“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” --Harry S. Truman, 33rd President
Greetings Dear Ones!
It’s 1:am as I begin to write this. I have been lying here in my bed, gritting my teeth through guided meditations designed to put me into a deep sleep, but I feel like something is trying to pry my chest open with a rib spreader instead, so it can grab my heart with bare hands. I don’t know how I will be able to see to thread a needle tomorrow, through these hot, salty, puffy little eyes of mine. The son and heir, who forever leaves the seat of his throne Up (grrr), who festoons his room with wet towels draped like Christmas garlands, who plays music until all hours of the day and night and eats his weight in cereal between meals…this BOY phoned tonight to say that he is moving out! After nearly nineteen trips around the sun, this man-ling is old enough to vote and work and pay taxes (and therefore swear). (We have a rule that you are not allowed to cuss unless you pay taxes.) In the eyes of the law, he is a man. He has a job and now a rented room in Boston and he is off to continue his adventures as a Musician and a Seeker in the lands beyond the Enchanted Forest and his mother’s endless nagging that is like a church bell defining a parish.
I lie here thinking dizzily about how quickly my little nest has emptied and how swiftly flew Childhood. The moments were long but the years are a blur made fuzzier now with tears. I think about what kind of parent I have been and how that matches up against the parent I wish I had been.
I see other mothers with their children on a daily basis in the shop. I see your classic stereotypes—the neurotic dance mom, the “tiger” mom, the helicopter moms hovering anxiously outside the dressing room door in case “darling” might need them…Apparently, there is a new kind of parent called the “Snowplow” parent. It makes total sense to me that in New England half the country-folk are out plowing during every snowstorm (it’s actually snowing here right now!) and they probably have kids… Then I found out that “Snowplow parenting” has nothing to do with snow; it’s when the parent tries to remove or clear all on-coming (character-building) obstacles from the path of the child. These kinds of parents have been the focus of a scandal that has been in the news a lot recently.
This kind of news just depresses me and highlights more than ever what a Slacker I have been as a parent. I had no idea we could bribe our way into prestigious universities and sports teams! (Whaaat?? Fetch my cheque book!) Instead, there was I, hunched over in 1920’s stadium seating, knitting socks as my kids thrashed their way—kind of drowning in forward motion—up the length of a murky pool at swimteam practice every night for years, in the hopes that… what? That they could be strong? That they could get swimming scholarships one day? No. In the hopes that they would be too exhausted to bicker and might go to bed earlier with less fuss. When the little one got in the car and threw up a belly full of green pool water, saying he didn’t know what to do with the water when it came in his mouth so he just glugged it down as he swam (basically swimming as fast as he could swallow, poor sod), I yelled at him to throw up outside, and not on the floor of the car. (I ask you, what kind of witch yells at a child who is throwing up?) Not that we could see the floor of the car. I drove a mini-van so messy and filled with food scraps that if it had had a sunroof, sea gulls would have followed us like it was a shrimp boat. I wasn’t a Tiger, a helicopter, or a snowplow. I was a SLACKER mom. You might be tempted to confuse me with those mothers called “Free Range” mothers—who let their children out to graze on bugs and grass and lay their eggs in the yard. No. I wanted to be a Tigress flying a helicopter with a plow on each end. The truth is I was just too tired and ultimately too lazy to pull it off. Those women look like exciting mothers—mummifying chickens for their child’s project on Ancient Egypt, and getting them up early to do math games on weekends. Where were my children? Living in a cardboard box version of shanty town under the dining table. The main box, which had once contained a new appliance, later became a pirate ship that clogged our hallway for years. The “sea” around it was a piece of fabric that they could swim under with less difficulty than real water, bless their hearts.
In the shop, each prom gown is bigger than the last. They take hours to hem, even by machine. We have close to fifty on the racks waiting to be altered. I got two gowns done yesterday, while four more came in. Some have as much as a nine yard circumference. There is a turquoise one that would make a great sea for a cardboard pirate ship. It belongs to a young girl with so much aplomb she should be running for office any day now. She is good at organizing her mother who I suspect, like me, of being a Slacker.
Another mother comes in and wants to pick her daughter’s dress up early, before it is finished, so she can have a fitting at home. “I don’t want her to flip out in front of you if this is not what she wanted. I want her to flip out at home where I won’t have to be embarrassed in public. You know how she is…” says the mother, in conspiratorial tones and rolling her eyes with dramatic flair. She is a Snowplow who seems intent on pushing her daughter under the nearest bus. Prudence has diagnosed this daughter before: “She caught a mild case of CLB (Cheeky Little Brat) when she was very young. It’s a perfectly routine, fairly innocuous childhood malady that usually gets better with a few gentle corrections and redirection. Unfortunately, this case went totally untreated, like Lyme disease of the Soul, and has progressed into a full-blown, possibly terminal case of PPS (Pampered Princess Syndrome.)” The mother is terrified of the monster she has created and she wants us all to fear it too. I refuse. She’s a perfectly civil and polite young lady when she has to be and she will probably do a fine job of parenting herself in a few years when she enters the Real World, leaves the shadow of the Snowplow, and learns these simple things:
We don’t always get what we Want in life; we get what we Are.
People are either accusative or inquisitive. (We humans like one of these kinds much more so than the other.)
Lots of people have more of and better than you do. (Just as many have less of and worse than too.) The battle is not about circumstances. People go to war over circumstances when the battle is really about the Mind, the Will, the Heart. What do you Believe in? Go there. Do THAT. The circumstances around it are, as this seamstress sees it, “im-Material.”
We are short-staffed this month as one of our three best workers is in Alaska for a family wedding. We need help. We ask people we know who like to sew if they would consider doing some work in the shop. “Oh. No!” They say, “I could never work on other people’s clothes! What if I messed something up? I could never forgive myself!” Being a seamstress, it seems, takes a lot of courage. Does it take more than average courage? No. Hardly not. Mending a pair of pants that have come in after being triaged in the field (the crotch was sewn together with dental floss), while thrilling work, hardly equates to rushing into burning buildings to save kittens. But pretty much all the things we humans do require Courage, the willingness to fail our way to success, and the self-compassion to forgive ourselves when we accidentally cut the pants two inches too short because we cut at the “finished edge” line and not the cutting line, especially if we did it to all nine pairs of pants at once. (Yipe!)
Please understand, I’m not judging anyone’s parenting style here. Different children may require different styles. Just like in clothing, one size does NOT fit all! But somehow, we need to raise children who have Courage—the Courage to Show up, the Courage to Speak up, and when the moment requires, the courage to chop into a vintage wedding gown without a pattern.
I think we could go far if our kids were endowed with both Courage (a word whose Latin origin means “heart”) and Imagination—the mind’s ability to “image” or picture what is not present. Strong Hearts, Strong Minds, Strong Bodies. Not one of them is made in Comfort: Discomfort, Disappointment—these are fundamental requirements. Letting our kids deal with their own discomfort is uncomfortable for US. We abhor witnessing pain. As Prudence says, “We all want to get to Heaven but none of us wants to die.” We, who cannot let our children experience Difficulties fully, on their own terms, are weenies. That’s the truth. We do them a great disservice. When we free a butterfly from its chrysalis, we avert the struggle it needs to force blood into its own wings so it can fly. We cripple it.
So, how do we, who wish we were over-achievers, stop from making our kids into trophies we give to ourselves? How do we do the NOT-doing that needs to be done? Benevolent neglect. Boredom. No Screen time. One of the best things my parents ever did was not buy me and my sisters everything for our Barbies and dollhouses. We became creators, not collectors. We learned to look at things with imagination. We made our own furniture and doll bedding out of scraps and cardboard. Yes, it looked like hell. We did not care. (Ok, we cared.) We felt deprived and desperate—which made us try harder and get Creative with things like Kleenex and tape, dental floss and markers. I’m not certain that MacGyvor ever played with Barbies—Maybe he did. If so, I’m sure he is the better for it because playing like we did, without parental intervention, taught us that Everything Required is always present. If it is not present, it’s not required. I’m convinced that every skill I have today can be traced back to “needing” something for my dollhouse that my own Slacker Parents did not provide so I had to call it into being through my own patient ingenuity, trial and error.
The Best things I have ever done have been the Hardest, at every age. At 32, it was the birth and welcoming home of this astonishing and magical boy. At 51, it’s letting him go… I truly believe that our children will never be defeated by what others say about them. They can only be defeated by what they say about themselves. Their triumphs can only be genuine if their challenges were too. I’m full of angst about the poison in the world and all the troubles that await him but he is champing at the bit and ready to jump like a stiff-kneed lamb off the biggest little rock he can find. He wants to test himself, to prove himself. I am so fiercely proud of him. He’s borne and traded many a scrape for dignity and maturity already. His future Triumphs await. I can only hope I have neglected him enough.
Slack on, fellow Slackers!
Yours aye, with love and admiration,