Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Privilege of Being Full of Herself- On Youth, Promise and What We Don't Know

Ah, certainty! I miss thee...

Tonight I get the treat of going to see a dear friend's daughter, Big Girl, perform in a recital of sorts for a trapeze and acrobatics class she's taking. I have a special affection for Big Girl because I've known her since the day she was born. In her fifteen years on the planet, I have watched her change so much, from a wee baby into a responsible, beautiful young lady. When I called to firm up plans for this evening, my friend laughingly observed that in anticipation of the performance, her daughter was "very full of herself today".

"Well, let her enjoy it while she can" was my reply.  I am sure it's a pain to many mothers--children who are full of themselves--but I expect my young friend will make it through the day tolerably enough. Nonetheless, I am of the opinion that being Full of One's Self is a privilege usually wasted on youth. Youth--which is probably intrinsic to even having that "full of oneself" feeling--is a blessing unknown to the young. They are always pushing the limits to feel older in some ways, whether that entails sneaking their 'cool' or 'sexy' clothes out of the house and putting on forbidden makeup in the bathroom at school or having the covert Facebook page or illicit smoking and drinking or rampant swearing... there's a reason that for that saying "youth is wasted on the young". Because it's true. 

I, on the other hand, cannot remember the last time I felt even the littlest bit 'full of myself' in any real capacity. If you believe I'm mistaken, please remember that I took three years of drama class in school and can certainly act the part of a confident woman. This worked especially well when I had to meet new prospective parents for my preschool or when I was a nanny, and I don't think anyone was disappointed later on. But the certainty which makes young people full of themselves--well, I can't say I have that. Not at all. When I look in the mirror, I am not seeing All That, I'm seeing a woman who needs a haircut and a more flattering pair of jeans. And a few more hours of sleep. Yeah, always that last one.

Unlike those young people going heads-up-and-chins-forward fearlessly into the future, I'm feeling more uncertain than I have in a long time. Part of it comes with being an adult and having dealt with real life challenges that many of our young people have never had to think about. (Age.) Another part of it comes with being a mom. (Current occupation.) Another whole other wrinkle comes with being a mom to a child of my son's age. (Stages of his development--where are we today?!) And lastly, of course, there's the final aspect of simply Being A Mom To THIS Kid. (think: unpredictable, random assortment of free radicals made into something cute and very lovable)

Does that narrow it down for you enough? 

Yesterday I was asked about my plans for going back to work. "Uhhhh...." That's a big one hanging up in the air. Yes, someday, for my own edification and sanity, I would like to go back to work. But in what capacity? Not being formally trained in my profession is a black mark against me, especially in a world that seems to blindly depend on degrees to qualify and quantify training and expertise. I'm exploring some options right now and am considering creating my own internship-- but all of this is on hold until after next year, when Kiddo goes to half-day kindergarten and we see how all of that shakes out. I have a very easily-distracted boy and who knows what public academic instruction in a group of 23 kids is going to look like? I also don't want to pull him away from his friends, but I do love the idea of homeschooling. My sister has three boys and schools until noon or so, and then they're free to do things their family is interested in for the rest of the day. Ah, so two strikes of uncertainty-- the possible job front and the educational future of The Kiddo. Not insignificant, huh?

Or what about just the day to day petty uncertainties we all face as parents? Sometimes it seems ridiculously simple, our dilemmas. We've all had those days when we look at our kids and we look at the grocery list and we wonder "Is it worth it? Is this trip to the store going to be worth it? Or am I just making eggs and rice for dinner because that's what we have here?". Of course, twenty minutes later, we also second-guess ourselves when they're grumpy and carping at us or each other anyway and then we say to ourselves  "It wouldn't have mattered, going to the store or not, because we're all miserable and now all we've got to look forward to is eggs and rice for dinner... and why oh why did I have kids?"

Or what about all that parenting advice out there? What about the hundreds of instances when our little one is upset and we stop and have to ask ourselves if what we are doing is right, is best, "is there any way to make this better"? What about those moments when you think that you did the best you could, and then you read something, somewhere, which basically says "Hey You, Mama-- You're doing it wrong. In fact, you're crapping it up big time." I think those articles need a little companion piece immediately following, something like this:


     "So, now that you've finished reading another article which has shined the sad spotlight on your pathetic parenting, let's talk. You aren't a bad parent. Heck, the fact that you are even reading these things is proof that you do care about your kids and that you don't think you know it all. You are hungry for knowledge, for new parenting tools.  You really are doing the best you can. Don't think so? Well, maybe you'll try better tomorrow. Don't worry, those other techniques you were using --don't think of that as messing your kid up, think of it as having more to improve on! Let's hold hands, now, here's a hug, I'll go make you a cup of tea and you can tell me all about it... I know it's hard..." 


I think these should be an obligatory offering every time the Wall Street Journal continues its attacks on mothers, telling us why everyone else in the world is doing it better. (Wall Street Journal, you suck in this regard. Give me something helpful, please. Something with less bias and more nuance. Something that doesn't start with "Why Any Other Country's Parents are So Much Better than You... Fool".)


Young people have all this promise ahead of them, it's theirs to squander. It really is. Even without directly comparing the Big Girl's upbringing--and that of her peers--to mine, there's still so much out there to be had for the first time. Jobs. Educational opportunities. Late nights out. Traveling. Sex. I think nearly everyone my age can say that all of these prospects, at some time or another, have been devastatingly disappointing. Yet, for many teens, those prospects haven't lost their candy-coating. Jobs are for spending money, not real bills; college is where you go to get away from your parents and fancy yourself a real 'grown-up'... the last three will change all through life, depending on our circumstances and the company we keep. Although, with the Late Night Out, I am usually certain to feel like crap the next morning--no ambiguities there. 


Certainty is the companion of the young; to me it is a fondly (or sometimes, uncomfortably) remembered friend from my past. Uncertainty and I have become much closer over the years, as I question myself and  know myself to be so much less than perfect or right.


I'm going to enjoy every minute, tonight, of seeing my friend and her daughter. They are truly like family to me. And perhaps  I should bless the uncertainties, too, because-- even when they depress the hell out of me at times-- they do keep me on my toes. Which means that I can stay limber in some of the right ways...without having to take a class in high-flying aerial acrobatics to do it.
    

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