Sunday, May 13, 2012

When you have doubts in your abilities to fix things, raise someone who can do it for you

It's not only children who grow.  Parents do too.  As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours.  I can't tell my children to reach for the sun.  All I can do is reach for it, myself.  ~Joyce Maynard

Princess Commando had saved  two months allowance and miscellaneous gift money to purchase a 'rare' Pokemon plush toy direct from China. I counseled that it would be wise to be frugal- to save for something more useful like a new bicycle or a kayak. But she insisted on relinquishing her funds to a magic factory which fabricated a most coveted  morsel to add to her collection. When it finally arrived after three weeks of stalking the mailbox, she stood before me sheepishly. The cotton candy creature she protected from my killjoy frown had a visible tear in its muzzle where stuffing seeped through- the material was akin to the itchy fabric of Midway prizes. I tried with all of my might not to set  my I told you so expression on her; but, the way she slunk out of the room let me know I didn't do a very good job.

Later that evening, after The Baby was finally settled for the night and I could feel the energy draining from the tap in my spine, I stood at my bed deconstructing a pyramid of laundry. Princess Commando faced me on the other side. She held up my sewing kit and her damaged merchandise pushing them toward me. "You can fix it. I have faith in you!" Her exaggerated smile was endearing but my shoulders involuntarily slumped and an audible sigh escaped my chest. It was getting late. I was so close to bed.

I hadn't any confidence left in my abilities to 'fix' things. The Baby's upcoming surgery for ear tubes and an adenoidectomy weighed heavily on my mind. The fact that my kisses could not steal away her pain made me feel helpless. And then, I had been having a difficult time with my exquisitely introverted and shy 13 year old. Henry had been suffering for two years with a mounting school related anxiety which paralyzed him.  His pain was already etched on my heart as I, too, had suffered throughout my school years with a crippling anxiety which landed me in the hospital and kept me out of school for 2 years. I did not want this for my child. The raw empathy I felt for him was a searing pain compounded by the fact that my own experience with this same challenge made me an unreliable guide. And then there was First Born Son- I hardly ever saw him. He had become so passionately involved in soccer- travelling to various tournaments on the weekends with his father, developing a crucial bond- a connection I was not privy to. I felt irrelevant.

I stood, unmoved, beside my bed. Princess Commando cocked her head to the side and pleaded with her anime eyes. Henry had been watching us from the hallway.

"Let me sew it," he offered.

"You don't know how to sew," Princess Commando answered doubtfully.

Henry left the room to return 60 seconds later with a primitive looking Scottish terrier. He pressed the toy into his sister's face.

"What is that?" I took the toy and ran my fingers along the seams. It was a crude representation of a jaunty dog in black fleece with a tartan bow tied expertly around its neck. It was so simple and yet so inspiring.

"I made it in Home and Careers," a glint of pride lit his eyes. "Mrs. P showed us photographs of Scottish terriers and told us to come up with a pattern to sew." He went on to talk about a double back ninja stitch that he wanted to learn so that he could make extra money reinforcing men's shirts.

Princess Commando marveled at his handiwork and confidently handed over her damaged Pokemon for repair. Henry's precise stitches far surpassed the factory machine work on the rest of the creature.

"Henry is so nice! I love him so much!" Princess Commando gushed as she threw her arms around him.

Henry's compassion and willingness to help his sister was the indication I needed that I might have done something right along the rough hewn path of parenting. We have steadfastly tried to instill in our children to think of others before themselves- to act with sympathy; to keep their ears open so that they my catch a quiet S.O.S. floating in the air; to lead with patience- especially in moments where love might feel muddled. That Henry interpreted my sigh- sucked into the piles of laundry- as a moment to step in, to help me carry out my will to nurture, to fix things made my heart swell with pride and it humbled me. 

I may not be able to fully reconcile Henry's daily apprehension but I will keep walking along side him- helping him to find the resources he needs to feel safe and strong in the world. I may not be able to cure The Baby's chronic ear infections with a kiss; but I know that while she is recovering, my hands and heart will work overtime to comfort her in the way that only her mother can. First Born Son may be developing out of my sight; but he does still come to me to express his unexpected growing appreciation for jazz; admit to me his fears of failure; and to share his off beat, sometimes dirty humor which he knows I will appreciate and not admonish him for. Princess Commando will continue to make decisions independent of my best guidance, but she still holds onto the belief that I can fix the pieces that need mending. She returns to me- despite my disapproving eye, in spite of my doubtful spirit-for me to embrace her with all of my heart. 

I have learned that motherhood is a process of continuous evolution and accommodation, of learning and growth with hefty purpose, of giving one's self up to the ebb and flow of life. I am fortunate to have had sage teachers- my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, my dear friends. But the most competent teachers on the subject of flourishing within the realm of the human experience, whose reciprocation of faith has helped me to continue to place one foot before the other, are my children. As parents, we do our best to ‘fix’ things. When we don’t get it right the first time, we keep trying because we must and also because we desire to do so. But, sometimes in order to fix things it means that we may have to hand over the needle and thread to more capable hands. Sometimes we need to accept that our quiet S.O.S. has been answered by a tender bloom on the family tree reaching along side us for the sun.


  1. Simply beautiful. Your writing is so good, and I think you're a great parent. I hope I get there, too. Good luck with baby's surgery. Thats scary, I know.

    1. Thank you so much, Emily! It means sooooo much to me that you read my words. You ARE a great parent. Ceci is so lucky to have you. Thank you for wishing us luck on the surgery.