independent outcomes

My sister’s older son, a high school senior, will apply to colleges this year. I still remember when my sister called me from overseas in 1995 to say she and her husband were going to have a baby. I still remember, vividly, waiting to hold him for the first time, in the entry way to my apartment, when he was four months old. I just held my arms out, and I swear, he smiled at me and just jumped.

His younger brother was born a bit over two years later. I met him when he was just a few months old. So did my to-be husband–and seeing him with my younger nephew gave me a hint of him as a dad, eight years later with our own daughter. This nephew, now a sophomore in high school, is thinking about colleges, too.

These nephews of mine, they have both turned out so well. Still turning out so well. It amazes my sister. (I’m not amazed. Just insanely proud.)

She shared an opinion piece by Michael Gerson this morning (as did our friends at Grown and Flown!), noting that her older son is one year younger than Mr. Gerson’s. I love this particular sentiment:

“Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story. And it is enough.”

I like this so much, this articulation of that fact that while you are not inconsequential, neither are you overly substantial. You are just one piece, of many. You have a part to play as a parent. But you are not the star.

My sister told me when our daughter was a very young infant that the minute your child is born, he or she will be driven to gain independence. From that, I gathered that it was my job to give it to her, and later to our new “him,” in developmentally appropriate stages, safely, all while keeping things calm and tidy. (That last part is not my sister’s influence, that’s just my particular set of neuroses.)

Our own mother raised us without any outward fretting or analysis about anything she did as a parent. I learned from my mother, by my observation, not her intention, to worry about the outcome, not the process, with children. After all, if you have more than one, that process you think you master with the first will need to be modified or chucked entirely with the second, or third…

Sometimes I skip the celebrations of some key process points. I forgot (or never thought) to take pictures of the kids before their first day of school yesterday. Took one at the end of the day, though. I think I did that last year, too, when our son started kindergarten… Probably because when I took one when our daughter started kindergarten, before school, she was highly annoyed with me. The picture I took at the end of that day was much better.

By then, she had new things to smile about and share.

Yesterday our daughter told us her teacher has a three-year-old in the PreK program at our school, and that the teacher hoped her little girl wasn’t crying, and that she should stop talking about it because she was starting to worry.

“Worry?” said our son. “She’s just like Mommy!”

I guess he noticed. I worry about process, about everything, really, in spite of my trumping respect for outcomes: I wonder how the kids are doing. I want to them to do well. I do not want to contribute to them not doing well. “First, do no harm.” Works for doctors, works for parents.

I teared up seeing our quiet son talk up a storm about his day: He learned his teacher has a Star Wars display at her house because she, like him, likes the movies. He spoke the words with reverence and respect, and with an ever so slight conspiratorial tone.

I teared up at my daughter’s pride at sharing a first name with her teacher, and the teacher noting that fact to all the other students in her class. I teared up (with silent laughter) at news that her 3-ring binder was the wrong size. “I got a little upset Mommy. The teacher said our notebooks would just barely fit, and that my old binder would drive me crazy.” (I got her a new binder last night.)

I just like them so much. Yes, yes, I love them. We all love our children dearly, would give our lives for them, they are our worlds, that goes without saying (but of course I have to say it).

But as they grow, I just like them, so much more, every day. Who they are and how they present themselves. I like watching how they’re turning out.

I like these outcomes. Outcomes that are mostly independent of me.

These are our kids, playing with their now nearly fully grown cousins, three years ago. They are running, and laughing… It’s true what Mr. Gerson says: I have been lucky to watch.


lost and found

On Saturday, at about 3:30 pm, we were getting ready to head out to the beach and dinner. Our six-year-old son asked “Is it late?” He asks this when he’s worried about the day coming to a close. He never wants weekend-days to end. I told him not to worry, that the day was young, we were heading out early for dinner.

Yesterday, the day before the first day of school, he fell asleep on the couch at about 3:30. He rarely does this — but he had stayed up late the two nights prior, not wanting the last weekend before school to end too soon.

He woke up just before dinner time, and cried. He had lost time. He knew what dinner-time meant: eat, bathe, get ready for bed, and then… school. We still had about a half-hour before dinner was ready, so I asked whether he wanted to watch a cartoon before eating. He was placated… temporarily.

But then, as we sat down to dinner, he started sobbing. My husband thought it was because he had turned off the tv, but our son said that wasn’t it. His sister knew what the problem was. 

“Don’t worry, your teacher is so nice, you’re going to have a great day tomorrow!” She is very good at cutting to the chase.

We tried to figure out what exactly bothered him about school. We reminded him that he knew his teacher (it was his sister’s first grade teacher), that he knew what the classroom looked like (he had seen it when his sister was in it, loved playing in there), that he knew a couple of the kids in his class already… We just couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I had a feeling all weekend that the prospect of the first day of school was troubling him… I had visions of him crying Monday morning, not wanting to get in the car. Dread filled me.

Still crying, he wailed, “I don’t remember where to goooooo!”


We reminded him that his sister walks right past his class to get to her class, that she would walk with him after I dropped them off in car circle, just like we showed him on Friday as we walked around campus. It would all be familiar the minute he saw it.

Now he remembered. He calmed down almost instantly. 

Baffling. Or maybe not. 

Our son–he hates to be lost. And sometimes he forgets what he knows, and he’s reluctant to admit it. We’re all like that, I guess. 


Golden Rule Days

School starts on Monday for our kids. We stopped by the school today and got a peek at their class lists, walked by or into their classrooms. I printed out a new car-circle sign. It was exciting, to see how excited they are to get back.

I’m going to be less involved with the PTA this year, and hopefully working again from home. And because we may move at some point this academic year (or not, because that is how I qualify every sentence I utter right now), I’m intent on paying laser-like attention to what the kids are learning this year, here, so that wherever we end up, they don’t fall too far behind.

A friend shared an article that Common Core Standards in public school education are unraveling–they’re expensive, teachers/administrators don’t quite know how to implement them, blah, blah, blah, blah. Both “Tea Party” members and “liberals” can be found to be against Common Core Standards. How dare the federal government tell states what to do? (States volunteered to follow them, but whatever.) And how dare schools be given unfunded mandates when they’re already so strapped for resources? (I’d happily pay more taxes to support improvements in public education. So would my highly tax-averse husband. Ask us. We have our checkbook ready.)

I find this profoundly disturbing. I can’t even pinpoint why, exactly, other than the fact that I found the concept of Common Core to be comforting, given how often our children might have to relocate from state to state and public school to public school.

I am not an educator, I don’t know enough about Common Core Standards and education policy to know whether or not they are the “right” way to improve our education system.

I just don’t want our children to be penalized because we have to move among states who adopt the standards and states who may ultimately not.

We could send the kids to private school. I’m sure that’s what those on the far right and even perhaps wealthy members of the far left would do. We could home school.

I just don’t like those options on principle. I don’t like opting out. Not every family has that option.