How a Pack-and-Play Gave Me Gumption

Two kids ago, I was faced with quite a conundrum. My husband had confessed to me his lifelong dream of joining the Navy, and after months of discussions and planning, he left for boot camp. Including school in California, he was gone for about six months when our boys were 3 and 2 years old. During that time, I dealt with the most trying situations our family had faced until that point without his assistance: my first trip to the emergency room as a mom, our house getting hit by lightning, and setting up a pack-and-play. 

That last one almost broke me. 

My mom was babysitting so I could go to my high school reunion. Before I left, she asked me to set up the pack-and-play. I know it doesn’t sound like a challenge, but this bad boy had been around since their first grandchild and was already about 8 years old. Unlike its newer, sleeker models, this was one of those items that required elbow grease and that you “hold your mouth just right” when assembling. Like some stubborn animal that answers only to its master, this apparatus typically only responded kindly to my dad, who was gone on a hunting trip.

Honestly, the old man still takes sadistic pleasure in watching others fight with it so he can smugly saunter in and save the day. When this would happen, he wasn’t the only one pleased: it was nice to walk away and leave the problem to someone else. My husband also had the magic touch, but I couldn’t rely on his help for another few months. I could feel my chest tighten and sweat form on my forehead when the reality sank in that it was all on me. No one was coming to my aid. I couldn’t tag anyone else in. 

But in a moment of odd and overdue clarity, I stepped back and stared down my opponent. This was silly. This device was literally created to make life easier, not harder. I realized that the assembly process was made simple enough for any and all parents to complete. And I’m a parent. Who else was this designed for if not people? And am I not a person? Though it was not a typical momentous occasion, I had a tremendous epiphany about problem-solving: typically, if it’s designed to be done by a person, it can be done by me.

“I am woman! Hear me roar…!”

Though frustrating, assembling a pack-and-play showed me that the only limitations to what I can accomplish are physical or self-imposed. And both of those can be adjusted. I may need the help of YouTube or Google, but by God, I can do it. 

Embarrassingly, though I always considered myself something of a feminist, it wasn’t until I had no men to rely on that I pushed myself beyond my normal threshold of frustration, beyond the point at which I would have thrown in the towel. 

Since then I’ve consistently pushed myself further and further as a parent and as a person. Whether it’s in flying all four kids across the country by myself to meet up with my husband or braving a day at Disneyland with the whole crew while he worked at the Navy base, I can honestly (and maybe foolishly) attribute my gumption to that day so many years ago when I put together a pack-and-play. 

And when my mom asked how I managed to put it together, I held up my bicep like Rosie the freakin’ Riveter. 

Megan Southall
Megan is “Mommy! Mom! Mom-Mommy!” to four: Carson (9), Atticus (7), Evangeline (4), and Bo (8 months). She is from Port Allen and went to high school and college in Baton Rouge, getting her Bachelor’s Degree in English with a concentration in Secondary Education from LSU. Megan then moved to the ‘burbs in Zachary. She and her husband of 9 years, Ryan, are teachers, Ryan at Zachary High School and Megan at West Feliciana High School in St. Francisville, where she is also the Instructional Specialist. Megan is Nationally Board Certified in English Language Arts and has a Master's in Educational Leadership. She adores her job, as it gives her awesome opportunities: working with teenagers, gaining perspective on parenting them, and getting to pretend she’s a SAHM over the summer. When she’s not learning piano or reading, Megan can be found on the couch, talking to episodes of “Real Housewives of New York.”


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