I have this habit of trying to do it all and be it all, seeking frantically to find the way to exist in that magical, elusive state called The Best.
But this year, I have discovered that while this mythical-seeming state actually does exist, it is nestled in the more hostile country of The Worst. As much as I’d like to pretend The Best is a sovereign nation, the two are inextricably entwined. And, for the first time ever, I am realizing that this is okay. As I alluded to last week, I see how the common and the fabulous coexist in my life, nearly always in the same thing, and this juxtaposition is part of what makes life real and, sometimes, what makes it beautiful.
The reality has sunk in, as it usually does, while muddling through this parenting thing. As the girls mature, we have started to include them in decisions other than what to wear and how to do their hair. You know, things that have more permanent, influential and visibile consequences than being cold, mismatched or uncomfortable for a day. While we will have the final say at this phase in their life, we have found (through lots of trial and error) that on many decision, it is important to ask for their input and acutally seriously consider what they say.
Iowa has this fantastic dual enrollment option, which allows kids to attend between 2 and 5 hours of public school per day and be homeschooled for the rest. This year, after much deliberation and for a variety of reasons, we (Nick and Nora and I) decided to dually enroll Nora in 2nd grade. She goes to school with everyone in the morning and leaves two hours early.
We all (mostly) love it. Nora loves having extra time at home. But, because she misses the end of the day, that means she often misses the fun stuff, too – birthday celebrations, class parties, costume parades, fun projects.
Nora was dually enrolled in kindergarten, for a different set of reasons. And we would always let her stay till the end of the day when there were special events.
This year was different. Nick and I decided at the beginning of the year that we wouldn’t be making exceptions. We wanted to teach her that there are consequences to all choices, even the best ones. We told her that the privilege of having extra time at home meant that she would be missing things at school. She agreed.
The first time there was something special, I braced myself for a torrent of whining. But to my surprise, she said, “Mom, I’m feeling disappointed that I am missing it. But, I know that I get to go home and have tea outside and do fun things with you guys. So I’m okay.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I hear this unspoken message everywhere to find the best, and be the best, and to never settle for anything less. And so I embark on the noble quest for the best, discarding anything that is less. I confuse trying my best with being the best and consequently never learn the important lessons that come through working hard at something for which you may never be the best.
I can see how this mindset has permeated my parenting. Much like I have a deep desire to protect the girls from all pain, I want them to experience the best. All the time. In everything.
But not the worst.
And really, I’m finding it’s pretty easy to do that while they are young like this, and I can control so much. I can manipulate circumstances to enhance the best and minimize or even eliminate the worst. And I am realizing that I am walking a fine line between responsible parenting that strives to create a safe environment for kids to grow and mature, and dangerous parenting that strives to create the perfect environment. When we talk about choices and decisions, I find myself discussing all the benefits of each possibility. Rarely (unless I’m trying to sway a decision), do I talk honestly and openly about both the best and the worst.
Recently, I was chatting with my sister about the popular critique of her millennial generation, namely, their collective repulsion at taking a good job (or any job, really) instead of the best job. And it made me wonder. In our nobly intentioned desire to have our kids find their passion and become the best that they can be, have we set them up for a never-ending quest for the mythical, sovereign country of The Best? Have we actually succeeded in creating people who won’t settle for less? Ever?
So much like I’m feeling challenged to prepare my children for the reality of suffering, I’m realizing I need to do a better job of discussing The Worst as a inevitable and necessary part of life. I am a naturally (and usually, unrealistically) optimistic person, so this is not easy for me. But, I’m working to train myself to see the worst parts as evidence of the best parts.
The tricky part is trying to teach them to recognize the (often subtle) difference between The Worst that is simply a byproduct of a particular option and The Worst that is destructive, damaging and divisive. I don’t want to raise apathetic kids. I want to raise kids who can and want to recognize and address problems.
I am hoping that the experience with Nora will extend to the rest of life – that by giving them a realistic view of what life is they will have
The serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.