There comes a day as a parent when you realize you have accomplished nothing because there was nothing to accomplish.
I have a strange relationship with readers. Or rather, they have a strange relationship with me through my books. Some of them are new to parenthood, and so they find me musing about the first terribly shocking and sincere years of raising a child. Some of them are at a later stage and so they find themselves on the outer edge of midlife with grown children. And then there’s me and my family, defying the demography, crossing the currents, merging the streams.
Sixteen years of personal research into parenting and I can tell you this much: it doesn’t work. My conclusions have been premature. The early signs were irrelevant. We do not raise our children. They do not conform to a graph, a glyph, or a stamp. We do not mold them. We have been thoroughly misled and mistaken.
I started clapping before the scene was over; stood up to leave before the encore. There’s a twist, an alternate ending, an extra feature, a director’s cut!
They grow up to make their own choices, and it doesn’t matter if they liked asparagus at age three.
It doesn’t matter if you hid spinach in the meatballs, zucchini in the muffins or broccoli in the mac and cheese.
They have their own interests, and their passions are not based on how many evenings you read them to sleep.
It doesn’t matter if the preschool aide called them a “genius.” I, for one, will never forget that day.
They don’t floss just because you nagged them nightly until they were twelve.
They don’t care just because you do.
Nothing was lost by waking up four times in the middle of the night; nothing was gained by sleeping through.
They have their own hearts, and you cannot mend them.
Their own feet, and you cannot steer them.
Their own voice, and they do not speak the words you sounded out for them so long ago.
My child will not be a giraffe when she grows up (her first choice), not a superhero, a princess, or a cowboy. She probably doesn’t even know what a cowboy is. Or was.
My daughter was born premature, but I was the one ahead of myself. Every expectation has been erroneous. I can finally admit that I don’t have any idea what will happen next or when. I’m eavesdropping through a soundproof door.
I no longer think of my daughter as something for me to do, or parenting as something to accomplish. We are ordinary people who love and need each other in ever-changing and unpredictable ways. Let’s hope I can keep the broccoli out of it.