It all started at the doctor’s office.
“Here are your records,” the nurse said cheerfully. “All your daughter’s immunizations are up to date, so just go ahead and double check over the address and family history and make sure that we have everything right.”
I scanned name, date of birth, address. And then my eyes lighted on something new:
“Family history: Unremarkable.”
I stared at it, then cleared my throat. “Unremarkable?” I said out loud.
“Hmm?” said the nurse absent mindedly.
“It says here that my family history is unremarkable.”
“Yes. That’s a good thing, trust me,” she smiled.
In a mental stiff British accent I sipped tea and told myself, “I am soooo sotty dahling, but you ahhh just sooo vetty . . . UNREMAHHHKABLE.”
Unremarkable. Why does that hurt so much?
When we are kids, the world is fresh and new. People tell us we can be anything we want to be. We should reach for the stars. We should dare to dream.
Then you go to college, or maybe you don’t. Maybe you have student loans that you realize with alarm will be paid off when you are close to 60. You sign on the dotted line and get your first car. You get a credit card. A mortgage. An SUV that practically makes your wallet bead up with sweat each time you take it to the gas station. You realize with horror that things you had always taken for granted at Mom and Dad’s– like cable and food in the fridge, have to be paid for by you. You go to the store and realize you have to put either the powdered donuts or the toilet paper back. And with a heavy heart you realize you have to keep the toilet paper. This is an unremarkable adult life.
You meet the one. You get married. You are heartbroken when this person turns out to (gasp!) have flaws. It irks you that they put the toilet paper (that you gave up DONUTS FOR!) on the wrong way, or that they leave dirty socks lying around for you to pick up. They don’t remember to fill up the car with gas, of course, so that when you are in a rush and jump in the car, the low fuel light beams up at you expectantly. They make fun of your favorite show Downton Abbey and eat the last slice of pizza, sometimes. Sometimes you choose to love them anyway, and sometimes you can’t. People judge you either way.
You have a child. Maybe two. Maybe three. Suddenly your purse that was once full of lip gloss and mini perfume spritzers is bursting at the seams with bubbles and dum dum lollipops. You are horrified to find an old diaper from who knows when (please, please be from yesterday and not from a week ago) under the seat of the car when you rummage underneath the seat for the blasted Aldi quarter. Your cute outfits from college don’t really fit anymore, but you save them anyway, even though your daily outfit now is almost always some sort of soft pants (call them “workout pants” if it makes you feel better. People have been using this trick for years) and a grungy T shirt. You are startled to look into the mirror one morning and see a middle aged face looking back at you. Good grief when did you start getting gray around the temples? Does that really start this early? And holy cow I should plant a cornfield for all those crow’s feet.
You hit the age of no turning back– that one birthday that breaks your heart and takes the fun out of all birthdays after that. For some people, it’s 30. For some, it’s 40. For some, each year after 25 feels like a stab in the back of betrayal from your body which is rapidly downshifting into “4 o’clock senior bluebird special” town. Ben Franklin once quipped that “It is a strange thing that, while all would live long, none would be old.” So true. You are shocked one day to find your childhood toys in the “Vintage Wonders” section of Target. Your childhood jammin’ tunes are now frequently on the “Oldies” radio station. Man, that hurts.
Why does it feel just a teensy bit, somehow, like we went to bed as shining eyed children, full of hope and promise and possibility, and woke up as middle aged UNREMARKABLES with nothing to show for ourselves but bleary eyes, exhausted from yet another night up with the baby, or a savings account that seems to gleefully drain each time you manage to convince a few dollars to spend the night there. Why does it feel like you work and work trying to save for a new TV, or that truck you want, and suddenly the car needs a transmission replaced, or the kids need glasses, or the dog needs surgery at the vet, and you watch all your hard earned savings slip away like so many grains of sand in your clenched fist. Why does it seem like Mom and Dad’s needs are always on the back burner, being unremarkable, while everyone else in the world gets to do all kinds of remarkable things?
Remember as a child, when Christmas morning was the most sparkling, dream-infused day of the year? You played with new toy after new toy until you collapsed in euphoric oblivion, dreaming of the next day when you could play with everything all over again, and go over and show your friends what you got and take their stash for a spin. Now, as an adult, you get excited when you get a new sponge for the sink. “Ohhh look! Clorox spray is on sale 2 for 1! I’m so happy!” Or how about the gleeful feeling when gas prices drop a few cents. Why does looking forward to these things make me feel unremarkable?
Come to think of it, pretty much everything I do these days is unremarkable. I cut foods into identical square pieces so that my autistic daughter will eat them. I mix medication into cups and try to wheedle them into her, a drop at a time. I clap profusely after each drop, trying to make a game of it. I get very tired of cheering.
I attend every kind of speech, occupational, and physical therapy you can imagine. I try to find time to read my son a book at night before I fall asleep on the couch. I change diapers and do laundry and put away towels so often that I wonder if there are people living in this house whom I have not yet met. I pay bills and slowly see my paychecks sucked away into car repairs, or new tires, or a new hot water heater. I find that being an adult really isn’t as “fun” as staying up all night, like I used to imagine as a child. I find that adulthood is really just being tired all the time, spending all your money on things that are no fun, and basically being very unremarkable.
Why does that sting. Why does it sting to think that I am rapidly becoming middle aged, with nothing to show for it?
But then I look around. The house is mostly clean, but I let my son keep up his Lego castle and matchbox cars overnight. He has them “driving” the entire perimeter of the rug, waiting for the Lego Mcdonalds. Before we went to bed, he pulled one car up to the window and said “Sorry, our ice cream machine is broken.” I laughed. Honestly, that’s pretty remarkable.
And even though I’m tired (parental uniform, I find, is tired, baggy eyes and cup of coffee in hand), I managed to get a (somewhat) decent meal on the table tonight, copiously cut into squares for my daughter. And she ate it. I call that pretty remarkable.
Each of my gray hairs says that I love and worry about my kids, like any parent does. I worry when they are sick, or hurting, or crying. I worry when I don’t know what to do to make them better. I worry when I think about someday when they grow up, and I hope that I have done a good enough job as their mom to give them what they need. My gray hairs say, “I love you. I love you so much that I lie awake praying that you will be safe and protected all your life. My first and last thought each day is burning my own candle at both ends so that you can be the happiest you can be.” Mom love is truly remarkable.
You realize that people come and go throughout life. Some of them hurt you by coming, and some hurt you by leaving. A few, sadly, hurt you both coming and going. And somehow you find the peace within yourself not to hate those people, but you wish them peace, wellness, and happiness. You find that you can be just fine with or without them, without any hatred or malice in your heart. You grow into “the bigger person.” You stand up and show them that adults should act like it. You forgive them. You show them remarkable.
And at the end of a very long day, you gaze about you. Sometimes friends you felt would never leave your side, sadly, do just that. They take the easy way out and abandon you. Others, despite all odds, stick by your side and never leave it. Your children, despite all your worries, grow up to be successful, happy and healthy– even if their version of happy isn’t what you originally plotted that it would be. You learn to let go. You learn to hold those things you love a little less tightly, so that they can grow and thrive in the way they were meant to. You never get to do some of the things that you thought you would, but then again you experience so many other things that you never thought you would get a chance to try. You live fully, love deeply, and learn endlessly. It’s beautiful, this life of ours.
I call that remarkable.
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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