A reformed know-it-all
No one likes a know-it-all, leastwise those of us who were raised to be just that. I speak from deep personal experience. I am the oldest of four children and the recipient of my father’s directive to be a leader rather than a follower.
My siblings fought hard against such hubris but somewhere along the line either individually or in collusion they let me think that I was the leader and one with superior skills. I mean who could do the housework better than me, or the dishes or cook the evening meals or mow the lawn? Any effort at these tasks by two of my siblings was carefully scrutinized by my hyper-critical eye, and if their work was poorly executed, I simply redid it.
I can remember repeating that phrase, “If you want something done right…”
It was amazing though that my youngest sister, so poorly adapted to household work could whip up a new outfit on the sewing machine in a trice or that my brother, all thumbs at just about anything around the house could learn any musical instrument and start up several bands. Seems that one of the things that this know-it-all didn’t know was when she was being, what is the current word….played?
My other sister, didn’t even try to do things poorly, she just hid out in the bathroom until I went to college. Amazingly they survived their seeming lack of skills and have prospered in their own ways with homes that are organized and clean. But as the eldest, I still hold the scepter of know-it-all and have been known to Type A it through many an assignment.
Most know-it-alls aren’t aware of their situation, that is until they come in contact with another similarly trained annoyance. And so it came to pass that I met up with not one but two of this genera. Their mantra being that no matter what I said, there was always a contradiction to be made, always a comment about how they had more experience, knew more people, had preferred and, of course, more effective ways of getting things done.
One would even do my work for me. Even when they were dead wrong, they were right and could convince me that I had erred. That was a lesson to be learned! Enduring the dynamic of the paramount font of perfectionism is really a pain in the neck….only a lot lower in the anatomy.
And how did I deal with this epiphany? I didn’t. I saved my ego by simply separating myself from them. I changed jobs. I continued smug in my know-it-all world, until a higher power pointedly intervened.
God drew me up short with the ultimate antidote — motherhood. Having children just about drained my psyche of any trace of belief in my sense of competency or control. I should have suspected this early on when nausea interrupted my plans in graduate school to become a world-renowned anthropologist, but that passed and, armed with books on childrearing, I mapped out how I would maintain my home, develop extraordinary culinary capabilities, take a few more graduate courses and become the model of young motherhood. I even wrote these plans down, you know, to pass on to those not as well informed as I.
I posted them on the door of what was to be the nursery. God’s lesson revealed itself in all its power somewhere in the first hours of the first night after I brought my first born home from the hospital. There he was, my darling baby boy. Why weren’t the neighbors bringing gifts to celebrate his arrival? I lay my child, freshly bathed, changed and fed in his fashionably appointed crib, cleverly situated under his educational mobile. I smiled and began a lullaby that was interrupted by colicky screaming that lasted for three months.
The section in Dr. Spock that dealt with colic was ragged in a few weeks, but not more so than the reader who was alternately stumbling around the house trying to implement her naïve plans for housekeeping while caring for a very unhappy baby or simply crying copious tears at her inadequacy.
I walked the floor for hours every night, rocked him, sang to him, tried all kinds of folk remedies recommended by older, more experienced mothers. I read somewhere that colicky infants don’t cry when you use the vacuum. My floors were immaculate and my child continued to cry. We drove over the county roads at all hours of the night, child in the back seat, hoping that something we read about babies liking the rocking motion of the car would work.
To this day, I associate some roads in the area with the hair raising sound of a baby taken from his bed by his rookie parents, miserable in the back seat.
Nothing got done around the house. I tried, but beyond the vacuuming, dishes piled up in the sink, laundry was done on an emergency only basis and I don’t think I combed my hair for weeks. At the end of six months, only one of the tasks that I had taped to the door of the nursery had been accomplished on a regular basis: vacuuming the floors.
Finally, exasperated beyond anything I could have imagined, I took the screaming child next door to my neighbor who was also my family doctor and held the child out to him saying, “I give up. He just won’t stop crying.”
Doc Daly smiled, as those who are in the know often do, and said, “Well, I’ll bet he has a milk allergy. Try some soy formula and see what happens.”
Screaming child in tow, I raced to the store and bought Isomil. I spent the entire first night after his formula change checking my quiet, sleeping child to see if he was still alive.
Equipped with all of this information and having caught up on my sleep, I again naively ventured into motherhood eight years later and produced a child who didn’t sleep through the night for four years. Yes, four years! I was the perfect example of what sleep deprivation can do to a human being. If any remnant of competency lingered, it disappeared completely during this trial by wakefulness. Not a pretty sight at all.
Old habits die hard and when the ear, nose and throat doc discovered and repaired the reason for our daughter’s wakefulness, I began to exhibit signs of intelligence again, but only briefly. The children were growing older.
I have come to the conclusion that there is an inverse relationship between a child’s age and a mother’s intelligence. As the years rolled on and each of my offspring grew and flourished, it was their mother who grew less and less knowledgeable. What did I know about fashion, about computers, about food? I mean who in their right mind would eat fresh fruit or high fiber bread or vegetables? Were they ashamed of someone who had no idea what booting up a computer meant? Who didn’t own an MP3 player? I saw myself though my children’s eyes, a pitiful example of an uniformed, hopelessly needy adult who needed help to set the clock in the VCR. My Phi Beta Kappa key started to corrode and I began to question how I had been able to make it this far in life without a major mishap.
From cheering too loudly at soccer games to mentioning in public that one of my offspring had musical ability, to insisting that they wear coats during snowstorms, to thinking that adult children with their own houses would like to take the stuff they left in mine, the house that one of them has characterized as “cluttered,” I have committed just about every maternal faux pas there is and more. Then there is the clueless category that includes all of the current singers, bands and songs as well as 90 percent of the shows on television.
I still have flashes of the old know-it-all persona, but nature has intervened to make some of what I thought I knew, something I no longer know. Mostly the episodes of aptitude have been trampled out of me by time, electronics and the wear and tear of interpersonal relations. There are even days when I simply agree with someone rather than point out that I am, of course, right and they are, well…not.