If you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ve probably noticed we’re not much for helicopter parenting. For a little refresher, here’s a quick story about bags of teeth, and another about how we rate kid activities on the amount of time they require our backsides be removed from the sofa.
I rather think this has worked to our children’s advantage, requiring them to become savvy to all kinds of helpful stuff, like how to find the fire extinguisher, or the expiration date on a gallon of milk. It’s kind of like we planned it, but in reality this is what happens when your MO is expending the least energy possible while keeping people alive.
About a month ago, we sent one kid halfway around the world to a place we’ve never been, to live with people we’d never met in the interest of giving him a little culture and us a little break from having to wade through the mess in his room to collect our dinnerware.
Even before Jack became an exchange student, we were fairly involved in this program, which meant regularly telling other parents to suck up and deal with the fact their kid was out from under their wing – well before we knew what it was like to send our own kid packing. I’ll admit to being less than sympathetic than we could have been. Not that naiveté has ever stopped me from lecturing.
One thing I didn’t anticipate was how much sending Jack away was going to dial up latent Tiger Mom tendencies I never realized I have.
There was a thing recently about language lessons. When school opened in Denmark for the year, Jack mentioned something about foreign students being offered additional instruction in Danish. Which was helpful because his whole “winging it” strategy was not panning out as well as he’d hoped.
Later in the day I messaged to ask how the lessons went and found out he’d missed his first session. Something about a misunderstanding and thinking someone was going to come for him, but they didn’t and he wasn’t sure about the time anyway, and … well there you go.
This kind of thing, as it turns out, is a bit of a trigger. There is really nothing worse to hear than I screwed up or missed a memo or forgot, and now I have to sit something out. When my kid tells me something just happened or didn’t happen because of his lack of action, it makes my eye twitch. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether that something was worth the slightest amount of effort. It’s the lack of action resulting in squandered opportunity that gets me.
Some of my earliest memories have to do with obsessing over “what if?”
There was, for example, The Caterpillar Story:
Once a little girl went to the garden store with her mom and sister. It was eleventy-bajillion degrees outside, but the girls’ mom probably thought her children had enough time in front of the boob-tube and needed to get out.
On the garden store counter was a fish bowl with a couple of huge, hairy caterpillars. The winner of a drawing would take the whole set-up home. The mom asked if the girls wanted to enter and one of them – who was hot and tired and didn’t want to miss The Electric Company – said “meh, we’re more into frogs, anyway,” and asked to go home.
From that day on, throughout the rest of the summer and into the start of the school year, the lazy girl who had just wanted to watch TV would lay awake at night and wonder. What if she had won the drawing? What if huge, furry caterpillars are actually great pets? What if she could have trained them to eat from her hand and sit up and do any number of furry caterpillar tricks? She would never know because she’d SQUANDERED the OPPORTUNITY to enter the damn drawing and was doomed to have nothing but loud, little tree frogs in jars on her window sill making all kinds of racket while they lived out their short, agonizing lives wondering how they managed to be captured by a heartless little girl and now lived in a jar with sticks and grass and nothing to eat.
Okay, so flash forward and Jack misses a Danish lesson because he wasn’t really paying attention. What followed was me sitting on my hands to keep from typing anything more intense than “oh well, I’m sure you’ll figure out where your class is tomorrow … or … sometime.”
Who am I to say “get your butt off that chair and go FIND OUT when your stinking lessons are?” I’m the person who lets unlabeled bags of baby teeth accumulate. And nobody needs a lecture from his mother halfway around the world.
And no, the irony of my wanting to take an exchange student – someone who has recently flung himself into daily scrutiny of his clothes and his manners and his way of speaking and any and every ridiculous thing going on in his home country including the oompa-loompa running for president and whatever the Kardashians are up to – by the shoulders and shout carpe-freaking-diem, is not lost on me.
And things like this do tend to work themselves out, if I can let them go. A kid will eventually find his way to a class, even if his mom isn’t there to guide him by the hand, just like a six year-old will get a grip and realize it was probably good for the caterpillars she didn’t enter the drawing, based upon what eventually happened with the frogs.
Sometimes missed opportunities are occasions for a mom to practice her coping skills. Other times they’re the universe or whatever telling you caterpillars don’t make good pets.
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