“Mama, these are the pants I cut the hole in. Can you please fix them now?” Seth chided last night, his blue eyes wide with a curious mixture of remorse (for the experimental pant-cutting) and trust (that I could fix them, finally, and fulfill my promise.)
After countless asks, I took some time this morning to mend them. With each stitch–made by hand because I have a stupid pinched nerve in my shoulder from putting on my coat (seriously) exacerbated by the stress of driving for three hours in a snowstorm yesterday picking up groceries and children, both of which are necessary for my daily sustenance–I reflected on the things I can fix for my children. And on the things I can’t.
This year. Goodness. With a heaping portion of perspective, I can chalk it up to change, transition, growing pains. I know, with all that perspective, that things are not so bad. Lots of things are worse, some of which we taste fleetingly and some of which we will never have the misfortune to experience. But if I skimp on perspective, I have my days where I am just sad. Frustrated. Tired. Weary. It’s the weather, it’s the lack of sunshine, it’s having to get my vitamin D in the form of a dropperful of oily necessity. It’s the holidays, it’s the people I miss that I can rarely see, it’s the people I miss that I’ll never see again. But most painfully, it’s the mending I cannot do, or at least not without sloppy, slipping stitches.
When you have kids, and you are in the twilight hours of diapers and feedings and gates to prevent bodily injury and ceaseless crying because there are no words, you feel as though: THIS. This is the toughest bit of it. And in some ways, you’re right. It’s so relentless then, often thankless and monotonous and plodding. That old adage of “the days are so long, but the years so short” is completely applicable. In those long days, it seems that having older children will be so much more navigable. Because: WORDS. I am good at words! I knew my children would be good at them, too, because they have two expressive and sensitive parents modelling it for them. But the truth is that words fall short. I’ve lost my faith in words, the longer I’ve sought to master them. I see how inadequate they are, all the while feeling that the attempt to make oneself known through conversation is so vital to all things.
It’s a bit (a lot) paradoxical that, while I am studying to be a parent educator, I am experiencing my most challenging time yet as a parent. While I learn about development, and relationships, and how to work with adults who want to explore more deeply the unique relationship between themselves and their children, I am feeling that I am falling so short. Instead of the intentional, aligned parenting I meant to be doing, I am in the business of crisis management, reactionary and insecure. It is a patchwork of “Help this kid! He needs a lot of help right now, and you other two are seemingly fine so go play Lego or something! Oh, wait, now THIS kid really, really needs me! Divert attention to him!” I feel awful, because the kid in crisis can’t truly be “fixed”, and the other two kids are momentarily back-burnered. There is never a sense of parity, nor of adequacy. Perhaps this is exactly what I am supposed to be learning right now, on the cusp of my professional practice: you might never feel sure that what you’re doing is the right thing. The blessing, often but not always, is that if you’ve been sensitive and you’ve tried your children will still think that you can help them. And you can, often but not always, still try to do so. This applies to relationships beyond parents and children, too, I think. Friendships, marriages, it can all get messy. If you’re earnest, and lucky, you can keep trying. Success is not guaranteed, but the alternative is apathy and I have never been one for that.
My eldest, age eleven at this moment, is old enough that I won’t write in detail about him here. But remember middle school? Remember how much it sucked? Suffice it to say, it still blows. I see now that it’s really, really hard for parents, too. To have the push-and-pull of the adolescent/parent relationship. To want to preserve what little is left of innocence, of fun, of childhood. To see that time marches inexorably forward, despite the protective efforts. I can advocate, but I can’t fix everything for him. Or any of my kids, for that matter. I can teach, guide, and comfort, but I am not always there. Bumps and bruises are inevitable; you can’t soften the whole world for your babies, at least not forever.
But I can mend the tear in his favorite stuffed river otter, however imperfectly. I know he won’t notice, or at least won’t care, that the fur is slightly scarred, imperfect under the glossy coat. He’ll just know that he asked, and I tried.