There are certain things a parent should be expected to pass on to their kids. Team allegiances. Curiosity. Respect. Proper flash card study habits. Lawrence Welk on lazy Sunday afternoons. An irrational love of Prince. The basic underpinnings of a happy life.
Parents should be careful however, not to pass on their fears. Fear is the killer of inquisitiveness. Kids are largely innocent. For better or worse, they just don’t know. Fear colors that curiosity with something darker. I might be afraid of heights. Or small spaces. Or pre-teen Disney stars. But that’s me, not them.
Cecilia survived jazz improv camp. She even let it slip she might go next year. I played trumpet for eight years and never soloed. I might have been afraid, but she’s not.
For all my indoor cat tendencies, I do like to plant a vegetable garden each year. With summer vacation a short half day away on Tuesday, the girls will be helping me more this year.
Forget about getting a puppy or other pet to teach kids responsibility, planting a garden is a much cheaper and just as effective way to teach kids long lasting life lessons: planning, prepping, growing, waiting. Really, if I could just work in flash cards….
In the book, Outdoor Kids in an Inside World, Steve Rinella has a chapter on the lessons families can learn from gardening. Like the best advice, it doesn’t need much space:
Through our actions, we have the power to make things thrive.
Neglect is deadly.
Sort of applies to a bountiful garden or…being a good parent.
The girls are both old enough now where their traits, dispositions, and temperaments are more formed. As a Dad, I am less inclined to shrug it off as a phase. I also have to confront the fact that the girls will not be exactly like me. (Except for the Yankees thing. I won’t bend on that.)
They will not make the same choices or walk the same path. They might (and likely will) make decisions and do things that will baffle me. But that’s okay. Maybe that’s for the best. I was a conformist kid that looked to fit in. And I did a pretty good job. I loved my flash cards. School and tests were a natural second language. But there are certainly more ways to contribute in this world than the easiest, most obvious, and most traditional ways.
But not everyone is built that way and as a Dad, I need to protect and guard against the girls feeling any shame about that. In fact, I often look back and regret I didn’t make bolder or less expected choices. Risk and I are not on a first name basis.
Some are meant to be artists. Some are meant to be quiet, solitary geniuses. Some are meant to be extroverts or iconoclasts. Some are meant to be late bloomers.
There are so many ways to make a difference in this world. As a Dad, my job is to help them by being who they were meant to be…and nothing else.
School has started back up. One of the frequent bits of hand-wringing last year, myself included, was that the pandemic was a lost year, or that the kids were falling behind, or not learning anything. In my more rationale moments, I was able to see that this was mostly absurd, stress from other things finding an easy target.
By some metrics there probably was some backsliding, but did your kids really not learn anything? I hope not. And I doubt it. If I’ve learned anything from being a parent for a decade, it’s that kids are always watching and listening. So they were learning things. Just not likely the things they typically standardize test for at the end of an academic year.
They were learning how unpredictable life can be. They were learning about pressure and stress and about how important (and necessary) it is to be resilient and adaptive. They learned that their Mom was a boss on conference calls and worked hard every day to help people get through a difficult time. They learned about the importance of frequent vacuuming and the healing power of fresh baked bread. They learned how important relationships and good friends were. They learned about politics and and public health, if they wanted to or not! They learned about how interconnected we all ultimately are.
I hope they learned that education doesn’t just happen in school. It’s a lifelong, never ending journey.
We drove down to the Cape Friday night and Ally sang along to her favorite music the whole way. Even while wearing headphones, she can’t resist a full-throated chorus. She also currently has very questionable taste in music. Which is completely fine. Taste and appreciation largely come from time and experience. I’m careful not to completely betray my feelings (at least up until the 14th consecutive playing of Geronimo or The Village People). I believe my job as a Dad is to encourage and let them roam (sort of like raising sheep dogs) and look for opportunities to help their taste expand and grown.
When Cecilia was selected for the jazz band last year, I would occasional slip on a Coltrane track when she wasn’t paying attention.
When Ally started singing and composing on the piano, I played her a song Lorde wrote at 16 and we put GarageBand on her phone.
When their interests and my interests intersect, we get those special opportunities to connect and share together. This past week at Dad Camp, I put their arts and crafts enthusiasm to good use as we built a small outdoor brick oven and cooked some pizzas for dinner. Even though there was no glitter or glue stick involved in the masonry, I hope that’s a day they remember. Continue Reading
It’s well documented that I like a plan. I embrace a to-do list. Having an agenda is my jam and spontaneity gives me hives. You know a great way to screw up that mindset? Have kids and work from home.
The primary feature of parenting is how quickly plans get smashed to pieces. It’s amazing how quickly things go wrong. The kids decide they don’t like mac ‘n cheese today. They trip over an acorn and scrape their knees. Their camp gets canceled. They believe their devices will spontaneously charge themselves. Their goggles feel funny and they can’t possibly go in the pool.
It’s enough to turn a functioning, responsible adult into a crazy person. But you know what? You’ve got to deal with it. It’s not like the Amazon delivery guy is going to help out.
Oh, you need another band aid? Let’s talk about first aid and wound care.
Oh, none of your friends are outside? Let’s play one of those 643 games you have in the basement.
Oh, you accidentally melted the glue stick in the microwave? Let me teach you about cleaning solvents.
Dad Camp: every day is an opportunity to secretly teach them how to clean the house. Continue Reading
Halfway through the year and a good time to take stock of goals for the year. I’m more than halfway through the next book. It’s a bit of a mess but that’s normal. The pie baking goal went out the window with the fitness challenge but that’s okay. Goals can be flexible. I’ll conquer that dough fear eventually. Work is still taking place in the living room with the occasional trombone lesson getting airtime on conference calls.
But what about parenting? How do we measure that?
Parenting often feels like saving for retirement. It’s so big and the timeframe so long that you’re not really going to know how you’re doing until its over. The best you can do is contribute steadily and not panic. Through that lens, I think we’re doing okay. We’re showing up, we’re dealing with the eye rolls, they seem mildly embarrassed by us most times, but still return at the end of the day and ask what’s for dinner. I’m giving myself a check.