Batteries Not Included
What Parenthood Is Teaching Me About Vulnerability
Gift-giving festivities come with two potentially terrible outcomes when it comes to getting. (Terrible may be subject to the mind of a toddler, but terrible nonetheless.)
Socks. And toys with batteries not included.
For me, that annual holiday was and is Christmas. Was, because I have a drivers’ license and a Walgreens at every intersection to escape said horrors — and I really appreciate new socks now.
But socks were the penultimate proverbial coal. Nothing could be worse than opening the gift of your dreams — for at least that year — only to find that after your labor of removing all the tape, twist ties and packing materials, it didn’t include the one thing it truly needed: power.
Holidays no longer might hold such potential terrors beneath the wrapping, but I’m finding as a new parent that life comes with a lot of “battery not included” moments.
I can’t blame my family members for overlooking the small print on those tricky packages. They were just subject to the interplay of expectations and the limitations of space.
Like those toy packages, those around me participate in the same relationship of anticipation with no room for nuance. It might not be small print informing you that the $49.99 plus tax you just spent bought you a toy that’s useless without spending another five bucks for a set of batteries, but its role in leaving blanks to be filled by one’s own preconceptions is just as real and impacts all ages.
Our parenting story hasn’t been Instagram worthy — it falls neither in the heartbreak that makes you feel sympathy but assume it won’t happen to you nor the storybook that gives you a sense of assuming the role of fairy godmother of advice to other parents. It started with blood and sweat like all deliveries and continues with lots of caffeine and diapers, but it makes me ask: Why did I go into it only thinking it will be heartbreak or storybook? and, Who determines what’s Internet worthy?
Behind the questions, I’m learning that the interplay of expectations and coffee-break chitchat breeds invulnerability. And this subtle invulnerability often sets the value of what’s worthy while lessening those in between who say, “That wasn’t my story.”
Parenthood isn’t the only one who deserves a callout. Same goes for college and career choices, marriage, moving out of state or country, ministry…to name a few.
Everyone knows the stories of pursuing your dream career and impacting the world (storybook) and the millstone of debt that entry salary just won’t chip (heartbreak).
Everyone sees the wrinkled hands dancing intertwined on a Sunday afternoon (storybook) and the latest celeb gossip of who left who for who (heartbreak).
Everyone longs to make a home for the wanderlust destinations their feeds’ friends have found (storybook) and laugh at the prodigal children who return after a failed foray and now live in their parents’ basement (heartbreak).
Everyone receives the stellar end-of-year numbers that make you believe every cent changes the world (storybook) and the stories where embezzled funds never reach those they were meant to empower (heartbreak).
But like a book unknown merely by its cover, we’ve seemed to forget there’s a whole lot more story to learn from others’ experiences.
This week I listened to an interview between an NBC news anchor and Caeleb Dressel. (If you don’t know who that is, just start to Google c-a-e and it will be the second result under Caesar if you’re algorithm is anything like mine.)
“The new Michael Phelps.” Needless to say, Dressel has been painted very much as the storybook athlete.
Until he made a statement that caught my ear.
“[In my time at the Olympics], there were a lot of high moments and low moments — ”
Then the anchor cut in and said, “Describe for me the low moments, because we didn’t see them.”
There are a lot of moments not captured by a camera, Dressel replied.
There are a lot of moments our storybooks and heartbreaks don’t capture.
There are a lot of “batteries not included” in what we perceive and consume on a daily basis.
And the result is a whole lot of unmet expectations, far worse than having to wait until December 26 to really play with that treasured toy.
I’m still learning this. I’m still unpacking how deep my expectations have been unraveled by my 10-week-old baby.
Honestly, there are plenty of days I don’t have time to unravel, and since it hasn’t hit the storybook pitch, I fear I’m just another heartbreak. Because I’ve lived my life only being presented storybooks and heartbreaks, fairy tales and tragedies.
Or, more likely, I’ve only categorized them into one or the other and unconsciously ignored all those that didn’t fit my perceptions.
But life’s a whole lot of uncaptured moments. Uncaptured moments, that if shared and heard, stave off disappointment and imposter syndrome.
That career paths aren’t so clear cut.
That marriages have a lot of ordinary dates to Target.
That moving brings with it new horizons and unfamiliar roads.
That ministry isn’t just what can make a good recap video and is often better without the thousand words told by a picture.
I can’t truly know, though, that your experience will be mine. We’re no prophets.
And even if I have experienced them, that doesn’t mean I automatically can articulate that my lived-out relationship with these moments in life can actually exist somewhere in between storybook or heartbreak (or honestly come to admit it does come with great joy or deep trauma).
Do you know what ̶s̶a̶v̶e̶d̶ ̶m̶e̶ is saving me?
“I’m learning the importance of honesty, as that is part of being human and relating to one another [and modeling this for my children].”
Words spoken by a community member who I work alongside.
Honesty. Vulnerability. And the space to be honest with myself and allow others to be honest with me.
And honestly, I’m still figuring it out. But if I can be a source for you to know ordinary is a valid experience with its own highs and lows that doesn’t need to fit within predefined labels, then this is a win that you read this far.
That you have a second to be honest with yourself as I’m honest with you.
Research. Dream. Click to follow. But know every book, imagined outcome and curated feed can never capture all that life is.
But there’s great treasure in a few other souls who you can find to be honest with you and who welcome your honesty.
Seek them out and watch and learn from them all the “battery not included” moments they’ve overcome.
It might save you a few trips to Walgreens and inspire you to build your own cardboard forts.