“Not everything is about parenting,” a wise man told me recently, kindly, with a smile. It got me thinking, why for me does everything always get back to parenting? Am I stunted? Do I have tunnel vision?
Maybe because I learn the most from the people who call me Mom, and I’m trying to live up to the responsibility of passing good values to them.
Of all my vocations — including part-time lawyer and writer — Mom is what matters most to me. I don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about how to win a case, or how to craft a plot, as I do trying to be the best mom I can be. (Emphasis on trying.)
When my son’s bike went missing from the front of his elementary school, instead of rifling off, “That stinks. We’ll get you a new one,” the parenting questions rocketed across the sky, whistling “there’s a teachable moment here!” as they flew by.
I had told him that in our little town, it was okay not to lock his bike. I had taken joy and pride from the feeling that I was giving him a childhood free from fear and violation. When he lamented “why did this happen?” I had choices of how to answer. Should I teach him to cast blame — say, “maybe it was one of the homeless people who live here now, or one of those high school students who walks past every day?” Should I shrug and say “I don’t know” and quietly commiserate? Or should I say, “I’m not saying it’s okay to take something that belongs to someone else, but maybe someone needed it more than you do”? Would that cushion the blow, give him gratitude for knowing that he can have a new one with the snap of his fingers? I don’t know if I’m right, but I chose the last two.
And what about replacing his bike? I recall how I felt when my beloved red Radio Flyer tricycle was stolen from our driveway when I was three years old. I was fatalistic: “Well, my friend, we had a good time together, but now you’re gone. It was good while it lasted.”
When my grandfather immediately replaced it with an identical red Radio Flyer tricycle, I wasn’t purely overjoyed. I remember feeling surprised, even confused. “You mean, you get more than one tricycle in this life?!?!” A quick replacement was my family’s way of making things all better. And while I’m sure I enjoyed riding the new one, in some ways it cheapened the beauty of my love affair with my first tricycle. It was replaceable.
So of course, being me, I thought about this when considering whether, how quickly, in what manner, to replace my son’s bike. On the one hand, he shouldn’t be bike-less forever because I had told him it was okay not to lock his bike. He wasn’t careless with it. And he rides it to school every day. But I paused before replacing it too quickly, remembering that feeling that if everything is replaceable, they lose their meaning.
Ultimately, my son quickly graduated from feeling hurt to, “The silver lining is I get my first new bike! Can I have one that is neon green with blue stripes?” I scoured the landscape to get him exactly what he wanted, which, as family tradition would have it, was gifted by his grandparents. The look on his face — and the spit-take — were priceless.
Do I overthink things? Yes! But is it the worst thing to consider what lessons I’m imparting with my actions and words? While raising children can be overwrought and over-thunk in this day and age (especially by yours truly), taking time to pause, to consider my response, is how I consider what kind of person I want to be. I don’t have all my answers yet.
The truth is, I’m figuring the world out right along with my kids. So if parenting is the effort to consider what are my values, and what values do I wish to pass to the next generation, then perhaps everything should be about parenting. I think this wise man would agree.