So, you know how every once in a while I read something that throws me into a bit of a tizzy and I rethink, review, reimagine, rehash, reiterate, rewind and revamp whatever small piece of the status quo happens to be at issue? Well, this one is a biggie and I’ve been sitting on it for a couple of weeks because I just don’t quite know how to tackle it, given how deeply and fiercely entrenched I am in this.
From the July issue of The Atlantic, the article’s title – How to Land Your Kid in Therapy – is sort of beside the point. What is supremely hair raising, is the notion that we super-involved parents, who are literally devoting all of our time to making our kids happy and successful, could actually be doing them a disservice in the long run. Our ”discomfort with discomfort” is actually leaving them ill-equipt to deal with the real life stressors that will eventually come their way, and in fact may be turning them into little narcissists. Saying “good job” has become a verbal tick. To the extent that our kids believe us every time we say it (and why should they not?), they are left thinking they are pretty friggin’ awesome. When is the last time someone said good job to me? And yet I haven’t dissolved into a puddle of insecurity, have I? Obviously, kids need encouragement and some kids are more sensitive than others, but when I read this article, I realized my kids are in far greater danger of turning out to be clueless and entitled, with inflated senses of self than they are of having low self-esteem. Low self-esteem? Fat chance.
If you ever sit near the diving board at our pool you can hardly carry on a conversation for the constant yelling coming from the peanut gallery. Holding up the line, you have little Ashley or whoever screaming mom! mom! mom! mom! mom! mom! until her mother interrupts her conversation, watches her jump off the diving board, waits for her to emerge from the water and gives her a dutiful thumbs up or a big wow! good job! What the HELL? We aren’t talking toddlers taking their first plunges. These are 8, 9 and 10 year olds who insist on a captive, fawning audience at all times. My kids do it too and I’ve actually felt guilty saying No, I’m not going to score your dives right now. But damn if sometimes I don’t feel like averting my eyes to the pages of a magazine instead of watching them.
A couple weeks ago, Saint James and his soccer buddy walked in the back gate after having been at a soccer camp from 9-3. They were visibly hot and sweaty and had practice in an hour and a half, but they stopped at the rebounder and started kicking around some more. I had just read this article, so I was super self-conscious about my mother-henning, but was I crazy to think those boys should cool off after 6 hours of soccer? So instead of addressing them directly, I whispered to Doctor Dash to tell them to come inside. Of course Dash perfunctorily blew me off with an oh, they’re fine and asked me not to involve him in my article-craziness. So I went stealth. I banged around the kitchen for a bit, made an icy concoction in the blender and nonchalantly crooned out the back door – hey guys, want some smoothies? Mother. Hen. Wins.
Just this past week I was on my laptop at the pool and a tweenish girl ran up to me and told me that Devil Baby had gotten a back smack during dive practice. I sprang up and saw that she was being comforted by the assistant coach. I thought of the article, about letting kids sit with discomfort and just as I was about to sit back down, one of the moms rushed up to me and told me that Devil Baby was crying. I felt like yelling So What???? She smacked her back on WATER!!!! She’s FIIIIIIINE! But as such, unable to withstand the societal pressure to check on my child (who was FINE), I shuffled over, because isn’t that what I’m there for? Just waiting in the wings until they need a little pat on the back?
I think this article touched a nerve for me because I am at the absolute apex of my kid summer business. I spend ALL of my time driving them around so they can be super happy super humans – but to what end? I can tell you based on the last couple months that it is EXHAUSTING watching other people exercise. If I were on any one of my kids’ daily routines, I would be ready to do a triathalon tomorrow. I’d be freakishly buff. Outlandishly fit. But I’m not. I’m tired and crabby. AND I haven’t gotten to build a fort, ride a horse or learn graffiti art.
The weeks wear on, the novelty wears off, the boredom sets in and I pick up an article that shines a spotlight on something I’ve been kinda sorta thinking anyway. We fill up their plates because we want them to have fun, try everything, gain that muscle memory early on, so that in the future, it won’t be a struggle to learn how to play tennis, or ski, or swim laps. But what’s wrong with sucking? We all have to stink at some thing, some times, don’t we? And what’s wrong with being bored and “unhappy” during the summer time? It’s like it’s verboten to even suggest that. But don’t some of your best childhood summer memories involve time spent scampering around your neighborhood with no agenda? The problem is that there are very few kids around these days for my kids to scamper with. Everyone is busy.
The god awful truth of the matter is that, in more ways than I care to admit, my schlepping justifies my existence right now. To do all this work, as mindless and frustrating as it can be, and then engage the possibility that not only is it not the best thing I can do for my kids, but that I may actually be doing it for myself, well, let’s just say that smarts.
I can’t help but wonder what the hell I’m doing. I keep reminding myself that the number one thing that broke my heart about working was not being able to be with my kids during the summer. I have a palpable, gut memory of pulling up to my house with my babies (who had been in their posh air-conditioned daycare all day) just as a gaggle of wet kids were spilling out of my neighbor’s minivan. I can still see all the colorful towels wrapped around heads, being dragged on the grass. My neighbor was tan, her hair wet. I was so envious and sad. And now, these many years later, we are all about colorful wet towels and yet, I am feeling truly burnt out by a different kind of rat race.
Mother hen needs a wee break, I think. And maybe the chicks do too.