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