Friday, August 26, 2016

Reflections on the Incipient First Day of School

Today is T minus 5 days until my kids start public school. I'd be lying if I said this wasn't at the front of my mind most of my waking hours lately. I mean, I'm going from homeschooling 1 child and being the primary caregiver for both, to handing over the reins to two complete (albeit I'm sure very nice and perfectly competent) strangers. I am, in a very real sense of the term, losing my job in 5 days.

Unlike losing a "real" job, however, I have to stay around to see the results that my successors are bringing about in the projects that I have spent 5 and 6-1/2 years, respectively, laying the foundations for. I don't get to walk away completely and start something new. No, like a divorcee forced to live in a house with her ex and his new wife, I am constantly faced with the new relationship that I am not a part of.

Overly dramatic, much? Yeah. But also, no. These teachers - these wonderful, dedicated, experienced teachers - are taking away something I love more than my own life: spending time watching and helping my children become adults. These may be only the first steps toward adulthood, but I am very conscious that those steps are steps away from me.

But I need to remind myself that this was the plan from the very beginning. From the moment I saw those two lines on the stick, my goal was to teach my children to become self-sufficient, independent adults, able to make their own choices and deal with the consequences, both positive and negative. I knew all along that my job was to lose my job. But it's very difficult to figure out when the children are ready to begin making their own decisions - and it's even more difficult to allow them to make those decisions.

This idea of allowing my children to make their own decisions and to fight their own battles came to the fore this afternoon as our whole family attended a school-wide cookout at their elementary school. The playground was open to all students, from pre-K up to 5th grade, and their families. Which meant that there was much competition for the best playground equipment: 4th graders hogging the ziplines; 2nd graders claiming the swings for half an hour at a time; pre-K kiddos literally pushing each other out of the way at the bottom of the slides. It was an education in the huge range of parenting theories and techniques that are out there. It was the law of the jungle.

I will admit that I gave in once, when I happened to be giving my son a boost onto the zipline and another kid tried to grab the handle out of his hands. I turned my head and was literally in the kid's face. His look was a challenge; this was not a kid who was going to back down just because an adult was there. I tried to keep my mouth shut. I swear, I really did. But I suddenly I heard my own voice saying, "You know, he's been waiting in line for a turn and you just had a bunch of turns" (I neglected to add "because you shoved a bunch of smaller kids out of the way"). The kid looked me in the eye for a second, then backed off and headed off elsewhere.

Should I have let my son fight that battle? Yeah, probably. But I'm still glad he knows that I've got his back. Even if I make him fight first, I want him to know that I'm always right behind him, to push him forward if needed, to cover his retreat if he chooses, to talk through his choices after the fact and figure out how to make better choices next time. To support his choices, whatever they may be.

We're all learning, my kids and I. They're learning that they can make their own decisions, and that sometimes they're wrong, and sometimes they're right. I'm learning that making wrong decisions won't kill them. Or me. But making decisions - even wrong decisions - will give them the confidence to continue making decisions throughout their life. Making a wrong decision and surviving the consequences is one of the most important experiences a child can have. If I try to deprive my children of that experience, what kind of mom am I?

Not the kind I want to be. Not the kind I will be. At least, not the kind I'm trying my hardest to be, 5 days from now.

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