Saturday, July 25, 2015

As My Daughter Turns 18: Reflections on Parenting

This week, my daughter turned eighteen. In Delaware, nineteen is the age of emancipation, so I am not sure how that works. Is she an adult? Isn't she? Do we still have to sign for her? Is she allowed to move out?  She can vote, buy cigarettes and lottery tickets, ask for her own doctor's records (her doctor is in PA), and get any number of body parts pierced and tattooed. So I am just going to assume we've crossed some sort of line. Our son is twenty. As far as I'm concerned, we've ushered two children into adulthood, so at this juncture I am going to take a breath and reflect a little.

I certainly didn't see this day coming when I was pregnant. In preparation, I read What to Expect When You Are Expecting and What to Expect the First Year. The series goes on to What to Expect the Second Year and What to Expect: The Toddler Years. I didn't read them and the series didn't continue. I think, by that point, you realize that no book can cover it all.  A lot of times, you are just living day-by-day as a parent. Sometimes breath by breath. Thank goodness the Internet came into our home when our oldest was a year old. Yes, that's right--we ventured into parenthood without the safety net of the World Wide Web. What else? Not all gas stations had pay-at-the-pump, so I would drive five miles out of my way so I didn't have to run inside to pay with my sleeping infant in the car. Ditto for ATM's (they were called MAC machines, then). I had to make sure I went to a drive-up machine.  We laid our children on their side in the crib, propping them between foam triangles. Belly sleeping and back sleeping were no-nos. Cameras had film and needed to be developed. We didn't get our first digital camera until Maren was five. We had cordless phones in our house (though not all of them) and an answering machine. No cell phones, though. We had a VCR and borrowed my in-laws huge video recorder for special occasions.

Mark and I worked opposite shifts when we became parents (figuring that the less time the baby was with a sitter the better). Jonah slept between us for two years. Another no-no, unless you were a proponent of the family bed. We weren't. We were just a proponent of sleep, and Jonah wouldn't sleep in his crib. He would scream bloody murder. We lived in a duplex at the time and didn't want to wake the neighbors. Okay, it wasn't about the neighbors; it was us. We wanted to sleep. It didn't occur to us to ask a doctor about this. And, as I mentioned before we didn't have the Internet; we couldn't Google, For God's Sake Help Us Our Baby Won't Frickin' Go To Sleep.

The kids grew, and I realized that some of the things I thought I valued, I didn't. I thought I wanted them to be raised without TV and sugar, but they had those things at the sitter. Did we change sitters? No, we adored our baby sitter, so we adjusted our expectations. Reading aloud to my kids and the family dinner were things that became sacred to me. Having our family be part of a larger extended family and having the kids be raised in a faith tradition (We joined a UU church the month we found out I was pregnant with Jonah.) were also important. We exposed our kids to nature and art, music and sports. We were never good at adhering to a schedule. Nap when you were tired or in the car on the way to whatever activity we were racing to. I volunteered in the schools. Mark built sets for plays and coached little league. We travelled to as many places as much as we could afford. Having our kids see a bit of the world, envision something bigger than themselves, was important. We did it all without video players in the car. I read to them instead.

I don't know what I would have done differently.  Living in Arden, I have witnessed a style of parenting that is simultaneously more unfettered and more sheltered than what my kids experienced. Arden kids explore and have great independence from a young age, but do it within the safe boundaries of the community. Kids know their neighbors and know where to get the band-aids or  cookies if the need them. This safe haven from which to explore their world sometimes gives Arden youth tunnel vision, because--as we know--the whole world is not like the Ardens. But the kids do get to ride bike and visit friends and gather in the woods and by the pool or walk to the library. They have the freedom of choosing their own activities at ACRA's summer camp. As older teens they graduate to campfires at Indian Circle and Kan-Jam in the Gild parking lot. And imagine concerts that teens and their parents can both attend, but separately, neither group acknowledging that the other is sharing the music.

I do wish my kids had had some of that (in Jonah's case) and more of that (in Maren's). Where we lived previously, my kids couldn't even ride a bike safely. They did a majority of their bike riding at their grandparents' house. If I had to go back and change what I did as a parent, I would probably try harder to give them a safer place from which to explore and gain independence. I used to walk into town as a kid, from the age of eight. I learned to talk to adults and make purchases on my own. I learned how to get lost and found again. But how is any parent to know what our kids will need? How could we have prepared our kids for Facebook or Xbox 360 or smartphones or even [author shuddersNo Child Left Behind? I don't have the answers. Jonah and Maren still have things to figure out in a world that is constantly changing. They are smart, thoughtful, creative kids who make me so proud even as I nitpick at them to make appointments and clean up after themselves and take initiative. I know my job as their mom is far is from finished, but at this plateau, I am going to stop and admire the view.

I leave you with a poem that was written by an Arden poet of yore. She was speaking of her youth, but what she expresses still applies today and is widely circulated among our community.

Arden Child

When I was young
And it was necessary
For my world to be
Small and safe and beautiful,
Here it lay, outside my door.
The greens became enchanted land;
The woods, an endless trail,
The sound of creek and rocks
My symphony.
Barefoot and free, I ran
Along the wild paths.
Fruit from a hundred trees
Fell to my hand
Above the hedgerows were the sky and stars,
Remembered blue as blue.
A proper soil for a growing soul
Where love, a circle round,
Assured me of my place on earth.

--Marjory Poinsett Jobson

Marjory Poinsett Jobson (1916-85)

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