Growing up

Sometimes it’s nice to be an adult, but often it’s hard. As an adult, there’s no one to set the boundaries, tell you what the right choice is, or warn you of the consequences of the actions you’ve yet to take. And with bills to pay, clients to answer to, a household to run, and people who depend on you to take care of, the responsibilities seem endless.

Thinking about it, I remember a conversation that I had with a close friend of mine back when we were nineteen. At the time, I mentioned to her that although I felt quite competent and responsible, able to meet life’s challenges head on, I still didn’t quite feel like a woman. Instead, I felt as if I was womaning, in the midst of or almost reaching the end of a process for which I couldn’t yet see the finish line.

As we talked, I realized that I was torn between wanting to stay within the safe confines of childhood and the illusion of protection that it afforded me and the desire to reach out and climb onto the riskier path of adulthood in which more was at stake but the rewards unpredictable and immeasurable.

Watching my son as he plays innocently with his train tracks, gathering his stuffed animals around as if an audience for the great race that will soon take place, I realize something. As a parent, my job is to believe in childhood, prolonging its illusions and sanitized wrapping while gradually preparing my son for the demands that he will face as an adult.

When I think about how I can accomplish this goal that, at first glance, seems to operate at cross-purposes, it suddenly dawns on me that the answer is there. Although no small challenge, I need to create the conditions that will allow my son to revel in and explore the simple joys of childhood, embodied in the cheerfulness of dandelions not yet stained by the label of undesired weed, the ability to go nudies in public without anyone batting an eyelash, the common occurrence of becoming hard and fast friends with someone as a result of making a simple request, and the ability to enjoy the pure and unadulterated beauty in this world.

For it is clear to me that by allowing him to enjoy each moment without unduly imposing on him the burdens of adult concerns all the while helping him to climb to his next level of ability, as if providing him an invisible scaffold on which he can climb the stairwells of life, he will be able to successfully move through life’s various twists and turns without getting stuck for too long in any single passageway. And more than anything, for myself as a parent, my greatest challenge is to remember that parenting doesn’t have a time stamp on it: no matter the size of my son’s outer form and his appearance at having arrived at his final destination, at various points in his life he will need guidance, support, and unsolicited input to help redirect him towards the goals and destination that he ultimately sets out for himself.

Being present

Often, when I’m hanging out at the park with my son we’re with other parents and their children. Inevitably, as the kids play, we comment on their natures and, invariably, based on the characteristics displayed in that particular moment, someone starts to make predictions about what each one will be when they grow up.

Watching my son play in the sandbox at the park, I marvel at the fact that he can spend hours moving sand from pail to pail, enthralled with the possibilities that each grain presents, as if each movement were truly a depiction of the sands of time. And it strikes me that this is not the only activity in which he is capable of completely immersing himself, wholly absorbed as if nothing else exists in the world. For him, unlike us grownups, there is no past and future, only the here and now.

Reflecting on this, I’m reminded of a poster that I had on my wall as a child that stated “Happiness is as a butterfly, which if pursued is just beyond your grasp but if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” Although I must have read this particular poem countless times each night for numerous years, and could recite it off the top of my head, it’s only recently that I’ve begun to absorb its message.

Now, on quiet spring evenings when I sit on my back patio sipping wine while watching my plants enjoy each stage of their growth, I marvel at how in their stillness they’re actually morphing into the shape they’re destined to be. And I think about how, for myself, it’s now the moment that’s precious instead of the end destination. Be it moments of pure happiness, utter dejection, wild abandon and elation, or mere indifference, I’ve finally come to the realization that it’s only by experiencing the process of life in all its incarnations that I’ll be able to grow and evolve. And with this realization has come the freedom from trying to capture the future by trying to take care of every eventually through preemptively forcing things into nice little boxes that can be neatly categorized. By being in the moment, I now find myself more open to doors in the present that I would not have noticed at an earlier time, bypassing them as a result of assumptions that they are irrelevant to future that I’m supposed to have.

This change has been in large part as a result of being a parent, and I know that I’m forever indebted to my son for teaching me this valuable lesson. I also know that as a parent, one of the ways that I can repay my son is by helping him to hold on to this gift of being in the moment so that as he grows into adulthood, not only does he evolve into who he is destined to be but he enjoys all of the individual moments that make up the journey, treasuring the magic of each unreplicable experience while exploring the possibility that each brings.

Time vs. money

As a single mom solely responsible for my son, it seems as if the demands are constant. The bills for food, clothing, activities, and basic living expenses are unrelenting, creating an unending pressure that requires me to be innovative, flexible, and not too picky in terms of what I am willing to do to make ends meet.

As a result of this tangible and ever-present requirement imposed on me from the outside, I find myself constantly in conflict with my desire for the good life and the desire to simply pack up, retrench our lifestyle, and devote myself full-time to spending time with and raising my son. It is in these moments that a childhood memory comes to mind.

In grade school, I had a close friend named Christy. She lived in the best part of town, in a fantastic house that was always immaculate and stocked with the coolest goodies around. She was also always kitted out in the latest fashions, in possession of the hottest new items, and in the ‘best’ school.

What slowly became apparent throughout our high school years, however, was that she was missing one crucial thing: her parents’ love and attention. Both high-earning lawyers, they were away most of the week from dawn to midnight, leaving her in the care of the housekeeper who came in daily but left in the evening to take care of her own family.

Throughout the years, Christy became embroiled in many escapades. These ranged from being kicked out of both grade school and high school for sexual misconduct, kicked out of university for unsatisfactory grades, and a series of failed relationships and careers.

Over the course of our friendship, I reflected on the differences in our upbringing. Unlike her, my brother and I were rarely given ‘the best’. Instead, we were taught how to enjoy hitting a garage sale, delight in finding a bargain, revel in being different by possessing the unique, and to be creative in figuring out how to get and work towards obtaining the items that we really wanted. Most importantly, though, we had our parents by our side: guiding us towards our goals, cheering us on when we felt like we lacked the ability or strength to accomplish what we had set out to do, providing us with the scaffolding that we needed in a hundred invisible ways while consistently showering us with love and a belief that we could do whatever it was that we set out to.

And so, as I scrub my floor for what feels like the thousandth time this month and feel the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses, I remind myself that more important than providing my son with the ‘right’ material goods is the importance of giving him a strong and unyielding current of love composed of my presence and the values that I inculcate in him as it is these that will weave for him an invisible tapestry that he can don at will, providing him with the strength and resources required to believe in himself and accomplish whatever he dares to envision.

Being in the moment

Often, when I’m hanging out at the park with my son we’re with other parents and their children. Inevitably, as the kids play, we comment on their natures and, invariably, based on the characteristics displayed in that particular moment, someone starts to make predictions about what each one will be when they grow up.

Watching my son play in the sandbox at the park, I marvel at the fact that he can spend hours moving sand from pail to pail, enthralled with the possibilities that each grain presents, as if each movement were truly a depiction of the sands of time. And it strikes me that this is not the only activity in which he is capable of completely immersing himself, wholly absorbed as if nothing else exists in the world. For him, unlike us grownups, there is no past and future, only the here and now.

Reflecting on this, I’m reminded of a poster that I had on my wall as a child that stated “Happiness is as a butterfly, which if pursued is just beyond your grasp but if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” Although I must have read this particular poem countless times each night for numerous years and could recite it off the top of my head, it’s only recently that I’ve begun to absorb its message.

Now, on quiet spring evenings when I sit on my back patio sipping wine while watching my plants enjoy each stage of their growth, I marvel at how in their stillness they’re actually morphing into the shape they’re destined to be. And I think about how, for myself, it’s now the moment that’s precious instead of the end destination. Be it moments of pure happiness, utter dejection, wild abandon and elation, or mere indifference, I’ve finally come to the realization that it’s only by experiencing the process of life in all its incarnations that I’ll be able to grow and evolve. And with this realization has come the freedom from trying to capture the future by trying to take care of every eventually through preemptively forcing things into nice little boxes that can be neatly categorized. By being in the moment, I now find myself more open to doors in the present that I would not have noticed at an earlier time, bypassing them as a result of assumptions that they are irrelevant to future that I’m supposed to have.

This change has been in large part as a result of being a parent, and I know that I’m forever indebted to my son for teaching me this valuable lesson. I also know that as a parent, one of the ways that I can repay my son is by helping him to hold on to this gift of being in the moment so that as he grows into adulthood, not only does he evolve into who he is destined to be but he enjoys all of the individual moments that make up the journey, treasuring the magic of each unreplicable experience while exploring the possibility that each presents.