Monday, April 6, 2009

A Little Help from Our Friends

As a parent, it is a constant challenge to decipher the appropriate moments to just witness or actually step in to save the day. Having begun our journeys together nurturing and caring for our children in every way, it is an agonizing process to watch a difficult lesson be learned.

Just as we are given eight or nine months to get used to the idea that our life will so radically change with the birth of a child, this process naturally begins in nearly unnoticeable ways. We recognize easily the difference between offering bites—no matter how distracted the toddler might be—and jamming the spoon down its throat. Later, we wrestle with the proportion of dessert to a clean plate. And later still, we agonize how to make the connection between the number of Big Mac’s and their hesitation to go to the beach.

We hold their tiny and trusting fingers reassuringly as they take their first tentative steps and excitedly let go when they are ready to waddle three steps to our partner across the room. We cheer loudly at the soccer game and cheer them up afterwards. Our hearts swell with marvelous pride to see them step to the podium to accept an honor or speak lessons of their own. We are proudly tearful to see them walk down the Aisle.

This morning my son awakens before dawn to continue work on a rough draft of a world civics paper due today. Despite an important trip last week with his mother and an impressive weekend effort at a model United Nations conference, there was time to sketch out the themes along the way. Instead, he struggles in the early hour and the work suffers a lack of quality. He knows I cannot write it for him, but pleads I at least write a note requesting an extension.

My heart aches to see him suffer, nodding off in his seat at midnight, rising slowly to try again to find any light in the darkness this morning. I have the ability to dictate the copy and have to restrain myself.

So clearly I remember thirty years ago the impotent concern in my mother’s voice, understanding I had already committed my heart to a grieving widow ten years older and her two children. She could only watch and celebrate over the years as life went well and another child was born, and worry when I called across the country with my voice full of pain and fear. It would never have benefited to utter the slightest phrases resembling “I told you so,” or “Perhaps you should…”

My father also has been constantly challenged by my need for money. After bailing me out with thousands for a business that ultimately failed anyway, despite my optimistic promises, he knows the day has come and gone when I should be walking on my own, yet finds it impossible to deny my plaintiff plea for help with the rent while I abandon that work and just focus on rebuilding my life. He wants to see the results in my pocket and loves enough to discern that things do not always turn out the way he might want or even understand. This time, at least, he can see my focus strikes more directly at the true heart of my problems.

We were raised to know that it was alright to make mistakes. To achieve higher goals, one has to take risks. That same child who crashes to the side, bumping his head painfully in the steps between parents, is comforted and set back on his feet, eventually making it all the way across, and even later, steps beyond, through the door and out of the nest.

We stumble, we fall. We pick ourselves up. Hopefully, there is always someone nearby to embrace us, dust off our knees, and send us on our way again.

I cannot write my son’s paper for him, but I can make him breakfast. I can encourage him to complete another paragraph and submit the rough draft as best it can be this morning. Knowing that he has done his best today, after he has gone, I can write an email to his teacher explaining that though his paper is not finished, he really needed that time last week with his mother.

Please share with your friends


Laurie said...

I find the consequences are much easier to navigate at Sawyer's age than when he is older. Watching the results of poor decisions come to your child is really difficult. We parents want to tip-toe across that board, balancing carefully as to not fall on the the side of over-protecting. But it is hard. It is so hard to watch the police put the handcuffs on you own baby especially when you're the one that dialed the phone for their help.

Anonymous said...

Parenting really is such a difficult job, and I would dare to say THE most difficult job. What a shame that it appears to have become so undervalued these days.

I feel complete sympathy for your son, I remember those nights spent infront of the computer trying to throw together 2000 words essays that were due in the next day. My goodness, I would smoke a LOT of cigarettes during those nights :-) Of course I don't advocate that your son smoke cigarettes to help with his inspiration though *lol*