useful qualities--take creative thinking--but if I surround myself with people who can point me in the right direction, I can get the job done.
I think the fact that I identify myself this way is why I find parenting so hard--I so often feel incapable. Just when I've figured out babies, I have a toddler. I figure out toddlers, and I have an eight-year-old. If I ever figure out this phase, I'm bound to be knocked silly by pre-teens and teenagers. (I shudder at the thought.) These little humans really should come with an instructional manual so I have some idea of what to expect next.
It's this lack of knowledge that is such a bitch. I think about how many more pediatrician visits the first child had than the second. When you haven't seen something before, you don't know whether or how much to worry. By the second kid...that horrible cough? It's croup. Seen it before, don't need a doctor visit. Hand, foot and mouth? It's a virus, it will go away. Nothing you can do until then. Fever? Is it 106? No? OK, give some Tylenol and call the doctor if it's not gone in three days. If I have knowledge, I feel more in control, more capable of handling the issue at hand. When it comes to parenting, I feel like I'm always playing catch-up. The kids grow, they change, and the things to wonder and worry about change constantly.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not flogging myself for not being perfect, and I'm certainly not competing for competence with the mom down the street. It's just that I am confident when I feel capable, I feel capable when I think I know how to solve a problem, and I can only solve a problem if I have sufficient knowledge. As a result, when I feel insufficiently informed, I don't feel capable or confident. I feel overwhelmed.
For this reason, I have a new appreciation for the "it takes a village" theory. If I can access the collective knowledge of friends, family, doctors and educators, maybe every new phase of child development won't seem so overwhelming. I'll have some idea what to expect, as well as what to do with the unexpected. Until I find that instruction manual, I'd better damn well put together one hell of a village. If you're reading, you're in.