Flop House

I tripped over shoes in the living room. It was dark, and the shoes didn’t belong to either of my sons.

This is not new.

The body on the couch was longer and broader than usual, mumbling good morning as I covered him with a fallen comforter and went to my younger son’s room and knocked softly. And knocked again. And again.

It was early. Light flooded into the hallway from beneath his door. As I persisted in rapping, louder and louder, eventually I heard a moan, then a gravelly voice requesting five more minutes. Perhaps he slept an hour. His study lamp was on. He wore yesterday’s clothes. His eyes were swollen.

It’s been a week with two all-nighters and a roller-coaster of moods. Frankly, it’s been dreadful.

And the body under the blanket?

My older son is home for his Spring Break. There have been parties in the back yard around the fire pit, well into the wee hours. And this is the safe house, the flop house, the home with the open door policy.

Kids on floors, in bedrolls, under blankets, on the sofa.

Too Many Lessons

My younger son and I are not among the nightly revelers. We aren’t among those doing the flopping and sleeping. The very brief lull in my kid’s schedule was just that – very brief. This week my (now) 18-year old has been thrown back into the brunt of everything. Seven courses with exams and papers, including orals. All of it at a time when we are both under the pressure of deadlines and decisions that are out of our hands. All of it when we are both snappish and exhausted.

We’ve had enough life lessons, and he’s had his fill of academic lessons.

If he doesn’t achieve his goals, it won’t be for lack of trying. But I can’t help but ache for him, for the unrelenting stress, for what I’ve done – or not done – to add to it. For my expectations – always high – and certainly passed along to him as a way of life.

It’s Not About Me, But…

This isn’t about me.

But it is.

I am the parent who has spent a decade – more really – instilling the values of working hard, of earning your keep, of performing at your best when it counts.

And yes, that means making choices. Hard choices, some of which I’ve guided. Others, entirely up to him.

Yet I am the keeper of the refrain that there is no permission to fail. There will be failures, defeats, disappointments, tough calls – and we will roll with them, and have.

But laziness is unacceptable. So is complacency.

This morning, my heart breaks as I watch my son, his glazed expression, his weary demeanor. I hand him a stapler for his night of work: four papers, an article, another document to support a presentation. We race to school and I drop him off with one minute to spare before his oral exam begins.

And I feel guilty, worried that I’ve added to his pressure, and pushed him to drive himself in ways that are not healthy.

It’s about him. Yet it’s about me, because it’s about him.

Eight or Eighteen

Today I read a story on Just Add Father about 8-year old Nick, dealing with high expectations, then disappointment, and ultimately feeling better when offered the big picture by his dad who reinforced what he accomplished, rather than what he did not. This is the parental panacea of pointing out that the glass is half full.

These are the all-important life skills of perspective and positivity. What I try to do for my son and for myself, when faced with difficult situations. And it is clear to me that this is the M. O. of engaged parents; eight or eighteen, we want our children to set high expectations, to know their wins, to suffer enough losses to toughen them, and yet – not the critical ones, if it can be helped.

We want them to taste the sweetness of success and its resulting self-confidence, but come to grips with the possibility of failure. The knowledge that we will learn, do better, and keep trying – no matter what.

Breaking Points

But my son needs a break.

He needs a win.

I need a break.

I’ve had enough wins in my life; my win will come when he gets his. My break will come when he has his win.

That said, the state of the world this week has left me grateful for everything that is going well and focusing on that. But it’s impossible not to be impacted by the immediacy of a child’s stresses, or my own.

The fact that my 19-year old is home from school on Spring Break has made for striking contrast. Those bodies on the couch? The laughter around the fire pit? It’s quite impossible to ignore, and I admire the stamina and focus my younger son possesses to bear it without complaint, and to persist in his studies.

The Parenting Job

Parenting is the most grueling job I’ve ever undertaken. Like most of us, I did so blindly – with visions of babies and a picture-perfect domestic scene, and a reality that was anything but. Yet I’ve managed, like the rest of us, through trial and error, setting aside those preconceived notions we all start out with.

On the good days, I know I’m dishing out a measure of wisdom. I see growth and progress.

On the bad days, I am left to my silence, to the constant questioning of my actions, to hoping for a few words to provide perspective.

The Flop House

I remind myself that this is the Flop House. The place where kids feel safe, where they can be themselves, where if angry words are exchanged, apologies follow.

I remind myself that there is no absolute measure of parenting success, only an ongoing assessment of how our children are faring at a point in time, and the hope that we avail them of as many skills and qualities as we can, to become the men and women they hope to be.

I remind myself that ours is an unusual household, where contradictions seem to reign and I believe in those contradictions: success is measured in achievement and effort; success is a matter of developing character; success is about a life of value – and values. And we don’t believe in ignoring fun.

“Flopping” is encouraged – on the couch. Flopping in life is something else. And if that occurs – even briefly – we’ll pick up the pieces and see what we can make of it, as we’ve always done.

Together.


© D A Wolf

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Comments

  1. All the chaos and catastrophes in the world lately do remind us how the little, calm, lazy, flopping moments are so important. It’s about being present. And our poor kids…Life has become so hectic and competitive. When I was in high school, I got good grades and went to a local college. There were no crazy expectations put on kids to get perfect SAT scores and a 4.5 GPA…what happened to the good ol’ fashioned 4.0. Yikes. So here’s to being philosophical and do the best job you can as a parent, and living in the present.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      The competition is extraordinarily fierce, Michelle, as you indicate. (It’s a different world than the one we were raised in.)

  2. How fortunate your house is the *flop house* and kids are comfortable enough to stay there. You will be so happy about that when you look back on this time. A *safe* house, with expectations. A treasure.

  3. NoNameRequired says:

    I am not surprised that your house is the flop house; mine too. And, even if I have white sock residues in the laundry whose mates are likely at another house, well, so be it.

    i am glad to be a place of welcome. Interestingly, the kids seem to know that they need to help with snacks….they usually come with this booty. And, one mother who is grateful for my house being the gathering place, she helps with this. I would like to not have to accept the food help but it is what it is.

    And, I am grateful. I look forward to a post about your son’s ease this spring when decisions and directions are clear. You will write about his weekend of flopping and fire-gazing.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I am looking forward to writing about his flopping and fire-gazing – you’re so right, NoName! But after last evening’s information – knowing that he will have some options for school – I think the long remaining weeks will feel less stressful for him. (And I suspect there may be some flopping and fire-gazing before the term ends!)

  4. The relationship you have with your sons is admirable and is very close to what I hope for me and my sons, when they are older.

  5. I just want to say that, apropos of perfect SAT scores and 4.5 GPAs, there is a wonderful animated version of a talk about schooling by Sir Ken Robinson here: Changing Educations Paradigms

    I also want to say, BLW, that I flop at the feet of your tenacity and courage.

  6. I hope, that when my boys grow into gangly teenagers, that my house will become the flop house. Because the house that I grew up in was most certainly not the flop house. And I resented that. So good for you, for giving them this and instilling the importance of hard work.

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