Thursday, May 17, 2018

The "Joy" of Parenting

Over the past several years, I've learned that parents have, shall we say, somewhat varied goals for their children.  Actually that's not true.  Everyone wants their children to grow up and be fulfilled, well-adjusted, and above average.  Successful even (whatever that means).

No, it's not the goals for the children that vary.  It's the goal for the parenting.  Shoot, sometimes the parenting goals change depending on which child you're talking about.  The first child comes along and the parents swear up and down that they will be the best parents ever, faithfully guarding against the evils of BPA, slathering in this ointment and that to prevent even the mildest discomfort, rushing in at the slightest peep to pat and comfort.  Reaching out an unwavering, unflinching hand to catch projectile vomite that will wind up covering the hand, arm, and chest (and probably a significant part of the floor).  I know of a parent that once called the doctor when his first child slept through the night at a week and a half, to which the doctor patiently replied, "Dad, usually we don't complain when the children sleep through the night."  "Right.  I'm not complaining...but is it...ok?"  "Yes, Dad."

Image result for doctor on phone
Spoiler alert.  It was me.
But then the second one comes along, and it's all different.  You don't worry quite as much because you messed up so many times with the first one that you realize if children were fragile they wouldn't survive.  You'd feed the second kid out of a solo cup if you could get a nipple on that thing, and you'd strongly consider something other than milk if the child wasn't sleeping.  On Christmas Eve night you might even give them, uh, strong eggnog to get them to sleep (ok, I want to go on record here: that last one wasn't me at all...I was on the receiving end of the eggnog, and I required a Snicker's bar to chase it down).

If you have a third, all bets are completely off.  "How old do you have to be to warm your own bottle?" you ask yourself.  Sure, the kid can't walk yet, but she can probably bathe herself and get ready for bed tonight.

I'm pretty sure anyone who has four winds up subscribing to "free-range parenting" for the whole lot of 'em.  "Fend fer yerselves, kiddos!  Daddy's going to have some eggnog!"

Of course, I made up the third and fourth.  We stopped at two because we figured that way we could "man up on 'em."  I don't care how good your zone defense is, there's always a seam, and children are exceptionally good at finding it.  Thats' when they start licking the TV or unloading the dishwasher [into the floor] or fail-testing the integrity of your $1000 cabinet-lock system.

Image result for child safety lock magnet
Impervious to adults.
Minor inconvenience to children.
I digress.  What I mean to suggest is that the goals of parenting vary, that's all.  For me, I'm mostly a "keep 'er between the ditches" kind of parent.  I just try really hard not to damage them, trusting that if I can just keep this thing on the road we'll eventually get where we're going.  Fortunately I have a fantastic wife who is much more capable than I am at this game.  She is helping them become...good people, and actually that's why I'm writing this.  Today her hard work paid off.

See, I wasn't having a great day.  I was running behind most of the day.  Five minutes late to everything.  It's not that stuff wasn't getting done.  It was.  It's just...everything was a struggle.  I kept making mistakes that I needed to correct.  Traffic was...straight up STOOOOOPID.  I dropped my daughter off at dance, feeling mildly accomplished that we arrived by 5:07; she was only seven minutes late.  Then my phone rang.

"Are you going to be able to pick up Lucy?"
"Sure.  I just dropped her off, so I can get Wesley changed and then get back."
"You have to pick her up at 5:30...wait...you just dropped her off?"
"Yes...it's 5-6 today, right?"
"No, that's Monday.  She was supposed to be there at 4:45."
"Well, no problem picking her up at 5:30.  That's in 15 minutes."

I was still two minutes late picking her up, by the way, even though the van never left the dance school parking lot.

She got in the car, and I really felt bad.  So I explained.  "You were right, Lucy.  I should have picked you up sooner.  I got the wrong time for dance, so you were very late, and it's all my fault.  I'm sorry."

At that very moment, the clouds parted, the rays of the Divine came down, and the angels sang.  My children did not complain our grouch at me.  They didn't smack each other or me.  Though they were disappointed in the way things were going, from my children I received...grace.  "It's ok, Dad.  Everyone has bad days sometimes."

My kids have done some pretty great things over the years.  I'd list them here, but I'd be bragging because I know it's probably more than your kids (ha!).  Nothing has made me more proud than the times I have seen them show compassion to others.  As a parent, I am used to offering compassion to them--that's just part of the gig.  But as a parent, I never really expected to receive it from them.

I was objectively proud of them for extending compassion to me.  But it as more than that.  For just a moment I wasn't their parent.  I was subordinate.  In need of forgiveness.  They saw what I was feeling, looked past my yelling at slow-moving traffic in the van and my complete failure to get anyone anywhere on time, and they comforted me.  I wasn't expecting that until they have to pick out my nursing home.  All I'm aiming for was to keep 'em between the ditches, y'all, and a lot of times I feel like we're dropping onto the shoulder.  But today...today was really something.

That's how it is with kids, I guess.  Right now my very patient, grace-filled child is hovering around me asking if I'm FINISHED WITH THAT YET YOU'VE BEEN WORKING ON IT SO LONG!  But somewhere, deep inside, there is a fulfilled, well-adjusted, above-average person.  Successful even.  More importantly, inside there is a Divine Spark.  I saw it today.  Today I saw the face of God in the face of my two kids.  I wasn't really ready for that...but then, are we ever really ready for a divine encounter?

Now if  you'll excuse me...the children are yelling at each other in the bathroom.  Does anyone know if the Geneva Convention applies in unincorporated DeKalb County?

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