We Can Do Anything…
A colleague of mine, our CFO, is known for saying when asked whether we can find room in the budget for some new expense, “Well, sure…we can do anything…” and then after a short pause for that to digest…”we just can’t do everything.” I think it’s a pretty good reminder for those of us raising kids right now in an age of endless opportunity and mindless insecurity for parents. As the coordinator for gifted and talented programs in my local school district, I am constantly finding myself talking to parents who want to know, “what else?” What else can their child do? What new challenge can they find to give him or her? What camp? What class? What extra Saturday experience? What club? What contest? What assessment to measure him or her yet another way? It’s cliche, I know, to talk about the over-scheduled over-achieving child of over-achievers, but I must. You see, I’ve reached a weird place as a parent–let’s call it a summit, of sorts. After years of climbing the hill of parenthood, I’ve reached one of those places that mountain hikers are familiar with, where the switchbacks stop, and you can actually stand atop some part of the mountain–maybe not the top, yet–and survey everything around you from a vantage point that has some perspective to it. Maybe you can even look back down the winding trail you’ve come up (or part of it…you usually can’t see the beginning from where you are now) and even see other hikers toiling along it. You have a chance to see that the journey is worth it and also to realize that some of the hikers way down the trail don’t realize how far they have yet to come or where the hard parts start. Folks, I’ve come just far enough as a parent of a 19 and 22 year old to know that I’ve got no idea what the rest of the way looks like from here. I don’t know what it will be like to parent a 30 year old, 40 year old, 50 year old. But I do know this. I know as I stand here, the mother of a few twentyish kids today that some things mattered and some didn’t. I know because I can see some of the switchbacks we toiled up that led to this place, and I know because they have finally reached a place where they, too, can look back a bit with some perspective and tell me. And this is something I’ve learned: as a parent, you can do almost anything…but you can’t do everything. And you don’t have to feel guilty about it. We live in a age where information bombards us. We get multiple emails a week from school, updates from the soccer and basketball program, invitations from marketers of lessons, fliers from all the youth programmers in town…and a constant social media diet of updates on other people’s children–or at least the side of them that their parents are proud and happy to display in public. We live in an age of “child as trophy” for parents who’ve attained a level of leisure time and prosperity that afford them the chance to invest 24/7 in the business of childrearing. Wherever two or more parents are gathered, you hear people proudly sharing stories of all the different experiences they are giving their children–racing from music lessons to school clubs to athletics. Drama workshops. Art lessons. Foreign language lessons before school begins. Skills training. Speed clinics. Science club. Creative writing camp. Chess competition. Math bowl. Robotics. Safe Sitter certification. Swim team. Humane Society volunteering. Scouts. Church youth group. National Honor Society. Basketball. Refereeing soccer. SAT prep. Opportunities abound. They call to us. Reach out their grasping fingers to clutch at us. Bury us in guilt over the roads not taken, the doors we let close, the heights our children will not achieve because we couldn’t find a way to get one more thing in. How can we not do all these things?
Let it go, fellow parents. I just left college graduation this weekend, and I can honestly say I see it all now from a different vantage point. As I look back at all I did or did not do for my children, I am glad for some things that were well chosen and yielded great rewards. As I look back at the path that led to this commencement day for my daughter, I am glad for the soccer team of girls who didn’t ever win a championship but who became her sisters for years and years and for their parents who surrounded her like family. I am glad for the violin that gave her so much joy for each day in middle and high school–a daily oasis of music in an otherwise far too crowded life–an instrument which she will not likely play again. It served its purpose well, though. I wish I’d known that the daily hour of music WAS the purpose and not the annual state music contest that led to extra practices with private teachers and tons of stress culminating ultimately in a silly red, white, and blue ribbon with a little gold Indiana charm hanging from it. I am glad for family trips and for the nights I stayed up pretending to work at the kitchen table just so she wasn’t sweating through several hours of homework alone–a little four cup coffee pot that we shared as I also tried to stay awake. Such a great “opportunity” those evenings were, and we never “signed up” for them or won anything for them. I am glad for curfews and the hours we spent wrangling over them. Glad for all the hours I read aloud to her when she was little. Glad I insisted on car payments for a car she wanted to drive that had long since been paid off. Glad for time to listen. I am not sorry now for all the “one-offs” we missed and the things we didn’t get to. Could we have done a science camp? Sure. Could she have learned to play chess? Yes. Did I fall down on the job of teaching her to cook and spending time in the kitchen together? Absolutely. We never got those art lessons that looked so cool at the Art Center. Did not enter the poetry contest I tore out the entry form for from the school newsletter. She did not get certified as a lifeguard or take the SAT prep class. We never drove to the cool-looking Saturday classes at our local university that would have helped her find a new passion…or perhaps just filled another Saturday and given me something to mention to friends that we had done recently. I won’t lie; I was going to do all those things. I have a few tattered pages of old “to do” lists that attest to it. I had the best of intentions, but not enough time. We only get these kids for 18 years at home, folks. We can do anything. We can’t do everything. And that’s just fine.
So, yeah…as I stand at this place in my journey as a parent, I can honestly say that I have made so many mistakes, but not doing it all isn’t going to be one I fret about for long. If I could tell the me I was anything, it would be to just breathe…to not worry about the clubs, classes, contests, and opportunities of a lifetime we were NOT doing…and to cherish every minute of the things we were doing because soon they would end. Choose a few things wisely and well. Do them with your whole heart. Model how to say “nope…not that one” and believe that it will all be fine. Because it will.