Monday, January 23, 2012

The Exquisite Nature of Parenting


A former student posted a comment on Facebook about older women advising young mothers to appreciate every stage and age of parenting. According to my FB friend, the older generation says it all goes by so fast.

And it does, but what exactly is it? Surely, those young mothers must wonder what it is that they may miss because it goes by so quickly. As one of those older women, I have a few answers for them.

One is the feel of a tiny hand wrapping itself around one adult finger. The touch speaks of trust and faith and comfort found in bonding. Few touches in all of life are so tender and so strong simultaneously.

Another part of it not to miss or take for granted is a child’s wide-eyed amazement at the world unfolding before him. When he figures out that those appendages move at his will, his eyes widen as he tests his hypothesis over and over. Little girls do the same, especially when they happen upon the natural law of gravity. They hold aloft a single Cheerio, an entire bowl of spaghetti, or a pacifier, then drop it to the floor again and again and again. We older women--and men--will admit that we too tired of the game quickly, that we sometimes put away the tested item and made our faces stern. But we’d like you to do better. We’d like you to know that these happy accidents in the lives of every child fade too soon and that children, like adults, soon take for granted all that this world is. We’d like you to see with fresh eyes how miraculous this world is, how marvelous children are. We’d like you to savor this life as you live it, not in hindsight or reflection, but in the moment every day.

A third aspect of it is the human capacity to persevere and triumph. A child could give up and refuse to crawl, stand or walk. Many adults do when they find themselves in unfamiliar territory, facing daunting, uphill battles, but adults can fall back upon the advice of others and upon prior experience with failure and success. Adults have experience and the Internet to guide them. Children do not. They have only us from whom they take their cues. If we show them there is no way out but through, that effort and determination can make a huge difference in outcomes, that it will be alright, then we empower children and learn again the exquisite strengths within the human being. We also teach ourselves the fine art of empathy, something that often seems in short supply in this world.

A fourth aspect is the peace and love found in quiet moments of togetherness. Does the dust on bookshelves matter more than another game of Chutes and Ladders? Will your relationship with your children grow and prosper because you maintained the shiniest floors in the neighborhood?

I watch parents bring children into grocery stores and big box caverns, the child resisting from the first attempts to place him or her in the child safety seat of the shopping cart. The toddler’s day has been just as long as yours, filled with cares and woes sufficient unto his age. He’s tired. He wants to be held instead of staring at your chest as you push the cart and compare products. He fusses. He shrieks. Everyone grows tense. Often the parent snaps, proving himself utterly human and short of his own expectations.

I want to interfere, to tell the parent that with very few exceptions, the chores and errands should wait. I want to shout, “Go home. Play Hungry, Hungry Hippo or Break the Ice even if you detest both. You won’t be sorry tomorrow, next week, or in twenty years.”

Gurus, old folks, and highly paid talk-show hosts advise us to live in the moment, the here and now. They urge us to appreciate what we have when we have it, to count our blessings, to be grateful for what we have, not to live in a state of want. They tell us to save for the future, and I’m here to say, the best future is in a bank of memories that include tender moments, remembered discoveries, hardships overcome together, and shared joy because it all does go by far too quickly. Cherish it when you have it.