Love isn’t about what you want

By Mir
August 20, 2009

Last week the kids and I read a charming little book for our Scholastic review, and the upshot of the story is that—much like the old song—you don’t always get what you want, but you do get what you need.

Both children found my distillation of the book down to this message somewhat annoying. For Chickadee, it was a case of, “Mooooom, why does it always have to be some kind of LESSON?” And for Monkey, well, he actually had an interesting bit of circular logic wherein he had convinced himself that in the end, something different had happened than what had actually happened. (Sorry, it’s kind of hard to explain if you haven’t read the book.) We talked about it for a while and I realized that he was just completely loathe to believe that what the protagonist DIDN’T WANT turned out to be what he NEEDED.

Okay; he’s nine, and he also tends to be a very rigid thinker, so this wasn’t surprising, I suppose. What surprised me is how much this has been on my mind for the last week.

Monkey is both flourishing and regressing at his new school. And some might argue that “flourishing and regressing” might be a good way to describe Monkey the majority of the time, anyway. On the one hand, he loves school, he loves his teachers, he’s the only kid I’ve ever known who gets excited about homework, and he does seem to be making new friends. On the other hand, after an uneventful summer we’re seeing an increase in meltdowns and anxiety and just plain unacceptable behavior as a result of those, because it turns out that Monkey is not in charge of the universe, despite his deep-seated belief that he really ought to be.

After a recent incident, Otto and I sat down with Monkey to discuss his behavior, and he immediately began to sob that he didn’t want to go to this school, he wanted to go back to his old school. Needless to say, the issue at hand had absolutely nothing to do with which school he’s at. And there are all sorts of things he loves about his new school, but underneath the day-to-day of life there is—for Monkey—an undercurrent of “this is not what I want.”

When you look at it that way, I suppose his outbursts make sense.

On the other hand, perseverating on what you want but can’t have hasn’t worked out particularly well for anyone, so far as I know. And as far as a justification for poor behavior… well, yeah. Not gonna cut it.

In the meantime, the older Monkey gets, the harder it becomes to watch him struggle. Because he does struggle, in so many ways and with so many things. He is Different, and he knows it. And he doesn’t want to be. And that makes it harder. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When I was childless, I prayed for children. I prayed for them to be healthy and happy. I never prayed for their lives to be easy, because who does that? Life isn’t supposed to be easy. But neither could I have imagined how difficult it might be for one of my kids to be healthy and beautiful and brilliant but sometimes just unable to get beyond the misfirings of the neurons in his brain. I had no idea what it would be like to watch him realize that he often cannot trust his impulses, or to see him driven to exasperation by his inability to ignore them.

I wanted to tell Monkey that sometimes we all fall prey to “this is not what I want.” What he’s going through right now? I don’t want this. I never wanted this for him. And there are times when I curl up with that pain and let it pulse through me to the beat of “it’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair.” Of course. And then there are other times when I’m able to see with clarity that this is part of who he is—part of what makes him HIM—and I know that without the hard stuff, he’d be a different person entirely, and this Monkey is my very favorite Monkey of all.

Remember our watermelon? It grew to about ten inches and then began to rot on the vine. I don’t know if we did something wrong or if that just happens sometimes or what. In the meantime, a second watermelon vine began to grow a roundish fruit.

“I don’t think that’s a watermelon,” Chickadee said to me one day. “It’s something else.” I came over for a look, but I really had no idea—I hadn’t seen the first watermelon until it was quite a bit bigger. But the leaves on that vine did appear to be different from the vine that had supported the watermelon.

Our second “watermelon” turned out to be… a cantaloupe.

It fell off the vine yesterday, though it’s still not very big. (That’s a small knife in the picture, for scale.) I cut into it half-expecting to find it rotted and/or full of creatures, but it was absolutely perfect.

Monkey—who isn’t all that interested in watermelon, but who loves cantaloupe—was delighted. He danced around me in the kitchen as I cut it open this morning, and leaned in like a baby bird for a taste of it while I scooped the flesh.

“Can I have some in my lunch?” he asked. I’d already packed his lunch, so I suggested we save it for snack this afternoon, and he agreed. He finished the last of his milk, then remarked, “You didn’t even know you WANTED a cantaloupe, right, Mama? You thought you wanted a watermelon. But even though it’s small, that’s a pretty awesome cantaloupe!” He grinned ear to ear at the marvel of it all.

I pretended to be very busy washing the cutting board and the knife so that he wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes. “You’re SO RIGHT,” I said, turning away from him to wipe my cheek on the shoulder of my shirt. “It IS an awesome cantaloupe. It’s just what we needed.”

Happy Love Thursday, everyone. Here’s to getting what we need, whether we know it or not.


  1. annette

    Wow. I know just how Monkey feels. I don’t much like the alternative plan than mine. And, I have a son that can relate with him on many, many other levels. Here’s to making lemonade out of….ummmm…cantalopes!

  2. Amy

    mmmmm…. Those little cantaloupes are the most delicious, especially with vanilla ice cream in them like sweet little yummy bowls.

  3. Lylah

    Wise Monkey!

    I’m off to poke around under some vines to try and find my canteloupe now….

  4. Anna Marie

    Sweet, sweet Monkey.

    And I had a watermelon on my vine and MY DOGS ATE IT. Right in front of me, they rolled it around a bit, stomped it and ate it.

  5. Jomama

    Wow! I totally believe Monkey and Barley are twins separated at birth–despite them being born 2 years apart, on opposite coasts, from genetically unrelated wombs!

    I’ll have to go look at that book myself–looks like a good one to bring over here.

  6. Sara

    I love getting what I need when I didn’t even know I wanted it. It’s worth all the slogging through the weeds of life to get the juicy cantaloupe.
    Love that Monkey-boy. His mama is pretty awesome, too.

  7. Cindy

    Oh how I remember being Different in the cookie cutter world that is elementary school. As hard as it is for a mom to watch, the end result will be worth it. I think so anyway. My issues growing up were not the same as Monkey’s but probably no more or less difficult. I eventually learned to not just live with my differentance (is TOO a word) but to embrace it, enjoy it, be comfortable with it. I may or may not even FLAUNT it on occasion. My prayer for Monkey is that he would find that place of contentment with himself and grow into the man that God intends him to be.

  8. Lisa

    Mir, your posts about Monkey truly touch my heart. I have son with similar issues as Monkey, and it’s so comforting to know other mothers share my feelngs. Thanks for this today.

  9. Eden

    Tears streaming down my cheeks as my own little cantaloupe sits at home this afternoon while his brother enjoys his last day of camp. He just couldn’t keep it together knowing it was time to transition from summer fun back to real life. As difficult as he can be, I wouldn’t trade him for the world. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Jean

    Now my boss is looking at me wondering why I’m sniffling and teary eyed. Monkey is so blessed to have you as his mother and you are so blessed to have your Monkey. My son is a little bit Monkey, and at times I have fear down into the pit of my soul and it paralyzes me. But then, I look into his shining bright eyes and see his love, his life, his excitement coming through and I forget my worries and just love him.

  11. Megan

    Good reminder that sometimes I have my eyes fixed so hard on what-I-wanted as it disappears from view I don’t see the what-I-needed right under my nose. Lovely post.

  12. Chris

    Beautiful Post! Teary, but needed sayin for those of us that think we know what we need!

  13. StephLove

    I find it fascinating how every time you write about how unique Monkey is you are greeted with a chorus of people saying how much he reminds them of their sons (or occasionally daughters). I wonder if it’s annoying, so more than half the time I squelch my own impulse to post the same thing. (8 y/o son with mild sensory issues here.) But yeah, my one of a kind snowflake is a lot like yours.

  14. Saskia

    I guess what all the posters recognize is the sense of how hard it is to be different, and much harder (or different kind of hard) it is to see someone else struggling with his/her difficultness. I mean, I can relate to some of the feeling in this post, and I’m not even a mom. But I have a sister who runs into a wall time and time again, yet can’t see what she’s doing wrong. No sensory issues, luckily, yet the powerlessness is the same. You just want them to be happy, but you know they’re not there yet, and are likely not to be there for quite a while. I guess what I’m saying is everyone is unique, yet there is some universality in our experiences. Or something like that.

  15. Jamie

    Today is a trying day at work for me. I really think I need a cocktail! But I bet a surprise canteloupe in the garden would be a good thing, too!

    We have friends that are struggling with an autistic child. Certainly not what they “wanted” but what they got. It’s hard to know what help to give them besides just being friends and there for them. Maybe that’s really all they need.

  16. Andrea

    Amazing post today! You are such a good writer. I hope that cantelope turns out to be as sweet as Monkey is!

  17. Tracy

    I love that…To get something you really needed when you didn’t know you really wanted it. I love that ….

  18. NewReader

    perseverating is not a word… its persevering

    Mir here: Actually, NewReader with the fake email address, perseverating is a word, and means something different than persevering. But thanks for playing.

  19. Rinatta

    Learning accept that what we don’t want is often what we need or at least what we have…that’s a lesson I still struggle with daily and I am way past Monkey’s age. As does my little bear, who at 7 thinks that everything should be absolutely as he wants at all times. Sigh…

  20. melanie

    Beautiful! My own monkey is 16 now.. and it was so difficult to watch him deal with his “issues”.. but now, he is becoming this handsome, confident young man who is celebrated for his differences. He celebrates them. His friends celebrate them. His differences are what makes him “cool”! So when I look back and and think how sad I was that he didn’t seem to fit in anywhere, and I see where he is now.. I quickly realize that all was worth it. He is both what I want and need. Who wants cookie-cutter? Who needs normal?

  21. Mom

    perseverate |pərˈsevəˌrāt|
    verb [ intrans. ] Psychology
    repeat or prolong an action, thought, or utterance after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased

    Not worth the time it takes to do it.
    Monkey is a peach in my book.
    And Mir… well, you know.


  22. Randi

    He’s a regular Dr. House…only without the bad attitude or drug addiction…:)

  23. meghann

    Our cantaloupes are really small too, but tasty. No idea on why they are that size.

    Yeah, that’s totally off the point, but I do that when things get me too verklempt to talk about.

  24. Steph

    Is that a cutco knife?

    Sorry, loved the post, but then got distracted!

    We have cutco and LOVE them (my hubby used to sell them), but I don’t see them very often!

  25. NJula

    I’d have a hard time not calling Monkey my little cantaloupe.

  26. Grizzly Kitteh

    I had a lot of issues growing up, getting in fights and being generally frustrated with life. Then one of my only friends invited me to wrestling practice with him at our middle school. I really didn’t want to go because of all the stigma behind wrestlers, but then I showed up and had a great time. I really blossomed out of a lot of the aggression and confusion I faced and became more comfortable in my own skin.

    Maybe wrestling isn’t a good fit for Monkey (although he’s got a great name for it!), but hopefully he’ll find his calling and it will help him grow into his skin.

  27. elswhere

    Yep. This.

    Also: I think I will cross-stitch “perseverating on what you want but can’t have hasn’t worked out particularly well for anyone” on a sampler and hang it up above my desk and then maybe I will remember this important truth on a more consistent basis.

  28. Headless Mom

    I feel so stupid saying this, but I really, really want you to know that I love, love, LOVE this post. I wish for days like this sometimes: when the hard stuff comes full circle to a beautiful moment.

    But only you can tell it like this.

  29. Brigitte

    You mean *I* am NOT in charge of the universe? Dang!

    Monkey is so special, and while the hard parts are tortuous to get through, I think he’ll hold on to the good parts and be an amazing man someday.

    Off-topic: maybe your watermelon was a boy watermelon? I saw something on TV with the seedless watermelons once, and it said some were “boys” that were basically useless and no good to eat, and the good ones were “girls”. Or something like that . . .

  30. Karen

    My daughter was in a car accident at 16 1/2, and suffered a brain injury. We are VERY VERY lucky that she is alive and well three years later, however it was a long haul at first for survival, then re-learning. She is a new person, and yet the same person. Her brain doesn’t alway cooperate, she is prone to a quick temper out of frustration and it pains me to see her struggle with things that came easy in earlier years. When I find myself ruminating over -what she is not- I remember how lucky I am that -she IS- and while I can’t change what happened, I can accept what is and cherish what I have. Sorta what you’re doing. Love this post, couldn’t have said any of it any better.

  31. Javamom

    You are a talented writer, Mir. Thank you for inspiring me. Especially after my crappy day when it feels like it’s never enough…

  32. Nicki

    Oh, Mir, you are an inspiration! Wish I hadn’t been mired down in the muck yesterday. I really could’ve used this post. Thank you!

  33. Kelly

    Wow so I’m crying now…. okay trying to compose myself. You & your family is an inspiration.

    (On a only semi-related note, we grew canteloupe on purpose and the three we got before the vines kind of stopped growing were much smaller than grocery store ones, but very tasty!)

  34. Aimee

    Weeping at work! But at least they’re tears of “aw, how beautiful and sweet” and not the other kind.

  35. Deidre

    Thank you so much Mir. So beautiful!

  36. pharmgirl


    filing under “Guide to the Universe”

  37. RuthWells

    Sniffling at my desk and bracing myself for the transition of my youngest son to middle school in… 2 weeks. I may require alcohol.

  38. Katie in MA

    Has anyone told you lately how lucky your kids are to have you? You are a great mom, Mir. Just who they want, and just what they need.

  39. Jenn

    Mir, I love this post. I have a little Monkey who just started Kindergarten the other day. I’m going to put this on my bookmarks for when I have (or he has) bad days. You rule.

  40. Libby

    Lovely as usual Mir. Tears at work, as usual.

  41. Laura

    You know, sometimes I think to myself about what a miracle it is that we end up with the kids that we do. For me, when I was pregnant and daydreaming about my “perfect” little baby on the way I had no idea what was in store. The reality is he didn’t turn out as I expected and things were not how I wanted them to be; at first. But somehow time has a way of helping us see that it may not have been the life we wanted, but it is exactly the life we needed. And we are better for it. Who knew I needed a kid with Down Syndrome? Fast forward 16 years and I am telling you I simply would not have it any other way. Turns out he was the kid I wanted all along too.

    Ok, I may have gone a bit off topic but your post reminded me of the essay “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Kingsley.

    I guess it all comes down to finding the joy in what you’ve been given, which I think you totally do in spades. That’s what I love about this post and your blog.

    Good thing Monkey got exactly the mom he needed, and you got the kids you needed, and wanted too :-)

  42. Andrea

    Please tell me when your children were 4 years old that you lost your temper, could not stand the constant arguing (mine are beautiful sweet twins who are turning into little arguing machines) and periodically yelled a bit when you could not take it anymore.

    I love what I have, even when they are totally disobeying me!

Things I Might Once Have Said


Quick Retail Therapy

Pin It on Pinterest