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The Natural Thing

What follows is a personal story.

Like most stories, this one starts with a backstory.

The Backstory

My wife was traveling for work, which meant I was a solo parent for our two kids. For three nights and four days.

Our time together was awesome. They were unusually good at listening, there was less bickering than normal, and although it was a school week, we had many moments of great connection.

Doing the dishes is the thing that I look forward to the least when I'm a solo parent. By a long shot.

There are always so many dishes.

For three nights and four days, I will admit, I owned it.

If someone else were tooting my horn, they may say, I was a rockstar solo parent.

I felt like one too.

The Story Part One: The News

It was time for my wife to come home from her work trip.

She was arriving at the local train station on a Thursday night.

Her train was scheduled to get in at 7:16 p.m.

The kids and I had dinner, did some last-minute tidying of the house, got ready, and left for the train station at 7:00 p.m.

We got there at 7:10 p.m. Enough spare time to walk around, explore the station, and look at some other arriving trains.

Then, all of a sudden, our son looked at me and said, "Dad, I need to pee."

Here's the thing about that phrase:

When he said that, he didn't mean, "Hey Dad, just FYI, my body is telling me that the urge to pee is likely coming up soon. It's probably best if we start thinking about where the nearest washroom is, so that when the urge comes closer, we can calmly walk toward that washroom so that I can take a nice, comfortable pee."

What he meant was, "If I don't get to a washroom in the next ten seconds, I'm peeing in my pants."

Luckily, there was a washroom in the train station, mere feet from where we were standing when he gave me the news.

Unluckily, it was locked.

He started making the sounds and signals that you could expect a cartoon character to make if they were depicting someone who had to pee very badly.

I looked around in desperation to find someone who might have a key to this locked haven that we were standing outside of.

The Story Part Two: The Decision

There was a security guard nearby, but they were on the phone.

There was also an official-looking train station person, but they were speaking with another train station guest—though likely someone in a far less dire situation than I was in.

Then it hit me.

There is a coffee shop just a few hundred feet away. By law, they need to have a washroom, right?

I decided not to interrupt the security guard, nor the official-looking person, and took matters into my own hands.

I started walking. Fast.

Our daughter was practically running next to us while our son continued making those cartoon-like actions and sounds, and I was laser-focused on the coffee shop in the near-distance.

Then it hit me.

The lights in the coffee shop were partially on, but no one was inside.

It was closed.

We were now halfway from the locked train station washroom and halfway from the closed coffee shop, in the middle of the parking lot, surrounded by people arriving in trains and driving home in their cars.

The Story Part Three: The Return

I took our son behind our car and told him to pee in his pants.

The reason he couldn't pull down his pants and pee behind our car was because then he would have been peeing onto other people and their cars on the parking lot below us.

He was embarrassed.

Who wouldn't be?

All of this happened in the six minutes since we arrived at the train station.

Fortunately, my wife showed up in that moment, and was able to comfort our son, while I searched our car desperately for something for him to sit on other than his pee-soaked pants.

After a few minutes, his embarrassment faded.

We then drove home as a family, laughing, and singing along to whatever was playing on the radio.

Why am I telling you this story?

In the days following this story, there was a question that I couldn't get out of my head.

It happened in Part Two of the story.

Why didn't I interrupt the security guard or the train station official and just ask for help?

At the time of writing this, I was recently able to process this question with a close friend (thanks Peace Lady Boss).

I'm telling you this story because I think the answer to this question is worth sharing.

Asking for Help

If you recall from the Backstory, I had just spent three nights and four days being a rockstar parent.

A rockstar solo parent.

With less than six minutes to go on the clock from being a solo parent back to having a partner, I experienced a crisis. One of the pee variety.

In the midst of this crisis, I made a choice.

I chose to try and solve a problem on my own.

I had been solving problems on my own for the last three nights and four days, why change in the last six minutes?

Some part of me believed that if I had asked for help in that moment, it would have been a sign of failure.

Failure to be that rockstar solo parent who has done everything on his own.

The irony is that failing to ask for help resulted in our son peeing in his pants in a parking lot, while standing behind our car. Hardly a win.

Am I afraid to ask for help in all situations?

Absolutely not.

In situations where I know I am completely out of my depth—if any of our appliances break for instance—I am not at all afraid to express vulnerability and say, "Hey, I have no idea what I'm doing, can you please help?"

So why was asking for help hard in this situation?

Because identity was involved.

Whenever identity gets involved, things get tricky.

In that moment of crisis, my identity as a solo parent was under threat.

Letting go of that identity in that moment would have required a level of vulnerability that I was simply not willing to express.

Expressing that vulnerability would have meant admitting to myself that I wasn't the perfect solo parent.

As you're reading this you may be thinking to yourself, "Shum, why does your definition of a solo parent mean that you need to do everything by yourself?"

I haven't dug deep enough to find this answer yet.

All I can tell you, is that this was a belief I held.

The belief that being a solo parent meant that I had to do everything by myself.

Writing this post, and having that reflection time with my friend, has helped me realize just how unnatural this belief is.

We all need help.

Without help from others, we simply would not be here.

Ask for help.

It's the natural thing to do.

I'd like to give a huge shout out to all the parents out there who are solo all the time.

p.s. If you enjoyed this story, you may also enjoy these posts with similar themes: The Fragility of Lego (2 min read), The Fragility of Lego: Part Two (2 min read), Target Fixation: Part Two (2 min read), and The Things we Save in a Flood (3 min read).

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