I stayed up late last night reading a book till the end. And then I got up with my alarm, early, and ran before the cars could take over the streets. It was still and quiet and not all that slippery, with a fresh dusting of snow falling, and a huge full moon.
But then I was tired, and napped after the kids left for school, and I couldn’t wake up for ages. Not recommended. I was dreaming about parenting — and it was clearly an anxiety dream. There are lots of subjects I don’t touch on this blog, for reasons of privacy. I’m not the only “character” in the stories I tell, and my kids, as they grow and change, may have their own opinions about how things are going down — their own interpretations. I remember how annoying it was when I would overhear my mom telling another mom a story about me — I would jump in to proclaim that wasn’t what I said, or not what I’d meant, missing the point that she was embellishing for effect or humour; missing the point, too, that the primacy of my point of view was questionable.
So I’m trying to remember that, now. The primacy of my point of view is questionable. I’ve got in my possession the stories of my children. But they’re not mine, not really. So as we stumble into different territory, as they grow into the more opinionated, complicated, autonomous people they are destined to become, I’m taking care — trying to, that is — not to pin them down according to my view of who they are. I’m training myself to let go, at least a bit. Or maybe a lot, at times.
Right now I’m struggling with something that sounds really basic. I want a certain kid to pick the dirty clothes off the floor and throw them into the laundry hamper in the hallway. I’ve been at this certain kid to do this for, well, weeks. I’ve forced myself not to pick up the clothes myself, letting them fester for days, which bothers me greatly, and bothers the kid not at all. Not at all. When we chat, I find myself bringing the conversation around, relentlessly, to the clothes on the floor. The clothes that seem to say so many things: this kid is over-privileged, hasn’t been given enough responsibility, fails to appreciate the efforts that sustain the well-being of all in this household, refuses to participate in the simplest chores; but mostly, I’ve realized, the clothes seem to say: I don’t care. I don’t care about your rules. I don’t care about you.
In other words, I’ve successfully turned a pile of dirty laundry into a metaphorical mountain of mothering guilt.
More precisely, I’ve turned the dirty clothes on the floor into an indictment of my own parenting, because if the kids are poorly trained at household chores, it’s my doing, not theirs. My anxiety is the lens through which I see the scene: I haven’t taught them right, I’m not moulding them into respectful, hygienic, thoughtful human beings, I’ve spoiled them, and the proof is right there festering away on the floor! And … and … (here’s the greatest anxiety of all) … I’m running out time.
My kids are growing so quickly, changing before my very eyes, growing away from me. Am I doing enough? When they’re unleashed on the world, will they be the kind of people who notice what other people need, who care, who offer to do the dishes, who look out for friends in trouble, who look out for themselves, too, and treat themselves with kindness and compassion, and floss and do yoga? You know what I mean?
This was totally not what I sat down to write this morning.
But parenting. It’s such an enormous responsibility and yet ultimately I feel kind of helpless, so utterly human and fallible as I go about the daily tasks and interactions. I feel sometimes like maybe there’s an ideal parenting script out there in the ether, with perfect words that I’ll never quite manage to speak, at the right time, or in the right amounts.
The thing that keeps me hopeful is that I love my kids, and they know it.
This morning, upon waking from the nap and the anxiety dream, I decided I wouldn’t mention the dirty clothes to said kid again, at least for awhile. I’d like to talk about other things, together. I’d like to let go of what matters to me, just a little bit. Maybe if I can, I will understand better what matters to the kid. Let me listen. Let me listen.