Friday, September 14, 2012

What Do I Stand For? Some Nights I Don't Know...

A couple days ago I posted to my Facebook something along the lines of if you have to tell me how great a parent you are, um, you're probably not. I got a whole lot of ain't that the truth, sister! responses.

See, I'm not one of those great parents. In fact, I actually lean more toward the side of Absolute Dysfunction without quite crossing over to Criminally Negligent. (I'll be sure to blog about it when it does happen.) I haven't taken years of schooling or read mountains of parenting books written by experts to ensure I'm scholastically prepared for parenting. Perhaps because I'm just one of those lazy parents who have no right procreating ... or maybe because deep down I wonder what good it does anyway. I just don't believe any single person can be educated for every combination of personality traits and every environmental circumstance beyond our control that could possibly occur. I tend to believe the majority of parenting falls into the category of reach inside yourself and do what you feel is right; just trust your instincts and everything will be okay.

I couldn't have foreseen the experiences that shaped me into who I am today any more than I can foresee each and every experience my children will have.

I doubt any amount of schooling or books read by my parents could have stopped me from being laid on the floor of their excursion van as it sat in their garage on a sunny summer day, with my pants down around my ankles and a very unwelcome visitor on top of me. A silly childhood game of "doctor" that felt incredibly wrong and awful to me, and although I don't remember anything actually being said, I just somehow knew that I would never, ever, ever be allowed to say anything about it; because while I felt sickened and violated, and every brain cell I had was yelling out that what was happening to me was absolutely 100% wrong, I also knew that it would be casually explained away as we were young and kids are curious and there I go making a big deal about things again. To this day I hate the feeling of breath on my neck.

I doubt any amount of schooling or books read by my parents could have stopped my brother from almost drowning as he slipped through my hands while I stood tip-toe at the deep end of the pier after promising to catch him. Although everything turned out okay - with the right lifeguard looking our way at the right moment and diving into the right spot to drag his tiny body up to the surface, I still feel so incredibly guilty about that moment. In that precise second of my childhood, my entire being understood that life as I knew it could have been irrevocably destroyed at my own hands. That my mother, sitting on the sandy beach under her pink floppy fabric hat reading a book, had absolutely no idea how critical those same seconds were. That while my brother was fighting for breath, and my arms were frantically flailing under water desperate to find him, my mother was flipping over page 63 in her book.

I read What to Expect When You're Expecting but it didn't mention a kid that couldn't talk until she was four and refused to make eye contact. It didn't tell me how to react when your daughter comes home from her father's house and tells you she had been forced to eat food scraps from the garbage. It didn't explain what to do after your kindergartener's best friend's mother informs them that pets don't really go to heaven because they don't have any souls and therefore their beloved pet isn't actually safe in Great Grandpa's arms, nor did it explain what to do when your 3rd grader spends her very first evening of overnight summer camp crouched down with her hands over her head scared out of her wits while a tornado destroys half the campgrounds.

The books can't tell me. No amount of preparation can safeguard you or your children from the infinite amount of crap the world could possibly throw at you. You can only do in that moment what you feel is the best way to handle things. And then you have to block out the judgment.

I do the best I can and that might mean that I'm not the best parent by Dr. Phil's standards - or yours.

In our family we sing at the top of our lungs in the car because I believe music is what feelings sound like. And I don't always know the right words to say to my kids that makes something awful make sense; so we sing. And we listen to the mournful sound of a cello and the tears of a violin, and we listen to the laughter of a piano and the frolicking drums and the silly, simple tambourine that never, ever stops smiling.

We talk with British accents through dinner and quote ridiculous lines from movies. We make up pretend sitcoms and cast celebrities to play our families and friends and talk incessantly about all the dumb books we would write. If I were one of those psycho-doctory types I would analyze it as an imaginative play session that is used to talk out a situation and create a humorous example of coping with said situation. Or maybe I'd chalk it up to an unhealthy reaction of blocking out all the negative realities of the world by pretending everything can be laughed at. But, really, we just do it because it feels natural to me.

For every book that tells me handle things one way there are fourteen books telling me to handle the same situation in fourteen different ways. And since I don't have time to read fifteen books every time a situation arises, and because I simply don't know the right, perfect way to be a parent ,I just try to find the best way to be the right me. I feel I have a choice: to show my kids a false me that I'm hoping will hide what a messed up parent I am, or I can show them that I'm just a human being that goes through life one day at a time, just like the rest of the world. And I am chock full of faults and dreams and passions and ideas and mistakes and emotions and the only right thing to do in this world is to just BE yourself.

And so I allow my tears to fall during a documentary about elephants and when my children ask why I'm crying, I tell them. I tell them how I can feel the immense loyalty and love that two creatures had for one another; so much so that decades later when they recognize each other in a sanctuary I weep for their joy of finding each other again and we humans can only dream to feel just a fraction of that type of extraordinary love in our lifetimes.

And so I laugh hard when something is funny and explain that you can't decide whether something is funny or not, it just is, to you, in all of your own personal uniqueness. And what gets a chuckle from one gets a belly laugh from another and a stern look and a head shaking from someone else. And that's what's so cool: that we're all so very different that no one can exactly say for sure what makes something funny so the possibilities of humor are endless. How awesome is that?

And so I explain my dreams and my desires and my passions and my goals - because I want my children to have them. Not mine. I don't want them to have my dreams and desires and passions and goals -- I want them to have their own. I want them to know that it's okay to think outside the box and if you want to be the first person in our family to go to Thailand, then go. And if you want to live in a yurt, do it. And if you want to give Catherine Conti a run for her money, then you just go ahead and do just that. Because they only have this one life to live and I have no inside knowledge on how long that life is going to be and the worst thing that can happen to me as a parent is to see my kids not living their lives the way God intended them to live.

I don't believe people should give up on who they are once they become a parent; I believe it's imperative that people continue to BE who they are - by all means, improve who that is if you so desire - in order to show their children they have their whole entire lives to grow and dream and feel and be... that life doesn't stop when you have kids, only to be picked up twenty years later when they're finally off to college.

I am the farthest thing from a perfect parent. Which is okay because my goal is not to have perfect children. My goal is to have children who are confident in who they are, who have an empowered sense of self, who don't try to hide their interests or hobbies. I want them to enjoy laying in the grass watching the clouds drift by. I want them to have dance parties in their kitchens with their own children. I want them to smile and say hi to their neighbors.

But more than anything. I want them to honestly love the life they're living.