The Mister and I have this crazy idea that the goal of rearing children is to create productive adult citizens who help make the world a better place. As people send their kids off to college for the first time and weep about it for days and days, we find ourselves perplexed. We don’t know what’s going on that people are overwhelmed by this. We make a focused effort to understand and be supportive, but it’s really all we can do to wrestle our tongues with one particular thought, “What did you think was going to happen?!?”
We thought that was the goal?
I mean, if they’re not going to college, then they gotta go somewhere, do somethin — trade school, military, fall in love and make babies, find a nice cardboard box, backpack across Europe, rent a crap apartment with five other kids — somethin! Am I right?
I’m certainly not immune to feelings or sentiment, but every milestone a kid passes should be bittersweet — not traumatic.
I’ve done 13 twice. I think 13 is a big deal. A kid who’s 5 years from adulthood should be self-motivated and largely independent. Bubba was neither. He was very typical on the teenage lack of motivation and nowhere near independent.
“Are you doin that walkathon thingy?”
“Do you have some paperwork?”
“I dunno. Maybe. Somewhere.” *watches 4,000 loose papers pour from bookbag* I could tell you he was a preemie with developmental delays, and that he had ADD and his social skills suffered, but really, at 13, I’d say he was lazy and petulant, and that his brain probably had a graphics card three sizes too big for his head. His 11-year-old sister could take better care of him than he could. At 13, Sissy was so competent at ‘life-ing,’ we probably could have abandoned her anywhere, and within a week, she’d have a job and a place to live.
My point here is that all kids are different, and parenting is a per-child adjustment.
Sassy’s nearing 13 and as such, her perimeters are growing with her responsibility. She’s incredibly mature. I don’t know why, maybe she’s an old soul.
In the last year I’ve had to do really awful parent-y stuff, stuff that’s bad for my anxiety — let her go and watch her fail.
I don’t mean that with cruelty, but that’s how it goes. They have to fail like the rest of us. To learn. Life is a lot of trial and error, and if we’re always there, they don’t learn nearly as much. As soon as you give them a shred of autonomy, they fuck up. They’re supposed to. Remember young you? I do. I was a good kid, but I still look back and think I was naive, reckless, even stupid at times. My parents were super duper laissez-faire, so I had plenty of time to be an idiot and learn from my mistakes.
I made them.
They expected me to make mistakes.
We get heartbroken when our children suffer. We suffer with them, we suffer for them. It’s tragic. But I take such great offense at this popular trend to hover over and intervene in every aspect of a child’s life to prevent anything from happening. It creeps me out, like Santa, like puppeteers, like deus et machina.
If we prevent anything from happening, NOTHING HAPPENS.
We’re not trying to protect our children, we’re trying to protect our children so we can protect ourselves. We think we’ve got it all figured out, we know what’s best, so we’ll make all the best choices, and our children will do what we tell them to, want what we tell them to, like what we like — that is not how it works — not even a little bit. On the off chance that your kid does any of those things, you feel pleased, and rightly so. But you can only take so much credit, and you can only accept so much blame, on either side of the pendulum. Did you score that winning point? No? Well you didn’t fail that entrance exam, either. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
So — with Sassy, it has begun. She knows she’s involved in the experiment that is herself. More freedom, more privilege, more responsibilities, trust, expectation, reflection, consequences — these are all discussed. In the last year:
— I let her go to the fallow field to play with her friends, unsupervised. She lay down in the tall grass and immediately got contact dermatitis that lasted for three days. I had to check her and her two feet of hair for ticks.
— I sent her into the grocery for a gallon of whole organic milk. She came back with whole milk. Enjoy the extra hormonal shifts!
— I sent her into the transportation office to claim her own lost bookbag. I don’t think she’ll leave it on the bus again.
— I made her write her own essay on the application for independent study. She got in.
— I let her stay the night with people I don’t know. They walked to a gas station to get snacks and a Redbox at 10pm and she got scared.
— I let her go to the movies at night! with people I don’t know! They didn’t buy tickets early enough and had to go again the next day.
— I dropped her off at birthday parties in crowded public places with people I don’t know. She had a good time.
— I let her go to a pool party with strangers. She did not put the sunscreen on her face. Her face was red and painful for five days.
— I make her carry her own damn cello, and laptop, and bookbag, onto the bus, all at once.
— I let her roam the neighborhood with a group including BOYS.
— I make her go ask for her own things, like packets of ketchup, library books, shoes in her size. People give them to her.
— I leave her home alone.
— I let her join Goodreads and now she’s friends with strangers.
All of these baby-step things terrify me, because I don’t trust the world and at this point, I’m only hoping I can trust her. For her, I’m frightened of everything. I don’t even like to let her walk home alone. What if Stephen doesn’t get off the bus with her? Anything could happen! She could get hit by a car or be abducted and sold into sex trade! I’ve been known to stand in the street and will her late bus to arrive. Yes, I believe motherhood is strong enough to summon 15-ton vehicles, don’t you?
Denial is my most convenient vacation destination, y’all.
But I let go. It’s a leap of faith, and as each of them grow up, I gotta let go more and more and more…
…until leaving is no big deal, because they’ve been treated like and acting like adults for some time now. This has always been the goal.
I’m not some kinda parenting role-model, but I do enjoy sharing what I’ve learned. I like to think I’ve done 13 better every time, but I look at Moo, and I think, at 13 she’ll be like, 10 inside…and I know my greatest challenge lingers still.
Maybe SHE’ll get lucky.