A new year and, if you work in a corporate job, you’ve likely recently been through the annual performance evaluation dance. I still remember one of my first reviews after college, while I was still a management consultant. I like working with you, Mike, because when I assign you something I know I don’t have it worry about it. It will be handled. I smiled. A nice, if banal enough, compliment, I thought at the time. The manager would go on to cut-and-paste that line into my next six reviews up until I left the company.
I took it for granted at the time that most working adults were self-sufficient and could solve problems. How naive and silly that appears now. Over the next fifteen years, I encountered so many people, many much smarter than me, that left me wondering how they were able to negotiate password requirements or log-in to Webex on their own.
Dealing with home schooling and the emerging social dynamics of middle schooling, sometimes (ok, many times) leaves Michelle and I stressed out over if the girls are making progress, hitting standards, and achieving goals. My performance evaluation reminded me there are other goals, arguably more important ones, to stress over as a parent because if they can’t solve problems, if they can’t overcome the child-safety lock on life, and take care of business on their own, than achieving the grade-level standard won’t mean a thing.
Around New Year’s it’s impossible not to think about time. Time missed. Time passing. The last year brought an avalanche of missed trips, missed moments, and missed milestones but sitting on the couch New Year’s Eve trying to fit in one last glass of champagne before a dry January, it was easy to remember that if you are only looking for the big events, you’re missing a heck of a lot.
My parenting resolution for 2021 is to not forget that feeling, to not to constantly look for an Instagram result and just try to enjoy the daily parenting… struggle and take some reward from that. It’s easy to have this thought bleary-eyed with a glass of champagne, probably harder on Tuesday afternoon juggling Zoom log-ins and sixth grade science slides talking about thermodynamics.
But better to go for the obvious, big parenting belly flop than something completely unrealistic like getting the girls to actually shut off lights when they leave a room.
Halfway through Christmas Day’s Zoom extravaganza, I had a (fleeting) moment of empathy for our outgoing president. He appears to constantly inflict self-harm on himself by believing there is something lacking despite being given everything. This insecurity, beyond being exhausting, must be far worse than any actual deprivation. The worry is always worse than the reality.
It seemed like an important lesson to try to teach them while they were young. Help them understand that they are good enough without a day filled with gifts. What they have is enough. What they are is enough.
What actually matters is what they do with it all.
One of the more memorable pieces I’ve read this year was about the fossilized footprints found at White Sands National Park. A set of large footprints and then every so often a set of smaller footprints alongside. What was going on? We have no idea, but then again, of course we do. If you are a parent you’ve done this same walk a hundred times. No matter how weird and dangerous things became this year, it’s oddly reassuring that this has all been happening for a long time. As parents. As humans. We’re all in this together.
It works just as well in the present, too. I get the same relief and reassurance when I start to Google ‘is glitter in the ear canal harmful’ and it autocompletes before I finish. Thank god some other parent has been here before…
In my ongoing quest to get through 2020 safely and sanely, I’ve decided that when it comes to the girls, it’s better accept the distractions, the interruptions, and the glitter as an stake in their future.
Does Ally interrupt us throughout the day with questions about counting on or trick words? Yes. Does Ce sometimes need help with technology or trombone? Yup. Does the tuition and costume check for dance cause me to blanch? Yes. Did we buy them too much stuff for Christmas. Of course. Am I late to work calls because of it? Sometimes. Do I regret it or get upset at the interruption or expense? I’m trying not to.
It’s an investment in their knowledge and education and I hope it’s making them better. It’s worth what it costs.
We went to see Elf with friends (Happy Birthday, Ty!) at a rented movie theater this week. It was a great time and spoiled ever going to a theater with strangers again. It also meant that Ally had plenty of sugar after 7 p.m. Her appetite for candy and desserts has been well documented here. She was a hyper Christmas pixie by the time we made it home. Her contagious silliness infected her sister. It was time for bed but they only had mischief on their minds. Giggling, fighting, laughing. Thank god the glitter was out of reach.
It was late. I was ready to pack it in. This was definitely not time for a rumpus. I was teetering on the verge of shutting it down by parental decree (i.e., yelling) and yet…a question popped into my mind instead: who has it better?
Nobody. Nobody has it as good as your own family. It’s a mad, mad world out there right now. Hang on tight to those dear to you. Lean into that craziness. Try to enjoy it.
Find some good and praise it. That’s my new mantra as we pass Thanksgiving and head into December. I’m trying not to fall into the conflict and criticism trap.
As a Dad, I’m always going to have more success rewarding good behavior than punishing bad behavior. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes there’s just too much glitter on the floor and it goes to my head. I see red. But I’m trying hard not to make that my primary reaction. Parenting is a daily choice: try to inspire or cave in to disillusion. Empower or depress.
I hope my relationship with Michelle is empowering and inspiring. It’s one choice that’s been paying off for over 20 years now and based on the kid’s behavior the other night, I think maybe some of that partnership is shining through…