Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Support

Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do.  With no relatives, no support, we've put it in an impossible situation.  ~Margaret Mead

This past Sunday, our minister cited some studies in her discussion of Father's Day and family. In the 1970's, when asked if people had someone to share their most personal problems with, on average each person had three others they could turn to. In a more recent study, the mode was 0. This means that in 40 years, as a society, our ability to make friendships and rely on others has diminished.

As I listened to these statistics, I realize how lucky I am. I am still in touch with my three best friends from high school (one I've known since kindergarten). I often think to call them when having issues with my children or husband. I have two very close friends that I've known almost since my first child was born. We joke about our communal dinners and parenting, but all jokes aside, it is a precious thing. We just moved to a neighborhood that had other families and I am starting to develop support networks here. While my parents live two hours away, I know in times of crisis, they will make the drive and help us out. On top of that, we have friends and acquaintances from church who are supportive in many ways.

I would not be the parent I am without the loving support of these people. They cheer me on when I get overwhelmed, they provide a sounding board for me when I'm unsure of my self, and they're strong enough to tell me when I'm wrong or over-reacting.

I don't know how some people do it alone. I couldn't imagine the level of stress I would have without the support of friends and family. It really does, to be cliche, take a village. And yet, in many places, people are isolated. Not geographically, but, self-imposed. As a society, we've become more inwardly focused and more fearful of involvement with others. Because we have become such a mobile society, we no longer live near our extended families. In many neighborhoods people come home and never interact with their neighbors.

Statistically, parents without good support outside of the family are more likely to be abusive. I can see why. There are days when my children just bug me to death and I feel like I'm at my wits end with them. But, I always know there is someone who is willing to come over and talk, be there on the phone, or even take them for a bit if I really need. It is good to travel this journey with others and know I am not alone.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Vicarious Living

I often wonder about the parents of famous athletes. Did Venus and Serena Williams really love tennis at such an early age? At age 2, did Tiger Woods eagerly ask to play golf the way Emery asks for "bob-a-booboo" (Bob the Builder)? Did Wayne Gretzky ever regret learning to skate at age 2 and being thrust into the limelight? Young children have no idea what they want to do with their lives 20 years in the future. Heck, most don't know what they want to do tomorrow. And so, I've always thought badly of the parents of young athletes or artists. I assumed that the parents pushed their children into the sport or activity, either to live vicariously through them or for financial reasons.

And then, Jamie started dancing around the house. When Jamie dances, he has a style and grace that doesn't match his 4 years. He naturally holds his hands in ballet positions and pirouettes across the living room. I look at Jamie and I see the potential for a career. I also see pure joy on his face when he dances: he loves it.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I took ballet for 6 years. I don't think I ever really loved it or had any desire to pursue it as a career. But, for six years I took classes, participated in recitals, and have fond memories of the experience.


And now the quandary.

I want to sign Jamie up for dance classes. I think he would really enjoy it. Maybe it would just be a fun thing for a few months or years as it was for me and my siblings. Maybe it would be the introduction to a future career. Maybe the Williams parents saw tennis as a way to keep their kids busy with something productive and Serena and Venus were just naturals. Maybe they worked hard to become good; pushed on by a father with selfish goals. Only they and their dad know the true story.

Maybe Walter Gretzky saw hockey as a way to run the energy out of his boys and Wayne just took to it. Or maybe he saw it as a way to get his sons off the farm. Again, that is between the Gretzkys.

But, the questions give me pause. Tanya Harding started skating at a young age, and we all know what happened to her. Did she just come from a dysfunctional family or was the pressure placed on a young child to succeed too great?

While I don't think I would overtly push Jamie to do something he doesn't want to, I can see the potential for unintended pressure to be placed. "Oh you're so good at that" can be translated in a kid's mind to "I have to stay with this to make mom proud."

On the other hand, maybe some kids have natural gifts and they will pursue them with or without parental support. Dorthy Hamill couldn't get her mom to wake up one morning at 4:30 and take her to skate practice. She began walking the 10 miles to the rink. She was 12.

I have asked Jamie if he is interested in dance and he seems to be. At first he told me, "boys can't do ballet." I showed him a video of Baryshnikov. He seemed quite excited about the idea after that. If he takes lessons, I will have to monitor my enthusiasm and see if it matches his own. If not, a few weeks of lessons never hurt anyone. And, hopefully, no matter where he goes, he will always dance for his mom in the living room.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tonight's Bike Ride: A Metaphor for Life

Baker learned to ride a two-wheeler almost 2 years ago. We briefly used training wheels until he got the hang of steering, then took them off and ran behind him as he pedaled. The first few times, I had to hold the bike for him. I'd let go and he'd stay upright, though wobbly, for a couple of seconds at a time. Next thing I knew, he could get himself started and go for longer distances. He'd cautiously go ahead, and then pedal right back to me.  He moved up in bike sizes, but never went too far from me, until this year. Now, he zooms ahead to each intersection, then waits patiently for me to catch up.  We constantly review the rules of the road and quiz him on bike safety. Tonight, as I walked the dog and he rode his bike, I told him he could go ahead to the end of the road. He took off, crested the hill and disappeared down it. As I saw him vanish, I had a moment of panic. What if a car is coming? What if he brakes too hard and falls? What if he doesn't stop at the intersection? What if? What if? What if?

Our children start as helpless babes and move on to teetering toddlers. We hold their hands and help them every step of the way. They are always at our side. They enter kindergarten. They're still in reach, but a bit more independent. Baker hasn't figuratively crested the hill yet, but I know those "What if?" questions will plague me when he finally does; heading off to college out of my site and my reach. I will worry about whether or not he'll remember all those lessons I've tried to teach him. The "rules" of life and guides to safe living. I'll worry that despite my lessons, unforeseen events will hurt him and I won't be there to help him back up. Of course, I can worry all I want. The fact that he will grow up, move on, and become the adult that he will be, will happen whether I worry or not. So all I can do is try to do the best I can now, hope he remembers what I say, and wait to see if he occasionally rides back to check in with me.



Friday, June 4, 2010

Field Day Inspired Thoughts

Baker's best friend didn't attend field day. He got in trouble at school two days in a row for hitting, so his mom said he couldn't go. She is my new parenting hero! Hurray for personal responsibility. I see so many parents who let their child's bad behavior slide or, worse yet, reinforce it. I've seen parents giggle and say, "how cute" when their young child does something wrong, like throwing food. I've seen parents make excuses for their older child's inappropriate behavior. I often wonder what they think they are accomplishing by doing this. Maybe they are saving their child some short-term stress and it is easier for them at the moment, but, long-term, they are setting their kids up to be spoiled, obnoxious adults who think the world owes them something. So, my friend K is my hero. She is teaching her son that there are consequences and some behaviors just aren't acceptable.

Field day made me think about balance. I like to give my kids some freedom. Emery was walking towards the playground and I let him go. I knew where he was headed, I was watching him, and I planned on joining him in a few minutes. I don't need my child next to me every second. Another adult saw him walking, looked around, and glared at me for letting him go on his own. Maybe he didn't realize my intention, and I can understand that. Once I joined Emery and put him on the swing, a little boy asked me if he could swing. I asked where his mom was. He pointed and she was busy supervising one of the field day games. This little boy was on the playground for a good half hour without anyone watching or checking on him. I've seen that often too at other playgrounds. And so, you have to strike a balance between giving your kids some freedom (and yourself some breathing room) and temporarily "abandoning" your child to the playground. It is difficult. I've gotten distracted talking to a friend and lost track for a second of my child's whereabouts. But, it is infrequent and, overall, I do think I manage that balance of giving them room to explore and be independent without letting them get too far away.

My last thought is this. I was so excited to see the kids, in this day and age of political correctness and litigation, play "tug of war." They had such a good time and although it was called war, the school did a great job of promoting good sportsmanship.