My son finished elementary school last month, and while he seems to be approaching the idea of middle school with aplomb (or at least with an 11-year-old's casual coolness), I’m having a bad case of nostalgia right now. We’re at a family milestone, but I remind myself that such milestones are only the most prominent markers along a path full of signs and wonders.
Milestones are a good excuse to pause and reflect, however, so here are a few of the things I’ve learned up to this point on the journey.
Parenting has taken me out of my comfort zone. Me? Sing? Let’s just say that’s not my strength — but you can bet I sang lullabies to my son, along with endless rounds of Old MacDonald when it was the only thing that would calm him on a long car ride. (The good farmer was raising emus, aardvarks, and gila monsters by the time we were done.)
Tantrums pass. They may seem to last an eternity, but they do fade, and our sweet cherubs will return. Sometimes, tantrums can even bring us closer when they go.
Children have an amazing ability to memorize. It’s funny to think this probably connects to some ancient wiring in our brains that once helped our species retain survival information, but my son and most of his friends at two years old knew the names of all of the Thomas the Tank Engine trains (although some opted to learn the detailed biographies of all the Disney princesses). Now they know the abilities of approximately half a bazillion Pokemon cards and Minecraft tools. Unfortunately, this ability doesn’t carry over into remembering to put away their laundry.
There are no “rules” or methods for parenting that work for all children and all families, other than love your kids and don’t hurt them.
The best laid plans go oft astray. Spit-up happens. Babysitters get sick. Flights get cancelled. While I’ve sometimes wanted to throw a tantrum myself at times like that, I try to remember that showing my son how to handle the unexpected is better for all of us.
Mary Poppins is timeless. As are s’mores.
A little time away is good for everyone. When our son was less than a year old, my spouse and I left him with my parents for several days while we went away on vacation. My parents loved spending time with their first grandchild; he enjoyed the doting only grandparents can convey, and my spouse and I got to relax and recharge. It was a win all around. Now, our son is at his first overnight camp, and my spouse and I are once again glad to have a little time to rest the parenting radar that always keeps a portion of our brain cells tuned to what he’s doing. We think about him, but the vigilance is turned down a bit for the week. I’m guessing he’s equally glad to be away from folks who tell him to clean his room and help with the dishes. It’s refreshing for all of us.
I now understand why, since the time of Elvis Presley, parents have been leery of pop song lyrics.
The arc of the moral universe does bend in the right direction. Our son was born just before Massachusetts became the first state to enact marriage equality. Now, 19 states plus D.C. allow same-sex couples to wed and our children to feel like their families are as good as any other. Many religious denominations (including, most recently, the Presbyterians) now allow their clergy to conduct weddings for same-sex couples. LGBTQ people and our families appear with more regularity in the news and on television.
No parent is perfect. Especially with first children, we’re all making things up as we go along. Even with subsequent kiddies and extensive input from books, friends, and relatives, we have to figure out what applies to the particular combination of atoms and intellect that is the child in question. Sometimes I’ve gotten things wrong, as we all do, and need to remind myself it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Also, being able to admit my mistakes sets a good example for my son.
Standing on the cusp of my son’s middle school years, which bring with them puberty and its discontents, I feel as if we are heading out once again into a new and unexplored land. The swell of advice (solicited and not) when we first became parents is absent as we embark on this next phase of our journey. I remind myself that while the land may be new, the travelers are not. We have 11 years of experience at being a family, and even though we will all change during our journey, we have each other for support and companionship along the way.
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