I’ve never been sure if raising children is simply a twenty-year con job, where you try to talk them into certain behaviors and directions, or if it’s a twenty-year process of learning to let go, where you struggle to keep your mouth shut more and more as your kid grows up. Maybe you simply switch from one mode to the other as events occur.
Our son was about one and a half and I was in the garden, head down, weeding a flower bed. He was playing with a ball, or so I thought.
“Hi, Mummy.” This came from above.
Looking up, he was standing on the roof of our front porch, waving down and grinning. He’d climbed the rose trellis. I had no idea it was strong enough to hold his weight, which, admittedly, wasn’t much. He was skinny and light for his age group.
Not wanting to startle him, but feeling gray hairs forming under my scalp, I said, “Why don’t you walk carefully over the roof to your bedroom window? I’ll come upstairs and let you crawl in the window. Won’t that be fun?”
Fortunately, he agreed. I raced indoors and up the stairs, praying he wouldn’t fall, and opened the window. He crawled over the lintel with my help (I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his body and pull him in).
He grinned from ear to ear. “Let’s do it again!”
“How about a trip to the park, instead?” I asked.
Anything to get him to think about something else.
Our seventeen-year-old son was in his first year at Carnegie Mellon, a five hour drive from our Michigan home. On the phone, he informed me that he was planning to spend his first “spring break” with five buddies. They’d managed to get hold of a van and were going to a beach in South Carolina.
“No way,” my husband said, when he came that night and heard the news. “If anything happens, we’re responsible.” Which was true, since our son wasn’t yet eighteen.
“Okay,” I said, but I also knew that my husband assumed I’d tell our son the bad news. “I understand. I’ll back you up, 100%.”
My husband, startled, said, “Aren’t you going to tell him?”
“If we weren’t ready to let him go to college at seventeen, we should have kept him home.”
My husband didn’t say another word. I knew he was worried, but I also knew that he’d never call. Confrontation wasn’t his thing.
I was worried, too, because my husband was right about our being responsible, something that I’d have mentioned on the phone if I’d thought about it.
Spring break came and went.
“How was your trip?” I asked.
“Great.” Our son went on to other topics, having “satisfied” his parents’ unwarranted curiosity.
Later, much later, I learned a few things. The van had turned out to be a stick shift and our son was the only one who knew how to drive it. He’d done all the driving. There had been storms and slick roads. Half the kids drank in the van on the way down and one had been sick. (I never asked how much or how little my son drank, hoping he’d not been drinking while driving.) When at the beach, there was more drinking and sex (I didn’t ask about that either).
Our son now has a son of his own. He’s only five, but the pattern has begun. For now, it’s just the “con job.” The “keeping your mouth shut” part lies ahead.
By Paul DeLong
On May 28, 2022
The entire first paragraph is quite a mouthful of sagacious hefting of the human responsibility, and perhaps a nod to its enduring value in character building. Bravo. In that paragraph, this phrase in its grittiness sets the truthful tone well: “…simply a twenty-year con job.” Even more effective as you present the counterpoint to this compressed viewpoint, and zoom out to the possible meaning and value of parenting. “Not wanting to startle him, but feeling gray hairs forming under my scalp.” – Vivid and arresting.
**He grinned from ear to ear. “Let’s do it again!”* – You’ve summed up the very different perspectives of child and adult succinctly here, with humor! Speaking of humor, a wry, and once again sagacious ending: *Our son now has a son of his own. He’s only five, but the pattern has begun. For now, it’s just the “con job.” The “keeping your mouth shut” part lies ahead.*
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