Blowing Stuff Up, Blowing Stuff Open

The Flaggy Shore of Ireland
Driving with my daughter the other day, she said: "I really don't want to become a grown-up."

And in my mind, I answered her: Ahhh, daughter.  I hear you. This pandemic. The tragedy everywhere around us. Trump at his Trumpiest. The appalling behavior of other grown-ups and especially those in power. The shooting in Nova Scotia. The stories you hear on the news and in your parents' discussions about the state of the world.  It's all just too much, isn't it?

My heart clenched when she said those words, as my mind unspooled in a stream of second-guessing.  Maybe we shouldn't watch Rachel every night and bring that daily dose of downer and despair into our home.  And we definitely need to be checking in with the kids more and seeing how they are processing the news about the coronavirus and everything else going wrong around the world.  What kind of support does this child need? What do they all need?  What have I missed, what have I not noticed, while I've been in one Zoom meeting after another?  How can I make it up to her?

And then she went on:

"I mean, you have to remember so much stuff as an adult!  I don't think I can do that!  For example, I learned in science class that if you just mix a bunch of chemicals together, you could blow everything up!  What if I don't remember that?  I mean, YOU remember that, because we've never blown anything up, but what if I forget and then the whole house explodes?  I'm never going to remember that.  I'll never remember all the things I'm supposed to remember! How do you do it?"

And once again, I am reminded that a child's perspective on the world is endlessly interesting and often hilarious.  The rest of the car ride was a rather enjoyable romp through imagining all the possibilities of things blowing up.

She's not wrong.  Being a grown-up means remembering, among other things:
  • to lock the doors at night;
  • where the batteries are;
  • when you last gave a child #1 medicine;
  • what child #2 asked for from the store;
  • not to blow stuff up;
  • that YOU are the adult, meaning it's not advisable to have a tantrum in the kitchen with the entire family watching;
  • when to change the oil;
  • to take the chicken out to thaw;
  • to make follow up appointments.  Also?  To go to follow up appointments;
  • to pay the bills;
  • birthdays;
  • to switch the laundry;
  • that the garbage cans have to go out on Sunday nights and be brought back in on Monday morning;
  • that kids are not always pains in the ass;
  • that kids are not yet fully human and therefore require otherwordly amounts of patience and compassion;
  • where you put your patience and compassion -- check under laundry pile;
  • that the best way to raise a kid is to be good to your spouse (if you are lucky enough to have one);
  • to eat your vegetables;
  • to exercise so that when you're 80 you can still move;
  • to drink water.  Lots and lots of water.  More water than beer.  Or bourbon.  For some reason, this one is hard for me;
  • who is allergic to what;
  • to wear sunscreen and make everyone under your roof do so as well;
  • to pack the sunscreen;
  • to get the CUBED pineapple at the store and not the crushed.  Your teriyaki skewers will thank you, and your people will not be disappointed;
  • to always put your keys in the same place;
  • not to scream every time you want to.

And so much more.  Apparently, it also means never assuming you know what a kid is talking about until you listen just a little longer.  I went from heading down a rabbit hole of worry to giggling with Tallulah about stuff blowing up in a few short seconds.  It's not the first time I've experienced the whiplash of parenthood; it won't be the last.

Later, as I was weeding in the garden, I thought about how much there is we want our kids to know about life and growing up. There's no getting around the intense impulse to teach them things, so many things, ALL the things. We are, as the saying goes, their first teachers. As Rick and I get ready to send our third child off to college this Fall (hopefully: who knows what tricks corona's got up its sleeve), I know I'll once again feel that familiar urgency to make sure she knows how to cook rice, be smart at parties, navigate bureaucracy, iron things, stand up for herself, talk to professors, and the list goes on.

But the list is not what matters. The What You Need To Know Before You Go To College list is not the measure of successful parenting, any more than the Things Grown-Ups Remember list is the measure of successful adulting.

The longer I am a parent, the more I suspect that all of my lists -- things to do, things to teach, things to manage, for my family, for myself -- while important, are not the be-all and end-all. Teaching my children things pales in comparison to what I hope I do better than anything else in life: loving them. And enjoying them. Celebrating them. Crying with them. Talking to them. Listening to them. Laughing with them. Cooking with them. Listening to music with them. Being with them, always.  I suppose that's a list of sorts, but one you never cross things off of. You get to get up every day and do all of those things again and again and again, in endless variety, in constant relationship.

Teaching them stuff will only take them so far. Giving them a soft place to land, a hard surface to bounce things off of, a net that will always catch them, and arms that will never let go, no matter how far they travel, will take them everywhere.

It turns out, parenting is the Flaggy Shore of family life:

Useless to think you'll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

-- Seamus Heaney, Postscript

* * *


larawright said…
Thank you, Monica, again.

For me, your writing contains truths I hadn’t conceived into thoughts or words. And, I don’t mean to misdirect credit, but, if you remember, were you introduced to Seamus Heaney by Rick, as I was?

My memories of Rick are full of fun & insight, words that also come to mind when reading your posts. Further,
“Memories of Rick” (and you) is unbelievably ironic, as we live within 10 miles of each other, but haven’t physically seen each other in years. Even before coronavirus!

Please give Rick a hug & hello from me.

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