Monday, December 12, 2016

Parenting Dreams

In the dream, I am sweating in a paddy wagon, parked outside with tons of street noise making it hard to hear, on a black corded telephone, talking to an investigator who is questioning me about why my child and I were exiting the library through a window in a storage closet with a contraband Berenstain Bears book. I’ve been caught red-handed heaving my kid up onto the high window ledge with the book, while inexplicably also trying to juggle coffee and a half-eaten egg sandwich. The librarian who happened to go in the closet and discovered us was flabbergasted that I, a pillar of the community, was doing such a thing. A lengthy explanation of how it wasn’t on the shelf and the project is due tomorrow and the catalog said maybe a non-circulating copy was in this closet followed. When she asks why I didn’t just get a copy at Barnes and Noble, I have no answer. I didn’t think of that. Also, this is the fourth kid I’ve helped to illegally borrow this book from the library, and honestly, sneaking out of the window is kind of fun. I wake up before finding out if they let me go free, lock me up or what.

OK, I was an English major, so I can totally unpack this dream for its allegorical representation of parenting ethics, how one must beware of helping your child too much with schoolwork especially if one is a nerd and thinks schoolwork is fun . . . that there is always a third choice within a dialectical dilemma . . . the half-eaten egg sandwich represents the multi-tasking and self-denial of parenting, etc. I can also say that You Might Be Neurotic if you have this kind of dream instead of a nice straight-up dream about bacon. Guilty. This is just the latest in a long series of recurring parenting dreams for me. I think this is the “parent of adults and teens dream.” Getting reprimanded for helping them steal a children’s book represents the need for me as a parent to let them go and solve their own problems. (Once you press the English Major button, you can’t stop the flow of insights, people).

When the kids were younger, I had this recurring dream: I’ve got all the kids at the mall and I’m attempting to herd them from the Food Court to Kohl’s so I can replace their pants which are six inches too short, again. I’m holding a half-eaten hot pretzel (symbolic parental self-sacrifice, again!) Suddenly one of the kids breaks free and begins running toward the glass rail that separates this floor of the mall from the faux marble floor twenty feet below. I’m yelling at Kid to stop but Kid barrels on, disobeying me. The glass rail dissolves and Kid plummets halfway to certain death as we all scream, whereupon I wake up in a cold sweat. Not too hard to analyze that one: the feeling of powerlessness and lack of control over my kids I so often felt as a young parent. I definitely like the Berenstain Bears Busting dream better. As I improve at parenting, I must be getting more skilled at this neurotic parenting dream thing as well.

Am I the only dreaming parent? I would love to hear your recurrent parenting dreams in the comments below or on the Real Parent Facebook page. Given how important parenting is to us, I’m guessing there are some good ones out there. In the context of this article, I send you this wish: may none of your parenting dreams come true. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Houseful of Kids

The march of parental sappiness continues, dear friends. Oh, how I am savoring this house full of kids these days. There must be a way for them to both go soon, and stay forever.

I firmly believe we raise kids to leave us. I want them to go. I want them to sail off on their own adventures, to find their place in the world’s story, to craft their own careers and families and communities. I cannot wait to see what they will do.

But then – I won’t hear them laughing together in the next room. I won’t be able to demand daily hugs – not even the awkward teen “side hug” that avoids full contact. When we watch a movie, our MacGyvered sectional, with the armrest cover picked apart and ironed onto that cushion that got worn from five kids sitting on it, won’t feel cozily crowded with seven of us simply sharing the same space together, breathing the same air.  There won’t be road trips with the van crammed to the gills with people and pillows, Dunkin Donuts and Doritos. There will not be moonlit walks where I don’t even need to say anything beyond “really” or “field-programmable gate array, you say?” as one of five delightful young people pours out ideas.  We won’t all be together the way we are now.

So it’s the season for savoring a houseful of kids. When frustrations come, like broken piles of Nerf guns in the living room or sibling-induced hysteria, let us remember that these too are fleeting. When you think I’m torn too many ways by the needs of too many kids, let’s remember just how precious you all are and how diminished our family would be without any single one of you.  Maybe Garrison Keillor said it best: “Life is flowing . . . like ketchup on a bun.” Let’s enjoy these last years together before you go off and make your own rich and beautiful lives.

Today, I give my whole self to parental sappiness. I’ll remember that these sappy feelings really are a gift. They are a reminder to savor the last, delightful moments together as a family before the kids go off into the world with our blessing. I’ll let the kids know that while I don’t need or want them to stay here with us forever, they are cherished and loved, and their sparkling personalities will always bring us joy. Go off, kids, and live in the world – but please do come home when you can. This house just won’t be the same without you.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Into the Wilderness, Kids!

Good morning, kids!  I had another Great Idea last night. Wait for it. You are going to absolutely love this one.

I’m taking you Into the Wilderness! I think it will be great for us as a functioning family.

Why would I do this, you ask? Well, maybe I’ve just been writing too many grants for Outward Bound lately, but what I want is for you to grasp a few different aspects of the “wilderness ethic.” That’s something that I know about and you really don’t. There is much for teens and young adults to learn here, though.

You will absorb the value of how to habitually give more than your fair share. Deep in the wilderness, we'll need to make everything gets done that no one overexerts themselves.  We will compete to help each other and to carry the heaviest pack, the most awkward canoe.  We’ll take the extra trip on the portage. We’ll make sure we get up earlier than everyone else to make the coffee and pancakes and grab the nastiest pot to wash. We’ll take the time to clear the trail for the next guy. When we need to, we’ll take the break and rest in the generosity of others’ work. We’re not equally strong but we will get through it together. You’ll learn to feel good both about serving, and being served.

You’ll get the habit to take less than your fair share. We need to make sure everybody gets enough to eat. We’ll wait and let the other tent in our group pick that best tent site. We’ll conserve the water. If we play the grabby game, it’ll actually, and obviously, matter. You’ll learn to be “more than fair” in what you take from the team.

You’ll learn about teamwork. Within our wilderness crew there are no leaders and no followers. We need everyone to make the decisions. We are all stuck with each other deep in this wilderness and we need to bring our respect, our intelligence, our kindness to every task. You’ll learn how to refrain from complaining and second-guessing.  We all decided to do this route with the expletive-deleted beaver dam and there is no use whining about it. Nobody gets thrown under the bus. You’ll learn to slog through the mud we chose and somehow still put a smile on the face of others in the group.

You’ll learn that you have to work for beauty. When you are at the top of the mountain gazing at hill after hill of brilliant fall color broken only by deep blue lakes, or encamped on a piney island hearing the loons call in the night – well, you can’t get there without the effort. Even if you could, it would not be as beautiful.

So yes, into the wilderness, kids – unless you can figure out how to get all these benefits in some other way with fewer bugs and more internet access. I know you’re not sure if I’m joking. I’m not sure either. I only know that wilderness values are what I want for you.