So today Vietnam Veterans of America is coming for donations and I completely forgot. Again.
Naturally I go to the playroom to unload toys, but some are sacred: Monopoly, Clue, “Skittles” and a bunch of Fisher-Price “Little People” collections. I still have memories of my own children playing with those toys that can be imbued and enabled by the nubby hands of my still young niece and nephew who visit fairly often.
So I go to the bookcases. Horrors, I know. I’m lying to myself. I actually laughed aloud at my approach to them all because even my children know, if there’s one thing you don’t throw out (and sometimes I confuse donating to charity with throwing out — depending on the media) in this house, it’s books. But there are some books I’m willing to part with: the learning series books sold door-to-door by aspiring college graduates. These books have titles like, “Are My Bones Bendy?” and “What Has Wings and Why?” – I suspect they were written and edited for waiting rooms. They’re like People magazine for children. Into the box they go.
I ventured into Thing 1’s room. He is almost 14.5, he is taller than I am and he weighs more than I do now. I walked into his room, contorting myself amongst the multiple Chinook helicopter models he has on his dresser and desk and bookcase, ducking beneath their blades and refueling booms and serpentining my way through his clothes which always missed the hamper.
His bookcase is robust with books I’ve heard of in passing, Artemis Fowl, and some teen books by Jack Higgins. Not surprisingly, he has books about The Beatles and classic rock bands, his latest obsession other than the Chinooks. He has books on Ferraris and Lamborghinis resting among his Lego car models of the same name.
What I didn’t expect to see, and this is my fault because he’s growing up so incredibly fast, is that he’s a sentimental kid, he’s a romantic and a sweetie: he has his favorite childhood books in this collection of gunships, fast cars and rock bands. Many of the handful of these books were inspired by me to have. It sort of blew me away: he’s 14, and he still has some of these wonderful, innocent and beloved titles. I won’t share the titles because it’s personal and throughout all my writings about my kids, I will always endeavor to protect their privacy inasmuch as it allows me to paint a dimensional picture of them.
I was humbled when I saw these titles. And so proud and yet I felt like a stranger because I haven’t seen that boy in a while. It made me hungry to spend time with him, to let him show me who he is.
We 21st century parents think we have to raise our children in a way that engenders their independence and tech-awareness while also keeping them close at hand at the same time, like watching them through mirrored lenses so they don’t see us seeing them. It’s a delicate balance. We hear all the time about keeping an eye on them, but not crowding them. As if somehow the children — and 14 is still a child, albeit an older one — of the 21st century are any different somatically and spiritually than we are, than our grandparents were. No, they are not: they are still flesh and blood with needs and insecurities and fears and interests that require our hand, our embrace and our presence. Especially our presence.
I will admit that I’ve been playing 21st century parent too much. I’ve been undervaluing the meaning of a night of board games and outdoor patio fires in favor of letting them go on YouTube to watch comedy videos or playing a computer game because that’s How The World Is Now.
But when I was in his room today, I felt the pressure of his speedy ascent to the next phase of his life and I have to say, I don’t like it. There’s a dance at school this weekend, a homecoming dance and he’s not going. He seems to not care for that kind of stuff, the public preening and stress involved in being “acceptable” to his peers. I like that and I hate that. I want him to be more outgoing, but he’s really pretty introverted, so I have to be OK with that; it doesn’t mean he’s depressed or suicidal which he isn’t any of those things; he’s just careful. That’s OK. I wasn’t careful and I regret that sometimes.
I watched about 35 minutes of the 2nd presidential debate last night and I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t take the rhetoric, the barbs, the finger pointing and the poisonous, desperate and conceited jetsam spewing from either of those peoples’ faces. I decided to go upstairs and listen to T1 play some Clapton on his guitar and let him show me his remaining fish in his tank, “This is the most spoiled fish in the world,” he said. “It has a 10 gallon tank all to itself because everyone else died off.” I nodded half consciously but not really taking it all in. Too busy thinking about what’s in my own head: writing, networking, thinking about friends, rowing, stuff.
He’s at school taking a practice PSAT right now and he’ll be dismissed early. Next year, it won’t be for practice. In three years he’ll be staring down the barrel of college admissions or rejection letters. I need to slow down. Not fear what’s coming in three years so much that I miss out on the next 1,095 days. When he gets home, I’ll feed him a grilled cheese and we will go on the water in a double and get to know each other some more.
If being a 21st Century parent has taught me anything, it’s that we might have to live in the 21st Century, but we don’t have to be OF the 21st Century. So while they’re at school, go into their rooms and just sit and look. Look at the things they’ve put on display because that stuff’s important to them. Really look at it and take it in. You don’t have to snoop, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about learning who they are –truly– by seeing what they let you see. And then getting to know them from there.
When your kids get home, unplug. Really. For the rest of the day. If you’re anything like me, all this online stuff — which is not even a salve on the wounds of our own feelings of disconnectedness — can really wait.
One more thing and I’ll try to make this short, honest. I have had some back pain of late, in the lower sacral area. I’ve practiced yoga for almost all T1’s life and I have studied the chakras — the (mostly) seven energy centers in our bodies related to various human experiences and conditions — and that pain in the lower back corresponds with the first chakra, the “root” system which corresponds to my feeling connected and rooted in my personal systems: family, friends, important relationships. Broken down further: whether these relationships are true or am I lying, contorting and twisting myself to make them work?
For most of my life, it has been the latter. I have twisted and contorted myself to make them fit. In the last several months, I have shed many, the “strays,” the ones that either don’t serve either person or the ones that hurt me. The pain has lessened. But last week, I made a conscious decision regarding that first chakra and it’s so simple and elemental that I’m sort of embarrassed to say it.
I made a radical shift in how I see my roots. I have been thinking about the roots of The Wrong Tree for too many years. Obsessing all my energy and hopes on the wrong tree — the tree from which I came — instead of the tree that I’ve been blessed with creating and pruning: the one I have with my husband and my three FANTASTIC children. There is nothing I can do about the tree that I came from: it has grown and shaped itself and as a child and even an adult child it was never mine to prune. So I traded my shears for some fertilizer and water and have turned my attention to the tree I am growing and you know what…
The back pain is gone and my energy is focused on my children and my own tree. Tend to the family tree you can actually help; tend to the family tree that wants it. Tend to the family tree that needs it.
Just a little nugget for you to consider in case you too might be focusing on the wrong things. I’ll write more about the chakras later; it’s a hard subject to start because it’s so involved, but I’ll try to break it down.