I don't really know what I mean by that title. It's just something to think about. I think about parenting everyday. Sometimes I think about it with great reflection and purpose. Sometimes I think about just surviving it with a modicum of dignity. Yesterday I sat at the top of my stairs with tears in my eyes because Ellen was throwing a fit and being a nightmare. She is delightful and funny and bright and wonderful and sometimes, at least daily, a total nightmare. I'm starting to think that all kids--all people--are all those things. In many ways Ellen is my "easiest." Still, I sat there feeling awful because I'd done it "right," I'd tried "ignoring," and I'd even gotten to the point where I didn't care what she did, said, ate, or wore. Nothing worked. It wasn't me, It was her. As I sat there I thought to myself, "People would tell me to enjoy these fleeting moments with my 4 year old." And they're right. When she's older I will miss 4-year-old Ellen. But it still felt awful sitting there helplessly while she screamed that she hated me. It's like, I lose now and I lose later. But it's not all bad. Yesterday she "made me a Crystal Light" in a tall glass with ice. She also changed her name to Violet. She also told her preschool class she's having a baby sister. You just read this paragraph and so you know: That's a laugh. (Knock on wood.)
At church on Sunday a returned missionary played standing base with his dad on mandolin and his brothers on piano and violin while his sister in law sang "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." I don't like a lot of musical numbers at church because such things as "a Capella," "harmony," and "falsetto" make me feel uncomfortable. But it's hard to go wrong with a mandolin and the Fount. It was really lovely. I wished wistfully to have a family of performers. I guess it could happen, but since our current deal is that my kids learn one hymn PER YEAR I think it is not bloody likely. Family bands are cool! If I were in charge that might happen. But again, it's not me--it's them.
I made a decision many years ago that my guiding principle of parenting would be to raise likable children. When you've got 4 kids and church and jobs and school and lots of stuff you find out that you can't do everything. So you start making choices about how to spend your time. When I say likable I don't mean popular. Think about the people you like. The people I like are good, interesting, nice, helpful, smart, competent, hard-working, and fun. That's how I want my kids to be. I want them to be a pleasure to know and be around. You know those people you hate? You know those people who are hard to love and serve? You know those people who are frankly just a pain? I don't want my kids to be those people. If you know my kids and you don't like them--bear with me. I'm not done with them yet.
Before I had kids I think I would have said I wanted my children to be accomplished. Being accomplished is great. I want my kids to be accomplished. But it isn't the only thing or even the most important thing I want. And as we work through their strengths and weaknesses sometimes being accomplished takes a back seat to being likable. It's just what I've chosen. Maybe if you're super accomplished you don't have to be nice. Maybe you can be super accomplished in everything and nice. There's more than one way to raise a kid.
Before I had Sam I had a dream about him. We were standing in line for a ride at Lagoon. He was about 6 and he was wearing a red and white striped windbreaker that I had when I was his age. Before we started the ride he looked at me with fear in his eyes and I looked back with fear in mine. We both nodded and I knew we were thinking: "Shoes on tight, pockets empty, seat belt on, this is scary, but it will be over soon." He did turn out to be very much like the kid in that dream which is to say, very much like me. I don't know why but when he was little I made him take Kindermusik, soccer, piano, and gymnastics. We quit all of them. Now he doesn't even play the mandolin. But he does have very muscular legs!
Ben said his part in the primary program loud enough to hear for the first time last year. He doesn't exactly shake hands and say how do you do. We are working on the niceties. But he is known among the men in our ward as being strong and hardworking because he shows up for moves and fence-building and church-cleaning and chair setting-up with his dad and he has earned their respect that way even though he looks away when they try to give him a high-five. So I guess I'm saying, I don't know what I'm saying. I worry that people think Ben is rude. But people like him. And that's a relief. I like him. One thing is for sure--he will never hug and kiss you.
This essay is very good.