By Shelley Murphy

March marks the conclusion of the second season of the popular television series This Is Us, and I’m betting it ends in a bittersweet cliffhanger putting the Pearson family in peril.

It’s probably not too surprising that I’m hooked on the family drama that debuted in September 2016. And I’m not alone; each week approximately 10 million viewers tune in with their box of tissues in hand to have their heartstrings tugged.

Sure, the show has its haters, but it manages to resonate with a wide audience and broad demographic. Recently, my son’s 20-year-old friend said he watches the show and told my son, “Dude, I cry all the time.”

The audience relates to the Pearson’s struggles as they suffer the complexities of the human experience. We viewers know the characters aren’t real, but on occasion they remind us of the people we know or maybe the people we want to be.

The Pearson’s stories are told in flashbacks and present-day plights with plot twists unearthing memories of difficult pasts and reveal hopes for uncertain futures. Week after week, I’m one of the millions rooting for the family of five to overcome their obstacles.

My favorite tear-jerking episode chronicled the days leading up to the character Randall Pearson becoming a first-time father. Randall experiences near-paralyzing fear as he faces parenthood, and a preoccupation with websites detailing frightening newborn facts adds to his angst.

Thankfully, as I counted down the days to the birth of my first child, there was no internet to fuel my anxiety. Instead, I relied on the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting (the first edition) and I skimmed its scary chapters.

Randall goes to the hardware store to return a faulty ceiling fan bought to circulate air in his baby’s nursery, thereby preventing crib death. His visit proves cathartic. Randall rambles on to the store clerk sharing his overwhelming fears and self-doubt as he confronts the enormous responsibility of parenthood.

Watching Randall rant, it roused the decades-old emotions I felt throughout my first pregnancy. I constantly feared making mistakes and questioned my competency. To calm Randall, the store clerk replies with empathy and advice saying, “Babies come with the answers…they tell you who you are.”

I thought about those words. I’m not sure about babies coming with answers, but I do agree with the fictional clerk’s belief that children tell you who you are.

My boys taught me who I am.

They taught me grit, patience, selflessness, unconditional love, to trust my gut instincts and to become the mom in me that I didn’t know existed. I also learned the stealth moves of a tooth fairy, the magic of believing in Santa Claus and that white carpet is just stupid.

What the store clerk fails to tell Randall is that the worry he feels facing his child’s impending arrival will not fade—in fact, it is the hallmark of parenting.

I crave the worry I once cursed, a time when my kids lived under my roof, and one of my biggest fears included getting in and out of the mall without an earsplitting toddler meltdown.

Both of my boys have flown from the nest to find their futures. Today my worries ebb and flow. I worry less about doing the right thing as a parent and more about my kids doing the right thing as young adults.

As a parent, it’s my job to give my children the tools to navigate their universe; but, in hindsight, I realize they gave me so much more.

My boys expanded my heart and mind in ways I could not expect before becoming their mom. They made me a better person and provided me with a purpose.

My kids taught me the important life lessons not covered in baby books or websites. On second thought, maybe babies do come with all of the answers.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 18 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to Picket Fence Media since 2006.

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