Parenting Re-do

Whoever here is perfect raise your hands please? If any of you had a shot at the title before thinking otherwise and keeping your hand firmly planted, good for you. Correct answer: no one is perfect. I think we can all agree on that. If we follow these delectable bread crumbs of knowledge where does the path logically lead? To the fact that since we’re not perfect, that must mean that we make mistakes. That’s another truism in life: we all make mistakes.

Michelle Obama makes mistakes. Ellen DeGeneres makes mistakes. Even Kate Middleton makes mistakes. Doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or where you’re at now, you’re always going to make mistakes. I’m about to reveal one of mine that has been slightly harder to reconcile than a run-of-the-mill daily mistake like burning the toast or tripping up the steps.

Since we’ve already come to a consensus that every person makes mistakes, then that must mean that even parents err. Having a child doesn’t make us godly (even though we now have a tiny human looking at us as if we do hold all the answers). I would say that I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve made mistakes raising both my kids, but in reality, it’s something I stress over constantly. Probably more so as it pertains to my son. He’s the older of the two and kinda like the guinea pig to my attempt at what a mom should do. I’ll tell you what, steep learning curve with that one. Really, nothing prepares you to be a parent. You non-parents may think “oh yeah, we’ll I’ve raised dogs before” or “my garden is constantly thriving” and at this I laugh a big hearty cackle to your obliviousness. There is nothing like parenting.

So if there’s no other thing to really draw upon, how good should a first time mom or dad truly expect to be? Imagine that you’re really good at balancing on one foot in yoga class and then you’re supposed to walk a tightrope. Or you play a mean game of Duck Hunt and then someone hands you a double gauged Winchester. It’s sort of like that. Except with guilt.

My son is 22 today and he reigns as the absolute love of my life. I am more proud of him than I am ever able to adequately express, but man, what I wouldn’t give for a couple of redo cards for when he was growing up. Not redoing anything about him, but me…all me.  There never seems like there’s enough time, does there? With a wave of my magic redo card I would conjure up more time spent playing games and less time spent stressing over homework. I’d use another redo card to sit back and marvel at his amazing Lego talent (the kid was a freakin’ savant and could build virtually anything using just a picture in his head) and not fuss so much over the messy aftermath of his architectural achievements. There’d be more bedtime stories and laughter and less stringent time management to make sure he hit his curfew.

I feel like these are common complaints. I wish for more good times and less frustrating oversight, but would there ever be enough good? Probably not. I’d probably be greedy for more carefree times no matter how chocked full of them his youth had been… but I’ll never know and I can’t shake the fact that maybe there weren’t enough. I was too worried about maintaining the perfect house and the perfect family and having him get perfect grades when I should’ve been paying more attention to the perfect little boy that I had right in front of me.

Luckily, no matter what stumbles in my first experiment at parenting yielded, he’s still perfect in my eyes. And he’s a damn good man to boot.

Jake as baby

My Baby

Jake as a teen

Handsome Teen

Jake

His Paul Bunyan Impression

Feed Me

The overwrought parent. It’s an ageless and timeless trope that has been milked for easy jokes on dozens if not hundreds of sitcoms for decades now. The kids come home from college and the mom immediately rushes up to her son or daughter, clawing at their clothing while wailing about how they’re nothing but skin and bones. The mom then makes it her duty to whip up a hearty dinner of meat stew and potatoes to try to fatten her kids up before sending them back off to that barren wasteland known as University.

How many times have I rolled my eyes whenever I saw a mother portrayed that way? I’d think to myself, The kids are fine. Settle down. They’re 20 years old; they know how to find food for the love of God! Little did I know that I was bound for the same fate; my course having been set even before I was born, and now I have finally arrived at that echelon of motherhood teeming with irrational anxiety that for some reason my kids have lost any ability to live independently and will die without my assistance.  Whew. Okay. Breathe.

My grandmother used to always push food on us like we had been locked in the Oliver Twist orphanage for decades on end. The funny thing is that she didn’t do this to us when we were kids, only when we were full-fledged grown-ups coming to visit. I guess that as a child she figured my mom would ensure we were fed. Maybe she thought the older I got, the less likely I would be lucky enough to find someone willing to give me food (because for some reason I don’t have the ability to do it myself). So, me as an adult, I’d come by to say hello and she’d cook for me (always) and even insist that I take food home with me.

I remember she did the same thing to my mother.   A sandwich for the road…biscuits for later…a piece of that fine ham she had for dinner.  It was simply impossible to leave the house without something wrapped in foil or stuffed in Tupperware.

Then it was my mom’s turn. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but she hit a certain age and boom, she fell right in step. Sometimes when I leave her house after a visit it’s like I was just at the Whole Foods store. Balanced in my arms are loaves of bread, canned goods, sweets, and frozen meat (yes, frozen meat). Bless her heart.

Ridiculous, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought.  But the virus has taken over my brain too! My poor son. He’s 22 — a man in the eyes of the law—and has moved into his own place, but he’s still in that “new adult” stage; scraping for cash, trying to get on his own two feet. When he comes to visit I feel that it is my maternal obligation to fill his belly with as much food as I can. I constantly tell him to ransack the place, rummage through the cupboards, take anything. I’m pushing food on him like the generations of mad women before me.

Except now I understand that it’s not that we don’t have faith that our kids can live on their own…it’s just that if we know they’re fed…if we can do that one small thing for them… then we figure they can handle the rest of life on their own. And really, money does play a part in it. I would rather my son ransack my cabinets than live on only Ramen for the week. I know my mom feels the same way about me and that’s why she lets me grocery shop in her cupboards.

We can’t solve all of their problems and we can’t “fix” everything no matter how much we want to. But we can feed them. We can make sure that one primary need is filled. So we can worry about them a little less. Knowing that makes me feel a little less crazy. A little.

Night Mares

As any parent out there knows, the older your child gets the less it seems they need you. The more children learn about the world, the fewer things about it frighten them. When they learn that shadows are nothing more than the absence of light, the monsters lurking in them seem to disappear. When they realize that there really isn’t a goblin hiding under the bed, they call your name out less in the middle of the night hoping to God you have a flashlight with you. When they understand they will see you again after school lets out, the cries when you drop them off seem fewer and more far between. While it’s great to watch your child mature and develop, to become their own person that is slowly but surely building their arsenal to someday take on the world on their own, this growing up phase can be bittersweet for us parents.

I don’t know if you want to say that we feel left behind. More so I think we don’t like the idea that we are slowly but surely being stripped of the role as the all-knowing all-saving protector of this precious life, a life that looks to us when the rest of the world doesn’t make sense and is filled with dangers around every corner. I know, I know, selfish, right?

I get especially nostalgic about this when I think about the nightmares my daughter had when she was little. She had them often. We’re talking screaming in the night, trying to escape the hell her bed had become, while never fully awake nightmares. So to help her get to sleep I used to lay with her in bed and we’d talk about all the beautiful dreams we were going to have that night and made plans for how we were going to meet up. We’d make gloriously detailed plans about what we were going to do when we saw each other in this wonderful dreamscape. The setting would vary a bit but we always chose horses to be a part of our joint dream.

Sometimes they’d be the everyday horses we see grazing in the fields now. She and I would choose what color our horses would be; the hair, the mane, even the color of the eyes. Then we’d pick out where we were going to meet. Oftentimes our destination was a peaceful riverbank where we’d enjoy a picnic, our horses neighing next to us before we would take off on a ride along the countryside next to the bright blue water. Other times we’d be creative and imagine ourselves flying on the back of majestic winged Pegasus horses. We could see the colors of the feathers in our minds and wax poetic on where we’d fly to.

black horse white mane

one of our favorite color schemes

Once all the details were settled I’d hug her tightly, slip out of bed, and we’d say, “See you there!” to each other as I turned the light off and sent her to a restful sleep. It really did seem to be an effective way of taking her mind off the fear she had about possible bad dreams creeping in. Sometimes worrying about having nightmares can be worse than having the nightmare itself and ends up being a twisted sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

My daughter brought this memory up just the other day as something she had treasured…and it warmed my heart thinking about this little game we used to play, back when she still needed me to protect her from the Boogeyman.  At the same time it also made me a little sad that she’s certainly old enough now where she doesn’t need me to join her in her dreams anymore. But even though I’ve lost that, I know she’ll always need me for something else and while it might not be galloping through the stars on mythical beasts, I’m more than happy to help her cross through her valley of fears in any way she needs.