the problem with parenting…

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You might remember my feelings about “Mother’s Day.” If not, you can see my rants here

This year as we approach that day in the U.S, I’m struggling a little with that whole parenting thing. I know, what else is new?

In particular, I wonder how hard it will be to break the habit of saying “be careful” to my children whenever they get out of the passenger side of the car. I mean, I imagine that sometime, and perhaps soon, they’ll have internalized this concept. I say “be careful” to them all day long; when we’re taking walks, when they’re using scissors, when they’re making scrambled eggs. I caught myself saying it to my youngest son as he was coming down the stairs the other day, not running, not hopping, walking down the stairs. Force of habit.

It got me thinking about how useless those two words have become. Or maybe it isn’t that they are useless, maybe they are just code for something I am really thinking but afraid to say out loud. I’m slowly realizing that pretty much every time I say “be careful” to my kids (and for that matter, to my husband when he’s driving) what I am really saying is “I don’t trust you.”

I don’t trust that you’ll be safe.

I don’t trust that you’ll be able to take care of yourself.

I don’t trust that you won’t rear end that car ahead of us.

Sad but true.

The latest trend in parenting right now isn’t so much “helicopter” parenting anymore. Now, it’s what I’m hearing termed “lawnmower” parenting. These parents try to clear the path for the kids, wrapping everything in bubble wrap, sanitizing the area, sometimes literally. I like to make fun of parenting trends as much as anybody but hearing about this new trend gave me pause. As it was laid out for me, the realization dawned on me that as much as I try to get my kids to think critically, to solve their own problems, to make their own scrambled eggs, I do this. I smooth the road, I wrap the bubble wrap, I send the emails about the potential internship and the low grade gotten on a test. What I’m saying when I do this is once again, “I don’t trust you…”

So between my realization of the translation of “be careful” and the image of me smoothing the road ahead I found myself in a full on panic this week. Add to this the ill timing of my reading this story in the Atlantic about  a playground (that is actually a junk yard) in the UK and I had to admit that I would be a freaking basket case if my boys were playing in there. I mean, I WANT to be hip and cool and allow them to live out their kid-hood with some boldness and excitement but…you know…I also don’t want them to come home with lockjaw.

Reality is hard…bubble wrap is easy.

Now, I don’t tell you all this so that you’ll leave a comment assuring me that I’m a pretty good mother (obviously I won’t delete those comments if you feel so inclined.) I’m just laying it out there. I think too often I labor under the delusion that parenting is just easier for pretty much everyone but me. I think that my neighbor is doing it better, that her kids are turning out better, that her kids can get out of the passenger side of the car without tripping on the sidewalk and falling on the ground.

This is the problem with parenting…and it helps me to just put it out there sometimes, a voice shouting into the storm like Lieutenant Dan raging on that little shrimp boat in the hurricane.

In any case, this is where I’m at this week as I ponder the upcoming fake holiday celebration of Mother’s Day and I do the yearly internal assessment of my parenting skillz. Not to mention that all this is coming together as we reach the end of the school year. There will be playing outside and riding the bikes in the neighborhood. There will be stick fights in the backyard. There will be driving tests for my 16-year-old. There will be college visits for my daughter and high school choices for my oldest son. There will be pressure building and heat rising and maybe even a lawnmower leaking fumes in the wake of my parenting.

I think I’m going to need to be more careful.

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missive: gratitude

dear one,

You are no stranger to disappointment. It follows you around sometimes for days, calling you by your first name. It knows every injury you’ve ever gotten, every job you didn’t keep, every friend you lost, every hope dashed. Still, you are willing to take it into your house when it comes around, let it tell the stories of the hardships of the world and feed it all of the food from your table. Some nights if you are not careful you find you are only left with the remains of what was meant to be a feast of joy.

Disappointment cannot be avoided as long as air is breathed and blood is pumped. Disappointment is simply a part of what it means to be alive.

But we cannot live on the left over bread crumbs and bitter wine with disappointment as our only companion. Disappointment has its place, certainly. Unfortunately it cannot fuel us for the path ahead- but gratitude can.

Though it may be hard to muster in desperate times, gratitude can find us when we’re lost. Gratitude can fill us when we’re empty. Gratitude can rouse us for that next hard patch of road ahead. You may be tempted to toss gratitude off the first chance you get because you think it is temporary, because you are afraid to hope, because you cannot trust that you will be alright in the end.

Please, hold on to gratitude.

Call it up when things are desperate, when you are so tired you can’t speak, when you are sure that disappointment is knocking at the front door. Call up gratitude and let it reach deep into your bones and remind you of where your flesh is anchored, where your soul is seated, where your love is located.

You don’t have to turn disappointment away from the table when it shows up uninvited but at least let gratitude sit next to you so that it can refill your plate. Gratitude will not let you go hungry.

don’t forget,

mrs m