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  • Renee Burns

Piss and Vinegar...and Parenting

When I was younger I was often told that I was full of “piss and vinegar”- which I didn’t really understand- but it was often said with a laugh and an eye roll from the adults around me- so whatever it meant, I was secretly offended. As I got older, and learned the meaning of the term, I found myself holding my chin up, like, “YES! I am full of piss and vinegar!” I think that’s part of the reason I’ve always enjoyed working with what I lovingly call “pissed off teenagers”- Takes one to know one. Now I often hear from families- “Wow, how do you know that’s exactly what we’re dealing with with our kid?!”, or the infamous feed back form I received from a family that said I “had a great bullshit detector and wasn’t afraid to challenge our daughter.” It’s something that I now own, and pride myself in- a healthy dose of piss and vinegar. The trick, however, has been figuring out how to channel it…which is why I love the kiddos and families I’ve worked with over the years because where they see anger, blow-ups and defiance, I see a kid who’s got passion, drive, and opinions- things that- if channeled properly, can propel them into a very fulfilling and meaningful adulthood.

The world has plenty of rule-followers, linear, color-inside the lines- thinkers. During my early “adulthood” when my peers were “settling down”, focusing on their careers, promotions, matching throw pillows, etc., I was bouncing around the country seeking out the next “fun” job that gave me a paycheck big enough to make it to the next adventure. A fabulous mentor I had when living in Bend, OR when working as a field guide in a wilderness therapy program knew that my joke was I wasn’t “ready to have a family until I owned a coffee table and matching throw pillows.” This was during a time I was watching people get engaged, move in with significant others, go to grad school, etc… But my “piss and vinegar self” just struggled to settle, as much as I tried.

Fast-forward to my current life-situation. Married, home and business owner, cat, dog, two children….LOTS of medical bills, house plants to keep alive, and daily routines of washing dishes, doing laundry, and wiping butts. Have I sold-out? Have I succumbed to the life of coloring inside the lines? The past few weeks post-knee surgery have been emotionally and physically taxing, on top of the past year+ of challenges. It’s everything we can do to make it through a day and remember to even turn on the dishwasher at night (which, by the way, when I was living my #vanlife, I swore I would never own or run a dishwasher- do you know how NOT environmentally friendly they are?!). Have I softened, and emptied my metaphorical cup of piss and vinegar? Have I lost my sense of adventure? The desire to find the lines, then cross them?

No. Each morning I wake up is a new adventure. I smile and play with my twins, I keep strong boundaries with energy I let in each day, I am walking more and more without needing crutches, my husband and I find intentional time to sit and be with one another, outside, just breathing. I believe I am channeling it all into my self, and the health of my family...and that we would not be where we would as the Burns party of 4 if I had emptied my cup.

I also know that my daughters are lucky to have me (and my piss and vinegar) as their #1 advocate. I know that my fight, advocacy, and “channeling” of energy has resulted in them receiving exceptional medical care, preventative medicine, and help. I also know that I will probably get back ten-fold of the fight from my girls when they get older (if they are ANYTHING like me) and I hope to be prepared enough to help them figure out how to best channel it themselves.

As I’ve only known motherhood through the lens of NICU, COVID, knee surgery, social and political unrest, increased hate crimes, a wild presidential election, and living in Minnesota during the current trial for the justice of George Floyd’s unfair, unwarranted, and sickening murder… I could NOT be prouder to carry the label of someone; a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, writer, athlete, therapist…who is full of “piss and vinegar.”

I have a shirt that I had hanging in my office during a grad school internship at a local public high school here in Duluth that said “If ignorance is bliss then I chose to be pissed” with a X over the word racism. I so appreciated the depth of conversations I had with the students I saw (which was also during the 2016 presidential election) as they navigated their own piss and vinegar, often prompted by the graphic on my shirt. I hope that wherever those kiddos are today they have found a way to use it during the continued global hardships we have all been dealing with.

Currently, some days for me feel like I’m just surviving through it all, empty cup, drained and complacent. However others I am thriving, ready to tackle whatever is thrown my way. Either way, I wouldn’t change any of this because I know how fortunate I am to have a backlog of experiences, adventures, challenges, and perhaps just the right amount of piss and vinegar to take it all on, and to know that I'm doing just fine...even without a coffee table OR matching furniture sets ;-)

Anyway, real talk- we've had a go of it over the past few weeks. And that's just life, right? If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with the “uncomfortable emotions” (or you just plain refuse to acknowledge them), know that they’re there for a reason- anger and sadness are not just OK, but human. The trick is figuring out how to honor them, and use them to best help your situation. And, if you’ve got (or know) a kiddo who might be filled with just a tad of the ol' “piss and vinegar”- hopefully they'll also learn how to manage it, and see it as a gift to fight a good fight, whenever it may be needed in life.

Love, Mama Burns



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