Parenting Outside Of Your Comfort Zone

I find time and time again that I am pushed outside of my comfort zone when parenting. It started just days after being first time parents when we were ready to take our oldest, Jackson, home from the hospital but we couldn’t get him in the car seat in the hospital lobby. We had done everything you were supposed to do: read all of the books, practiced with a stuffed animal, gone to the police station to have them put the base securely in the car but at that moment in the hospital lobby with a newborn for the first time, we couldn’t get him in the carseat properly to be able to leave the hospital. We had to flag down medic to help us. That was the first of many parenting humiliations and parenting outside of my comfort zone. 

It still happens to me all the time in parenting although I also try to push myself out of my comfort zone in my regular life too. I do it all the time at work. I’m in sales so a lot of my job is basically that, pushing myself out of my comfort zone: contacting people I don’t know to try to make a meeting, meeting with customers for the first time, coming out of the closet time and time again to both customers and work associates when I mention my wife, working trade show booths and “hawking” my products, presenting to management about the status of my accounts, and learning new products and then having to do presentations about them immediately to prospects. 

It’s all part of my work life but it doesn’t mean I love it. I’d rather not have to do the hard stuff that pushes me outside of my comfort zone but this is my chosen career path so I just have to push through the hard, day after day. After nine years at a company I liked, I moved to a new company for more career growth potential last month. When I was interviewing for this role, the recruiter told me I needed to present to my potential new boss and a few others on what I would do in the first 90 days, run them through an example of a complex deal, and then do a role play as if I was selling them their own product. A big ask but all things I can handle when I have time to prepare. I was given a week to prep but the weekend was slammed with kids activities and at the beginning of the interview week I was busy at my current job so, needless to say by Tuesday, I hadn’t even started. 

The recruiter called me on Tuesday morning to tell me that the job was no longer available. They hadn’t hired anyone but decided to regroup about the position. On Wednesday afternoon, I got an email that they did want to see me at the original time and the position was back on the table. I wanted to postpone the interview until the following week to prep (which I think would have been reasonable) but I realized 1. I probably should have had my presentation done by the time I had heard they had canceled it and 2. They were interviewing me for a sales job so I need to be able to think on my feet. I kept the original meeting time and hustled and got my presentation done. I did well on the presentation, got the job, and have since started with the new company so it was worth it but I definitely had to push myself almost to my limit because I hadn’t prepared in time. 

That’s my 9-5 life. In parenting, I also try to push myself so I’m not complacent and to continuously grow both as a person and as a parent. I remember volunteering at school when Jackson was in Kindergarten. His teacher, who we’ll call Mr. N, was amazing but he was very no nonsense and it took me a while to get to know him and his style. On the first day I ever volunteered, Mr. N popped into the classroom when the kids were still at recess and told me to get everything prepared to help the kids make applesauce after recess. He said that one of the parents had dropped off a small camp stove to use and the kids would be done with recess in 15 minutes. I looked at the camp stove and couldn’t figure out how to make it work. I panicked.

I was crammed into a tiny kindergarten chair, turning the camp stove every which way, without another grown up to consult, and I was seriously stressed and sweating. At some point I realized there was a compartment at the bottom where the portable propane tank was and I somehow managed to get it working right before the kids came back from recess. As a working parent who does hard things every day at work, I thought volunteering at my kids’ schools was going to be a piece of cake but I was oh so wrong. I still get nervous when I think of that day and possibly even still sweat a little thinking about it. 

A few years ago Jackson was interested in theater and he tried out for a role in a community theater production. We wanted to support his new interest and I soon realized that parents had to volunteer at the theater some huge amount of hours (I think it was 25) during the 8 weeks the show was in production/running and I offered to do it as my wife and I split the responsibilities that go along with kids activities (and there are a lot). I have no background in theater and I remember on my first day volunteering when they told me I had to move sets into and off of “stage left” to the tape on the floor between each scene. I had no idea which side stage left was to even find the tape on the stage floor and it was dark between scenes so I had a hard time figuring where they were supposed to go. Once again, I panicked but I did it. I eventually got better at the theater volunteering work and realized I was a great dressing room parent (which was an easy gig) even if I wasn’t a great set mover. I felt like the theather folks were speaking to me in a different language but I had to learn it for my kid. Jackson and I both ended up meeting some great people and Jackson loved acting, which opened up a whole new world to him. 

I feel like a lot of the uncomfortable firsts happen with our oldest because often kids do what their older siblings have done and by the second or more time around, you are an expert (or at least think you are). But not always. At my middle daughter, Lucy’s, soccer game in the fall, they needed an AR (assistant ref). All our kids play soccer but I’ve never had to ref. My wife is the soccer player and does all the coaching and reffing so I never have to do anything but bring snacks once a season and watch the games from my comfy fold up chair with drink holders and shade. But this day our team was supposed to provide the volunteer ref and we didn’t have one. They were desperate, my wife wasn’t there (or my son, who is also a trained ref), and they just they needed a warm body to do it so the coach asked if I would. I was so stressed and asking questions in a scared voice like, “Remind me what off sides is again?”, “How do I hold up the flag?”, “What if I miss a call?”, and “Do I need to blow a whistle?”. I was clearly panicked and this high school kid came over and said he was there to watch his little sister on the other team but is a ref and would be happy to do it for me. I was profusely grateful and was able to sit and watch the game in my comfort zone but, like the embarrassing mom that I am who probably also looked a little creepy, I was so thankful to the teenager who volunteered for me in a life and death situation (in my mind) like in Hunger Games, that I was giving him a thumbs up and huge smiles throughout the game.

Our youngest, Ellie, is a swimmer. The other two kids had not done swimming so I have had to figure out something new. Swim meets are challenging for me: you have to show up at the crack of dawn (often out of town); figure out which races your kid is doing; write their races numbers by heats and lanes on their arm with a sharpie (which I never seem to have); and make sure they get to the correct platform at the right time before each race with googles and swim cap on. I’m used to kids sports where it lasts an hour or so and I get to sit down at the sidelines and enjoy them. Not so at swim races. You are stressed and in motion all day so there is no time for me to sit between games and read my book, as I prefer to do. The first race I took her to, Ellie completely missed a heat because we thought we were paying attention but then looked up and it had just finished. At a more recent one, we got to the right place on time and everything was looking positive. I heard a parent say, “Oh that poor girl must have lost her swim cap and googles in the water”. And there is my kid with her hair flowing behind her and no googles. When it was done and I asked her about it, Ellie said she forgot to grab them from our chairs but didn’t want to miss the race. You go, girl!

For the next race, I was more on it and made sure she had grabbed her swim cap and googles before she lined up. We checked her heat and lane and she went to line up. I had accidentally switched the heat and lane with the borrowed sharpie and her heat started before we were expecting and she was waiting behind the wrong starting block due to the unintentional lane and heat switch permanently tattooed on her arm in sharpie. I was across the pool yelling, “Ellie, it’s your heat!”. Of course she didn’t hear me and she missed that heat, which caused me a to have a minor heart attack. We talked to the coach and they let her do her race in another heat so she was doing butterfly while everyone else was doing freestyle and it looked like she was doing the wrong stroke. Again, I’m sure the parents were wondering what my kid was doing. Luckily, Ellie takes things like that in stride and was just happy to race. I still don’t have the swim meets down pat but I’m trying my best and they still really, really push me out of my comfort zone. 

The most recent experience of pushing myself happened in the last few weeks and it almost pushed me beyond my limit. Jackson is on the Speech and Debate Club in high school. He’s never done it but decided to try it. Good for him so we are trying to support this new thing as he’s doing multiple sports already but I love that he’s trying something new to be well-rounded. There was an out of town tournament and they were desperate for judges. Jackson asked if I would do it and I said yes, because, why not? The morning of the tournament we were having torrential rain and I had to pick up two other kids at 5:15 am and drive them almost two hours to the tournament. It was a white knuckle drive that took 30 minutes longer than it should have and I arrived completely stressed out. 

I went to the judges room and they told me I had to judge Congress. I had left my umbrella by the door at home so I was soaking wet, exhausted, frazzled and asked in a high pitched voice what Congress in debate meant and how did I judge. They started telling me about the online system I needed to use and that I would have to watch ~15 kids debate twice over two hours and then rank them based on a certain rubric, give feedback, and enter it all quickly into the system before the next one starts. Oh, it was a state tournament so it was a big deal to these kids (and there were some real serious kids). Once again I panicked and said, “I never did Speech and Debate in high school, it’s my son’s first tournament so I have never even seen one and I have no idea what you are saying right now”. They obviously saw my desperation (think Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day in the police station scene, if only I looked like Michelle Pfeiffer) and they let me watch the first one so I could practice and then I judged. I just hope I didn’t screw up any of these kids chances at going to college. 

Two weeks later, there was another Speech and Debate tournament (luckily only 40 minutes away, I didn’t have to take any other kids, and the rain had stopped) so I arrived dry, somewhat relaxed (although have I ever been really relaxed since I had kids???), and confident that I could judge. When I checked in they said, “You are judging Interpretive Speech”. Once again I panicked and said I didn’t know anything about that. They explained the rules, which sounded easier than Congress and I already knew the online system, so I just decided to go for it. When I swaggered up to the desk to check in for my next judging time that day, they said, “You are judging Impromtu Speech”. I thought, “You have got to me kidding me. Am I on Candid Camera?” and looked around for the cameras. I asked if they could give me something I had done before but they said that is where they needed me. Somehow I got through it and now consider myself an experienced Speech and Debate judge but it definitely pushed me far, far outside of my comfort zone and I’m sure it will push me again next time when they make me judge something else that I know nothing about. But maybe I’ll be smarter next time and expect the unexpected so they won’t be able to surprise me again. 

Those are just a few examples of the weekly (or maybe daily) ways I am pushed outside my comfort zone in this job we call parenting. I try to remember that our kids are pushing themselves out of their comfort zones all the time by trying new sports and activities so I need to push myself as well. And I think of how much fun I’ll be at parties if anyone asks me about camp stoves, theater, swim meets, soccer reffing, or Speech and Debate tournaments.  Ok, I won’t actually be that fun and my definition of parties at this point in my life is usually a kids birthday party so feel free to beeline in another direction if you see me in the cake line at one before I corner you with my newfound knowledge. 

When I take a moment to reflect on how much I get pushed out of my boundaries in parenting, I do think it is good for me, makes me a better parent, and maybe really does make me more of a well-rounded person (or at least gives me something to blog about). I can’t say I often enjoy being pushed in the moment but after a week or two (or 10 years in the camp stove case), I usually can look back and laugh about my panic.

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