Monday, May 24, 2010

The Uncertainty of Parenting

Mollie writes:

I do wish there was a site on the internet where we could go and get easy answers.  I wouldn't be writing it, however, I would probably be the most frequent visitor.  Reading Millie's post on letting children fly brought back memories of my own.  So many times I have made decisions and later wondered if it was the 'right' one.  Of course, the subject was 'flying' which is where this memory lays sleeping, but there's a deeper consideration.

When my oldest was going into kindergarten, I wanted to go to school with him and document each and every moment of his new adventure.  Peter was 5 years old and already we were aware of his extremely independent nature.  He wanted to do things for himself, from the beginning, on his own schedule, damn the torpedos and full speed ahead.  This uber mother wasn't always comfortable with it.

The weekend before school started, John and I asked Peter how he wanted us to handle his first day at school.  I was ready to drive him to school, ride with him on the school bus, or follow the bus in my car.  John had meetings at work that week and couldn't postpone them, so it was going to be a mommy/son thing only.  

You can imagine my surprise when, after offering Peter three alternatives, he came up  with a fourth.  "I want you to stay home" was what he chose, and pole-axed me since it wasn't  an option I'd even considered.  

Let the kid go to school alone?  It felt beastly.  What kind of mommy puts a kid on a school bus (with all the other neighbors' kids) and sends him off into the future?  I argued with myself for hours, considering all the possibilities.

I spoke with my next-door neighbor and came up with a plan.  Peter would ride to school on the school bus with the other neighbor kids, mommy-free.  When he got to his school, her older son would escort him to his new classroom and introduce him to his new teacher.  I would stay  home, with his little brother, poised by the phone, ready to deal with any issues as they arose.  

We have pictures of Pete waiting for the school bus, boarding the school bus, and then the school bus chugging down the street.  I'm nowhere in the picture, simply snapping pictures and wondering if I'd made a good choice.

Peter's first day of school went without hitch.  He met his teacher, was assigned a place at one of the big tables in the classroom, got his name tag, everything.  Not only this, but it was a full day at school, his elementary school opting for full-day kindergarten.  He got his lunch (packed by moi!) and bought his own milk.  He was the little man.

It was probably the best choice for Peter.  He was ready for life without Mommy butting in every 32 seconds.  And in his wonderfully terse option, "I want you to stay home" he let me know what his feelings were.  It was my onus to decide if this was an option that I should respect.

In the end, of course, I did.  I couldn't foresee any horrible moments happening that wouldn't happen any other day.  In the course of the school year, I volunteered in the classroom, joined the parent/teacher club and just generally was a presence in his life at school.  But I did it from the audience, not from the stage.

Another child may have wanted his mommy to do something else.  But I was Peter's mom, and I had to react appropriately.  This is why there are very few hard and fast rules in parenting.  So much is dictated by the needs of the child.

It's  23 years later, and I still second guess that choice.  I don't have photos of him walking into Mrs. Frank's classroom that foggy/sunny morning in September.  I don't have pictures of him buying his carton of milk, coloring, or showing his teacher how deft he was with the snub-nosed scissors packed so apprehensively in his backpack.  It was his day, and it was all about him.

I look back on this and have a personal sense of loss.  I wanted to go to school with him, and hadn't even considered the possibility that he had other desires.  There's an empty space in the photo album, and an equally empty space in my memory banks.  But I'm hoping that the sense of self-reliance he requested trumps any misgivings that I would ever have.

Sometimes we need superpowers and there are millions of them on the option list, waiting to be selected.  My superpower that day was to put myself second and let him have his day his own way.  I'll never know if it was the right decision, but it was a good decision.


  1. It was the right decision . . . ooooo, but it cannot have been an EASY decision. You get extra Parenting Points (redeemable for valuable prizes as the Parenting Redemption Center) both for the way you handled this one and for raising a kid who knows his own mind and can speak it!

  2. I get points???!!!! Can I bank them for that charming steak knife set on page 52 of the Millie and Mollie gift catalogue?

  3. Hah! We should SO make a Millie and Mollie Gift Catalogue!

  4. Well, if I don't go for the steak knives on page 52, I'm saving for the HazMat kit on page 3. Imagine, it comes in blue AND pink, with an optional gas mask for only 12 additional points.

  5. I think all "good" parents second guess themselves from time to time. Well, maybe more often than that, even. I'm glad children are said to be so resilient. Now, if only we parents were, too.



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