Last week I spent ten hours driving back and forth to the high school. I’m not kidding. An entire day. If I had any advice for new parents it’s this – buy a house across the street from the high school. Or better yet, right next door (that way you don’t have to worry about your child crossing the street). In the course of six days I took twenty trips to the high school and back. Marching band, play practice, Quiz bowl, forgotten instruments and uniforms, meetings, and PSATs. Each trip was valid (except maybe the mad dash over to the school with the oboe that was forgotten on the counter so that Child #2 could practice her solo with the orchestra before the concert next week).
We do a lot of things for our children. Some are things we never imagined we’d do. Like capturing and releasing a bat from my oldest child’s bedroom as I did one night this summer. Or volunteering to be the PTO president of the Elementary School because no one else wanted the job. Freezing (or roasting) on the sidelines of countless soccer games, getting up at 2am to meet the bus to retrieve a returning child from an overseas adventure, or doctoring the bleeding wing of a beloved chicken that survived a fox attack.
We joke about dirty diapers, baby barf, and potty training, but every parent knows that’s coming when she signs up. What we don’t anticipate is the rolling eyes, the disrespectful words, the outright rudeness. I remember shouting at one child, “If my friend treated me like this, I wouldn’t be her friend any more!” To which, the wise child replied, “You’re not my friend!”
We are chauffeurs, laundresses, maids, janitors, exterminators, cooks, tutors, butlers, secretaries, schedulers, but mostly the biggest fans of our children. We do what is necessary to keep them safe, clothed, and happy. Sometimes that requires that we chase down a school bus that neglected to stop for our child or call a bully’s parents. Sometimes it means going to Wal-Mart at midnight to find a piece of poster board or figuring out where that “funny smell” is coming from under the bed.
My oldest will have his driver’s license soon and that will mean evenings of worry waiting for the headlights in the driveway. My middle child will make her debut on the high school stage and that will bring butterflies (for me, not her- she’s cool as a cucumber). And my youngest will head to middle school as the only bald kid. Along with no warning about the odd predicaments and embarrassing situations you will encounter as a parent, no one warns you about the toll it takes on your heart. It makes me tired, the unendingness of parental pain and worries.
When they are little, the pain was easy. Hurt feelings, stubbed toes are simple – here and gone. But as they get bigger so does the worry, so does the hurt. It’s distracting. I turn it over in my mind. How can I help? I can’t clean it up. I can’t return it or repair it or make it go away. I have to simply endure it. I have to trust this universe with my children. And I have to trust my children to handle this universe. Maybe all that practice doctoring knees, enduring uncomfortable situations, tackling unsightly tasks and negotiating overwrought feelings was simply a warm up for the bigger worries on the horizon – driving, college, job searches, marriages, and all the unexpected turns and detours on the way. At least those challenges won’t require that I face down a bat or clean up barf between the seats. But if they did? I’m ready. I’ve practiced.