I’m signed up for a duathlon in six weeks. I’m excited to have an actual live race to look forward to and structure some training. My self-motivation has been flagging in the last month. Too much dark basement. Too much treadmill.
One aspect of training that I’ve come to appreciate as I’ve gotten older, is mental toughness. Youth is fast but weak, I now tell myself.
I was listening to a conversation with performance psychologist Jim Loeher on the trainer this week. I was hoping for insight into how to get my legs to stop complaining and run better after a long bike ride. I did not expect parenting advice.
I like routine. I find comfort in a to-do list. I drive Michelle crazy by asking about dinner plans over breakfast.
This parenting gig isn’t easy. If fact, it’s pretty terrifying most of the time, so if I can get an edge through routine, I’m going to take it. There’s a reason so many Saturdays revolve around the sofa, vacuuming, the transfer station, costume changes, and show tunes.
It’s mildly deranged, sure, but it works, and the repetition actually brings some stability. Anything to get through 2020.
Routines are a parents friend and don’t let anyone tell you any different. Now, on to the couch…
So Cecilia won’t be graded in sixth grade and this makes me… slightly itchy. I actually think it will be very good for her but as someone that was schooled in the 80s and 90s and was pretty good at tests and rule-following it is a very different middle school experience. Add remote learning on top of that and I sometimes find myself a bit adrift as a Dad.
I find myself stuck between chastising and cheering. Yes, they need to do the assignments but if they wander off and get interested in something else along the way? If they try to figure out how to make a quick bread rise with the right leavening ratios? If they do their assignment while pretending to be filmed for their YouTube channel? It’s all good. In fact, maybe it’s better. Maybe this weird school year will let the kids roam and not crush the curiosity out of them.
Even if it makes their conventional Dad uncomfortable.
I promised the girls that I’d make an apple crisp this week. It’s likely I said it during a Sunday afternoon napping haze but I said it. Ally, you won’t be surprised to learn, loves the gooey fall dessert. But then the week got busy. She asked about it on Monday. Then Tuesday. Then Wednesday.
Parents tell their kids a lot of things. We tell them we love them, of course. That they can do anything. That they can tell us anything.
But we also tell them little things. That we’ll take them to the park. That they should pick up their clothes. Or finish their broccoli. Or that you’ll make an apple crisp this week.
It seems like an easy thing to say at the time, a small promise, but the small ones are just important as the big ones. If you conveniently forget a small promise, how can they trust your word when it really counts? The small ones build trust. As we inch closer to the teenage hinterlands, I think I’m going to need to stockpile all the trust I can.
So I made the apple crisp. And it was good. And this mean my kids will never miss curfew and stay out of reform school, right?
The girls made a cake this week. On one hand…no glitter. On the other…so, so many questions. I had to work really hard (and wasn’t always successful) to not shut them down or freak out that they didn’t know to take out the butter and eggs hours earlier. Room temperature doesn’t happen by accident, kids! I took a deep breath, suppressed a shudder when they almost used salted butter in the recipe, and let them ask.
This is what I wanted as a parent. Not only do I want to teach them there are no stupid questions, but to go further, and understand you only become smarter by asking questions. Asking questions should be a lifelong process. Too many adults stop asking questions. Curiosity doesn’t kill us. It shouldn’t embarrass us. It should makes us better. All learning starts with admitting your ignorance.
So, I swallowed down the abhorrence at the thought of using unsifted flour in a baked good and was thankful I was raising ‘why’ childs.
We received another email survey about school re-opening from the superintendent this week. I dutifully opened it, read it, and then just as quickly closed it. My brain just shut down. Michelle and I have been debating our answers for the last four days. There’s no simple, easy, or right answer to the school question.
It was a stark reminder that being a parent is the hardest job. No training. No pay. Responsibilities that are never easily defined and always changing. So what do you do? I have no idea and that’s also parenting. The best you can do is be adaptable. Be ready to respond to a an unending, ever-changing flow of complicated circumstances. And keep the wine fridge stocked.
One thing that I really had to work on during homeschooling this spring and now, into the summer, is making sure I didn’t completely slip into a habit of constant negative feedback for the girls. We are around each other so much that if I stopped and recorded our ‘conversations’ they would mostly consist of me saying things like: Stop doing that. Don’t touch this. Turn off Netflix. Vacuum up the unicorn sprinkles. No. No. No.
The negativity comes from a good and well-meaning place (here is where Ce would roll her eyes). I want to keep them safe. I want to show them how to be better. I really want a clean floor.
But I realize the constant barrage can eventually flood their feedback systems and come out not as encouragement but nitpicking criticism. For all my good intentions, that is not the way to have a healthy relationship with kids.
So this Saturday, with Michelle away most of the day, I challenged myself to be more positive. Let the little things go. Find some Jedi ways to say “Yes” even when I really mean “No.” I needed to engage with the slime rather than try to hold it at arm’s length.
I still insisted on sweeping the floor. If you give glitter one inch….