Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Training Wheels Come Off

In Which the Training Wheels do Indeed Come Off

And Other Adventures

The lazy summer days have come and gone, and with them summer vacation, unemployment and, really, free time in any quantity. It never ceases to amaze me how the thing we lament in one period of time we come to long for a few short weeks later. Being a housewife was never for me; I knew that, and expressed it loudly. Yet busy as I tried to make myself over the summer, it suddenly doesn't compare to the hectic pace at which days fly by. Now, bedtimes really matter. Not just for school; a Saturday afternoon lost to a prolonged temper tantrum that requires bedroom confinement is time you can never get back. He's in his room screaming about whatever it is he's found for an excuse to be miserable, meanwhile we're sitting there looking at the other 99 items on our to-do list and mentally reorganizing schedules. Always we're looking forward, trying to reassure ourselves that with the future, and the time that the future brings, we'll somehow manage to get to everything. Oh and maybe fit some sleep in there too.

I was unemployed over the summer. Often I had no reason to be out of bed before noon. Jump to late August when the husband has changed jobs and I drive him to and from work every day. Then add in getting the kiddo on the bus at some ridiculously middle of the morning time, then the fact that I started a business that also involves me being busy during those busy commuting times.  Then I took a part-time job, just to add to the fun. This is where the training wheels come in, I'm afraid. The summer was practice, a warm up for the real challenge. The summer was our training wheels. Did it help? Watching the youngster struggle to learn balance on his newly training wheel-less bike, we debated the merits of the crutch. Did they really provide a helpful step to independent bike riding? Did they just create a false sense of security that was rudely ripped away when we took them off? The summer was bike riding lite. Parenting lite, even (I don't mean we were part-time parents, just that we had a lot more time to fit parenting in with all the other stuff we wanted to get done). With the fall has come the real deal.

Training wheels, unfortunately, teach that success comes instantly. It was easy to do the dishes and run the vacuum when I had ten hours in which to get it done. Now I consider it a personal victory to have no dishes in the sink by the time five pm rolls around. As an adult I realize that the dishes will get done eventually. I can see that process in the future, and can visualize the steps leading up to it. As adults we can break down the complicated problem of managing the school/work schedule by breaking it down to manageable steps. 

Kids have to learn that the hard way, and sometimes we have to learn that little skill with them. For all our ability to see the process in front of the result, we have an uncanny way of forgetting that parenting itself is a process and not a series of end-results. We watch others go at the same problems we deal with, we mentally critique their processes, convince ourselves that we can go right where they went wrong, forgetting that every event is itself a step in a greater event--making a person out of a psychopath. By this time in our adult lives, we've forgotten what it was like learning to ride a bike (though we may convince ourselves we remember exactly what happened), and manage to believe that, hard as it was, and stressful, for every other parent before us, somehow it'll be different. We have just the right way to teach it, it'll be fine. 

As the custodians of burgeoning humanity, we have an urge not to let those small almost-people fail. We believe that somehow we can teach them every thing they need to know, save them the harshness of the world, prevent the bruises and skinned knees. The happy, easy times reinforce that, reinforce our willful blindness; those are our training wheels. We forget the process for the good result we think we've reached. Then we hear the frustration in a small piercing voice, reminding us how close failure is to those who expect instant gratification. We try to remain patient. We try to explain. We try to break it down to easy steps, then hold them up and keep them from falling when they try to skip one step to get to the result they expected to happen instantly. We're complicit in their failure. It becomes our own failure. 

Parenting, work, life in general: failure is not an option when you're an adult. But if you haven't failed at anything, you've never really done something that required effort. We can look forward, and see the possibility for success, plan how to overcome failure, because we've been through all this before. Every failure is training for life. Every scream, every accusation of agonizing pain, was an urgent call to let go, not hold on tighter as we do almost by instinct, trying to save our nerves and his. Probably it wasn't what we were thinking when we just sat down on the ground and let the kiddo go at it himself, relinquished control, watched him fall down over and over. We were tired and frustrated, so we just sat down. We watched him fall, tip, yell, drop the bike, and then we watched him ride. And then, like the silly humans we are, we assumed it would get easier after this.

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