Think about how much an active womb resembles a roulette wheel. The shape, the throwing of the ball into the bowl, the chances taken – all of it fits on some level.
I believe I know why I’ve never heard of a gambling-themed baby shower.
Just the same, I can think of three ways parenthood resembles a trip to Biloxi. Thrilling uncertainty: it lures even “practical” people into wild visions of delight. The chance of walking away with a “gift”: this appeals to anyone with a shred of longing. But the willingness to accept any outcome… now that, ladies and gentlemen, really brings the analogy home for me.
When we’re expecting, we examine many things, just as others examine us. Of all the wonderful explorations that occur around conception, birth and growth, my most riveting came from one question: “Am I ready to – consciously – surrender the rest of my life to uncertainty?”
Parents never discover the effect their little bundle of joy will have on their lives until it arrives. Then we often – unconsciously – commit to fulfilling all the expectations of others and ourselves. Most of these expectations catch us unawares after we’ve walked away with the winnings. Sure, we can make decisions. We can decide what numbers to play. But if we think that gives us control, we’re kidding ourselves. Children have an amazing knack for dropping into whatever slot on the wheel they pick, regardless of where we placed our hard-earned cash. Even when all the medical screenings come back bright and cheerful, and even if our DNA seems promising, we cannot predict how many times we’ll have to keep our cool in the toy aisle. Or take a deep breath when our teenager has a meltdown. Or watch our 3-year-old undergo general anesthesia.
If you can walk away from a table in Biloxi empty-handed and still say you had a good time, then you’re ripe for parenthood (and life). No matter the outcome, we can find ways to experience our children as amazing gifts and teachers. No amount of cash winnings can compete with that. Actually, children emerge to surprise and test us. This may come as a surprise, but your roulette wheel is biased. And it’s also all arranged in advance. That’s the funny part: we get exactly what we asked for. We just didn’t anticipate how our wishes would come true.
For instance, I went through years trying to figure out the cleverest way to please the most people, so that my life could be predictable and “successful”. In 2000, my son received an Autism diagnosis; he quite often rolls outside the region of expectation and predictability. Yet every time I stop cringing in dread of unpleasant outcomes and uncover my eyes long enough to see how we’re doing, what do I see? This beautiful boy instinctively understands and lives what’s important… and makes good grades too. Over the years, I’ve noticed that every one of his little “quirks” seems to directly address one of my hang-ups. One by one, he helps me release them. What a selfless gift.
The most powerful blessing arrives with the attitude that accepts whatever arises.
Can you imagine a roulette gambler expecting to control the spin of the wheel and the settling of the ball? Expecting to know how children will turn out creates a similar invitation to learn first-hand about odds. It’s so tempting to plan, hope, dream, and use our children to define ourselves. That’s the giddy anticipation part. Yet those expectations hold no sway over how life unfolds. Parenthood sometimes seems to imply responsibility for the outcome. I visualize gamblers glaring at each other once the ball settles onto its number, as if one of them made it fall right there, right then. Somehow, it’s much easier to laugh at that image than to chuckle at our own unvoiced expectations surrounding parenthood.
When we view parenting like placing a bet on a wheel, we give ourselves permission to have no idea what will come our way. ‘Permission’ plays a key role in how much we enjoy our spin of the wheel. Feeling permission to wonder, question, and observe liberates us. Releasing self-expectation is one of the most generous and liberating acts a parent can perform.
For anyone who experiences an exuberant moment, learning that she/he faces the prospect of parenthood, it’s worth also taking a pregnant pause. Consider the deep blessing of meeting uncertainty as teacher, and that you’re about to get your butt kicked by having your wishes fulfilled. Embracing the uncertainty of parenthood states that you’re willing to take whatever may come, place your bets, and continue breathing while the wheel slows and the ball gets ready to drop.