When he was my fiance, my husband and I sat in the booth of a bar outside of Boston, Massachusetts and over a plate of buffalo wings and a fried veggie basket, we talked about how we would parent our children.
We would be loving, but firm. Guide our children toward high morals and ethics. Let them explore religion and choose their own, be advocates for higher education and be very good disciplinarians.
Our intentions were good. But when our two children arrived, we loved them so very much that we made mistakes. We talked with them rather than disciplined them, we didn’t go to church very often, we weren’t as firm as we thought we’d be….and as they grew into their teens, I began to wonder if somewhere along the line, we goofed.
I mean, there was that one time that my husband told our son to go to his room and our son simply said, “No.” Not defiant, but more of a “I don’t think that’s going to work” attitude. And our daughter refused to wear pink — any stitch of it — from kindergarten through sixth grade. Our son went through the high school challenges and pains and tested himself and tested us. We’ve had a few slammed doors, a couple of fist holes in walls, messy rooms, non-eaten plates of food and the usual threats of “I’m leaving home.”
But we’ve also had some incredible family moments. Silly giggles, trips that didn’t turn out the way we wanted but surprised us, adventures that got us lost and found again and bedtimes and bathtimes that were simpy joyous.
Lately, we’ve been floating. Not really up, not really down, but clearly ready to move to the next unknown and for months, I’ve held my breath. When our son committed to the Navy, we sighed and cried and realized that perhaps this was his path. And when he was injured on the way to boot camp, we all readjusted and tried to figure out what the next “path” would be. When the requisite surgery happened and the required year wait passed by, and he announced again that he was reenlisting, we waited. And sure enough, four days later, he tore his ACL and ended his chances for entering the military.
He started working. Found a second job to work in his off hours. And decided to take a class or two at the community college. And not too long ago he uttered two sentences, “Mom, I’m happy. I’m really happy.”
Two days ago, our daughter, who’ll be seventeen in less than two weeks, wrote to us from the Dominican Republic, where she chose to spend seven weeks of her summer working with a global leadership group, learning about pollution and sustainability and our role on our planet. She sent two pictures, one of her hugging a small Haitian girl with a torn patterned dress, the other picture of a schoolhouse made of cement and plastic bottles that they were working on. And she followed up with a short email that simply said, “I was meant to do this. I love it here.”
Both kids have no idea that their two individual sentences summed up nearly twenty years of parenting. Twenty years of learning-as-we-went. Twenty years of hoping that we’d done something, anything, right.
They are still finding their paths, and so are their parents, but I’d say that I’m beginning to truly believe that we all did okay.