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The parent’s responsibility

“. . . it’s not the child’s responsibility to teach the parent who they are. It’s the parent’s responsibility to learn who the child is . . .”

From “R2, Where Are You?” by Tig Notaro in All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown edited by Catherine Burns
train-winter
VIA train to university

Right after we returned from dropping our son at the train station for travel to his final university semester, I sat down to indulge in some morning reading time. That’s when I found the quote above.

Our son is about to finish his studies, but he’s not sure what he wants to do after. As parents, we want to pick him up like when he was a child and set him down in what we think is his safe, right place. But we can’t.

We have to watch and learn as he sorts out what works for him.

Our daughter graduated last June and is still searching for more solid ground under her feet too. As parents, we want to pick her up like when she was a child and set her down on what we think is her safe, right path. But we can’t.

We have to watch and learn as she sorts out what works for her.

After reading the quote I sipped my coffee, stared out the window and contemplated how often parents impose—or try to impose—inappropriate behaviours, activities, careers, clothing or partners on a child because they haven’t learned who their child is.

How often that imposition breaks the relationship.

Telling our kids what to do with their lives feels so much like the right thing to do because we have their best interests at heart, after all, and we want to save them the pain of mistakes.

Sharing the wisdom of our experience is a right thing, but it’s not the best right thing.

The better right thing—our responsibility—is learning who they are.

Why I want time travel: The view from the empty nest

At the library this week, I glimpsed a book title: “I Just Want to Pee Alone”—a book associated with the I Just Want to Pee Alone blog.

I remember the “inescapable” feeling that came with that phase of parenting. Peace was not to be found. Chubby toddlers nudged bathroom doors wide open (regardless of who might be around to catch glimpses of Yours Truly with pants down, literally). They staked claim to a mother they knew to be indisputably, relentlessly available.

Yeah, that wasn’t so much fun all the time back then, and I don’t want to live through the whole lo-o-o-ong phase again, but I’d like to time-travel there—ever so briefly—to smile at the guileless face of my children as they stand in the bathroom door wondering why I would ever want to close it to them anyway?

ben-westernThe title of the book caught my attention because I am at the other end of the parenting spectrum. I was an indispensable presence to my toddler children, but now I have a disquieting feeling of being declared surplus. My son left home to go to university this week, and I am now a resident of a quiet empty nest. “I’m all grown up,” my son said to me this week—once or twice, or ten times.

It is a strange feeling to arrive at this point in the journey. After all, I’ve known all along this would be the desired destination. When my husband and I stepped on board the parenting train all those years ago, we didn’t say “Let’s have kids and they will stay with us FOREVER.” We said, “Let’s have kids and do our best not to mess up, so they will prosper and go out and lead productive lives and make the world a better place.” Or something like that.

Done. Check that box. Mistakes made along the way, for sure, but none so catastrophic as to derail the train.

I’m so happy for him, because he’s happy. He’s playing baseball at his new university, and he’s made friends on the team already. He’s busy, settled in and having fun. I celebrate this new beginning for him, and I celebrate that we had such a fun journey getting this far. I don’t want to stop the train or reverse it on the track.

But time travel would be handy for me about now, because the truth is I want the best of both worlds. I want his train to keep on chugging forward into whatever his future holds, but I wouldn’t mind—ever so briefly—popping back to a time when my chubby little boy crawled up on my lap and nestled his head under my chin.

with mom

 

 

Extraordinary is just ordinary done over, and over,and over again

This post I first wrote in June 2012 might help us to approach September with new vigour. Summer is winding up, and soon our routines resume. Oh, sigh. But wait. Maybe our ordinary routines are more extraordinary than we think.

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“. . . I think there might be some presentations that go right over my head, but the most amazing concepts are the ones that go right under my feet.” —Louie Schwartzberg

Louie Schwartzberg has been doing time-lapse filming of flowers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for more than 30 years. It takes him a month to shoot a 4-minute roll of film. His subjects are ordinary. He shoots things we pass by every day with barely a glance: a bee landing on a flower, a strawberry, or a drop of water on a leaf. When Schwartzberg focuses on the flight of the bee, the ripening of the berry, or the movement of the water drop, he does so intensely and over, and over, and over again. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. Watch his work at the link below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQXaap6owZE

The same is true for professional athletes.

Wayne Gretzky’s DNA blessed him with many natural hockey gifts, but if Gretzky hadn’t passed pucks on his backyard rink until his toes froze night after night from a young age, he would never have become the hockey legend that he is. He focused on the ordinary and did it intensely over, and over, and over again.

Andre Agassi’s book, Open (which I highly recommend), tells of his hours spent returning tennis balls spit at him by the “dragon,” a ball machine modified by what he calls his “fire-breathing father.” Agassi didn’t return all those balls by choice—he desperately wanted to quit—but the ordinary act of returning tennis balls over, and over, and over led to Agassi having an extraordinary return of serve.

Even extraordinary parenting arises from the ordinary. Provide your children with nutritional food over, and over, and over. Squeeze your children with warm hugs over, and over, and over. Wash their dirty socks over, and over, and over. All these ordinary acts add up to extraordinary lives together.

Does the routine of your life feel ordinary? Place an imaginary time-lapse camera on your day and marvel at your simple, amazing, extraordinary acts.

Parenting

Parenting (Photo credit: Adventures of KM&G-Morris)

Extraordinary is just ordinary done over, and over, and over again

“. . . I think there might be some presentations that go right over my head, but the most amazing concepts are the ones that go right under my feet.”  —Louie Schwartzberg

Louie Schwartzberg has been doing time-lapse filming of flowers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for more than 30 years. It takes him a month to shoot a 4-minute roll of film.

His subjects are ordinary. He shoots things we pass by every day with barely a glance: a bee landing on a flower, a strawberry, or a drop of water on a leaf.

When Schwartzberg focuses on the flight of the bee, the ripening of the berry, or the movement of the water drop, he does so intensely and over, and over, and over again.

The ordinary becomes extraordinary. Watch his work at the link below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQXaap6owZE

The same is true for professional athletes.

Wayne Gretzky’s DNA blessed him with many natural hockey gifts, but if Gretzky hadn’t passed pucks on his backyard rink until his toes froze night after night from a young age, he would never have become the hockey legend that he did. He focused on the ordinary and did it intensely over, and over, and over again.

Andre Agassi’s book, Open (which I highly recommend), tells of his hours spent returning tennis balls spit at him by the “dragon,” a ball machine modified by what he calls his “fire-breathing father.” Agassi didn’t return all those balls by choice—he desperately wanted to quit—but the ordinary act of returning tennis balls over, and over, and over led to Agassi having an extraordinary return of serve.

Even extraordinary parenting arises from the ordinary.

Provide your children with nutritional food over, and over, and over. Squeeze your children with warm hugs over, and over, and over. Wash their dirty socks over, and over, and over. All these ordinary acts add up to extraordinary lives together.

So if you’re spending your days mired in the ordinary, place an imaginary time-lapse camera on your day and marvel at your simple, amazing, extraordinary acts.

My 20-year watch

I am not a permanent employee of any corporation. As a freelance writer, my benefits package is different from most: flexibility, independence and the ability to work in my pajamas. But no regular pay cheque or staff Christmas parties for me. And those braces on my kids’ teeth? Only half-covered by my husband’s plan.

I never expected to get a 20-year watch. But I got one—from my husband.

Last week he received a certificate of recognition for 20 years at his place of employment. He also got to choose a gift, and he did. A watch, for me. “You worked all those years, too,” he said. “But no one is going to give you a watch for it.”

When our second child was born, we decided that one or the other of us would stay home with our children.

It could have gone either way, but he had a higher salary and better benefits, so I began my life as an at-home parent. It wasn’t easy at first. I missed the social interaction at the office. I missed the respect that having a career outside the home gives you in the eyes of society. If you want to stop a conversation cold, try answering “I’m at home with the kids” to the question, “So, what do you do?” (Apparently it could be worse. My friend, Ellie, says “I’m a United Church minister” really drives a stake through the heart of a conversation.)

Too many people assumed that, because I was at home with my children, I was lazy, unmotivated or not very bright.

It took strong self-esteem to go to playgroups with my fellow at-home parents (an aeronautical engineer, lawyer, accountant, social worker, chef, IT specialist—not a lazy, unmotivated or not very bright person in the bunch) and know that I was doing the right thing for me and for my family.

My break from the workplace was supposed to be short. Two or three years, maybe, until the kids went to school. But the pull toward home always felt stronger than the pull toward career. Over the years I would do check-ins with my kids. “What would you think if I went back to work?” The answer would always be a vehement, “NO!”

The list of benefits of home-work was long:

  • I worked on “What’s for dinner?” over the course of the day, instead of in a rush at 6:00 p.m. with hungry kids circling.
  • I enjoy relaxed, solitary grocery trips on Tuesdays at 10:00 a.m. instead of stressful crowded Saturday excursions.
  • When our kids were sick, it was no big deal. No more “What’s your day like?” juggling of whose day was more important.
  • My commute to the office was 12 steps up the stairs. No more arriving late at day care due to traffic jams.
  • School field trips were a riot. (I didn’t miss many.)
  • I had time for volunteer work and community involvement.
  • I had time to write.
  • I worked in my pajamas.

And the list of benefits of office-work was short:

  • Intellectual stimulation and creative challenge.
  • Respect in the eyes of society.
  • Money

I found intellectual stimulation and creativity through my freelance writing in my home environment. That left money and respect, and neither of those two things seemed important.

My husband did the work that paid the bills. I did the work that kept our home humming and stress-free.

Is one more important than the other?

I know what society thinks. And I know what my husband thinks. I have the watch to prove it.

Starting from where we are, not where we want to be

When we run races, do we start at the finish line?

Of course not. We begin at the starting line, run every step (maybe walk a few), and cover all the ground in between. Everyone understands this.

So why do so many of us want to start at the finish line in other areas of our lives? And, importantly, why do we expect other people to be standing at the finish line before they have run the race?

We often think that we should be in some other better place instead of where we are. We often think that other people should be the way we want them to be instead of the way they are.

Parents do this all the time.

Children pass through difficult phase after difficult phase, with parents wishing each phase away:

“When will this baby ever _______ (take a bottle . . . sleep through the night . . . wean from the breast . . .)?”

“When will my toddler ever _______(be fully potty trained . . . stop throwing temper tantrums . . . give up the soother . . .)?”

“When will my child ever _______ (stop crying every day at school . . . learn to read . . . stop sucking her thumb . . .)?”

“When will my teenager ever _______ (settle down and do his homework on time . . . clean up that pigsty of a room . . . stop doing drugs . . .)?”

We want our children to be perfect, fully formed people without letting them run the race.

The problem is, people need to run the race. They need to go through the process.

If we expect too much too soon, it leads to discouragement and a feeling of “not good enough.” People can’t sit down at a piano for the first time and play “Moonlight Sonata.” Pianists learn to play it because they understand that a race needs to be run in order to get there.

My husband coaches hockey. He’s working through coaching training at the moment and is finding it difficult to balance the drills recommended in the workbooks with the needs of some of the players on his team. The proposed drills assume a level of skill that not all his players possess. “How can I run these drills when I need to teach my players to raise the puck?” he asks.

If he runs the drills, the players who can’t yet raise the puck will be discouraged. They will feel they aren’t good enough. But really, they are just at a different position in the race.

A friend of mine works with children who have extra challenges in their lives. She recently participated in a workshop about how to teach quality literacy to young children. She came away fuming because the suggested activities were not realistic for the kids she works with. “Some of them haven’t had breakfast. Their homes aren’t stable, so they haven’t slept. How can I do the things they propose in the workshop? I need to start with where my kids are.

Those kids don’t need more discouragement or “not good enough” feelings. They are at a different position in the race; let’s not expect them to be at the finish line.

What finish line do you see in the distance?

Earning promotion at work? Losing 10 pounds? Getting a part in a local musical? Whatever it is, understanding where you are is key.  Then figure out what ground you need to cover to get there.

Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to begin at the starting line, know that you’re good enough, and don’t get discouraged.

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