Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Parenting with only one rule

People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

We all live by rules, whether we choose to live by our own set, those laid down by The Man, or some combination of the two that ignores the most inconvenient while highlighting the most beneficial from each set. I'm in that last group, which I extend by writing rules for those around me as my little way of giving something back to the community.

Over the last few days, I've had the opportunity to come up with a series of new rules:
  • If you leave your dog in the back of the truck, secure him there, so he doesn't run out into a chaotic intersection and cause everyone on the bus to have a heart attack.
  • If you pay with cash in the express line, either do not insist on giving exact change or do not lose your flippin' coin purse and proceed to search for 20 minutes through all the compartments of your bag, which appears large enough to hold the entire Philadelphia Mint.
  • On the bus: When the air conditioning is on, no opening windows. Also, no polishing your nails or introducing any other caustic carcinogens.
All of these can be boiled down to one simple phrase: Pay attention, people!
  • Leave your dog in your truck at a busy intersection? Fine. Weather permitting, we leave Barky in our car all the time; he loves it. But we ensure that he can't follow his instincts and jump out and run around.
  • Pay with cash? Fine--although I mostly say this because Mom used to, not because I understand the need for cash anymore. However, if it takes you 20 minutes to use cash, you shouldn't be in the express lane, even if you're only buying a box of toothpicks.
  • Too hot on the bus? Me too. Now that you've opened the windows, we're all even hotter. And you're not quite ready for work until you put that fifth coat of shellac onto your nails? Too bad. Public transit isn't all about you--it's about us. If you want to run your a/c with the windows down, if you want to huff nail polish fumes until you're blind, drive your own car.
All these thoughts of rules got me to thinking once again about parenting--a full contact, no holds barred, no time outs, no instant replays, no points for whining sport that has a rather extensive but amorphous set of rules. However, for me, I think they can all be boiled down to one simple phrase: Let go.

My buddy, FunkDaddie, once observed that, "You get to that day when you realize that you're not going to be a star in the NBA, or be an astronaut and go to the moon, or whatever it was that you dreamed about as a kid." And it's probably several days after that when you realize that that's OK, that you'll still live a fulfilling life, full of adventures and opportunities that you could never imagine as a child.

As a parent, I've probably had a realization like that once a day--not counting those early days, when I was too tired to realize anything.
  • I thought I was organized. I had to let go of that. Chaos is just the way sometimes.
  • I thought I was a little disorganized. I had to let go of that. Without some planning, nothing will happen.
  • I thought I was impatient. I had to let go of that. Hurrying a toddler is as effective as pushing the walk button 12 times to get across the street faster--hey, it might work this time, try pushing it again.
  • I thought I was laid back. I had to let go of that. Sometimes, things need to be done right now.
  • I thought I was smart. I had to let go of that. Most days, I have no idea what I'm doing; I'm just faking it until it seems real.
  • I thought I was dumb. I had to let go of that. If a two-year-old, whose brain isn't even fully formed, can conjugate irregular verbs and use the subjunctive properly, I can probably do a little math.
  • I thought I was shy. I had to let go of that. If everyone doesn't want to talk to me about 3B, he wants to talk to everyone.
  • I thought I was social. I had to let go of that. It turns out that the simple processes of dinner, bath, books and bed take up most of the evening and all of my energy--not to mention breakfast, lunch, diaper changes and all the other tasks that suck up weekends.
  • I thought I understood nonsense. I had to let go of that. What I thought was nonsense was far too sensible; it wasn't even silliness.
  • I thought I could make sense. I had to let go of that. What I thought was sensible was nonsense.
  • I thought it was all new with me, I thought I'd have new insights. I had to let go of that. Mom long ago said that the one lesson she and Dad learned is that they'd eventually eat all their words about parenting.
What Mom taught me was that I'd have to let go.

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  1. What a great post. It's true - we're all constantly evolving and learning! That's a wonderful thing.

    By the way, you're definitely still social. You guys always seem to have plans! It took us 3 months of schedule coordination to even find one moment to get together!

  2. I don't know if we're social, or still just trying to catch up on our sleep--as if that will happen until 3B is in high school.

  3. This just brightened my was so simple and yet so powerful.

    I especially loved the quote (which I immediately forwared on to two other people.)

  4. Anonymous10:38 PM

    Beautiful. Once again, you suck us in with the humor and then hit below the belt with the deep thoughts once we're all hooked.

    I think it's going to be part of the paperwork we have to sign to register our car in Idaho that if we own a dog, we must immediately buy a pickup and the dog has to be hanging out in the back unleashed at all times.

    For some reason, the universe is sending me messages about letting go, all over the place. First, on an editors' discussion board in reference to getting upset by people's totally off-topic posts about politics. Then I'm currently editing a book about the psychological roots of dogmatism! And now your brilliant post about parenting.

    But...but...if I let go, what will be left? said Grasshopper.

  5. Anonymous10:42 PM

    Oh, and totally OT...what's up with that silver-plated kettle article from your Twitter feed? I am getting a wee bit sick of this "elitist" crap, when Obama merely did what certain Republicans have always claimed we should all do: work hard and succeed on one's own merit. Just because he can form elegant and grammatically correct sentences, and knows how to use a computer, doesn't make him a snob or unable to relate to people in other sectors of society.

    And the sad part is that most people probably don't see that using a word like that over and over is just a subtle way of influencing opinion...saying it enough times makes it true, right?

  6. I was talking to a mom last night who was having trouble letting go. Her baby is in first grade and does not miss mom while she is gone all day. Her oldest is a freshman in high school, which troubles her as well.

    I am glad that going to school and soon college is the only letting go I have to do (and I do it gladly.) It is all part of growing up, and that really is what we want for them. For the moment they still come home at night, and I can reach the older one by phone and text any time I need to contact her.

    As far as catching up on sleep when 3B goes to high school, good luck with that.

  7. Letting go..... It is what you teach your kids to do. You are not even thinking yet about the day 3B is all grown up and ready to let go. Right now he does plenty of 'running away' though.

    I am not a very good parent, mine do not want to let go yet. I think I am ready.

    When you let go of some things they never come back (ie sleep, sanity) but usually they are replaced with something else.