Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Trusting My Children

It starts with stuffing your kid into a coat they protest wearing and ends with talking them into taking Spanish when they tell you they know the class will be too hard for them due to their dyslexia. Why don’t we listen to our children?

Opal does not like to wear coats. She has at least half a dozen coats and jackets. Later today a half-poncho, half-cape will arrive on my doorstep, my mother’s final attempt to coax her into a warmer layer by purchasing something cute. Maybe it’ll work (although the second then third fleece didn’t work and neither did the wool, pink zipper-sweater with the rainbow hedgehog Opal eagerly chose herself) and maybe it won’t.

As Opal boarded the minivan today, a sweater and fleece balled up in her arms, it was snowing. She wasn’t cold. She was comfortable in her leggings and Uggs and t-shirt. Most places we go, I carry an extra layer and sometimes a hat and a scarf. I do this mainly for other adults. When they see the girl in the sundress at the playground when it is less than 50 degrees, they scan the adults in the area. The small clothes I carry are saying, “She’s with me and, yes, I am paying attention.”

I am trying to say to Opal, “I hear you and you can trust yourself. While you figure out what you are comfortable with, I will be here to support you.” Every once in a while, she asks to put on the coat hanging on my hooked finger.

I’ve always been quite liberal about coats, but in other areas, I have a hard time trusting my kids’ instincts.

When Ramona told me at age four she wanted a small birthday party instead of inviting the class, I protested. The favors were purchased and the invitations addressed. Philip helped me get a hold of myself and we had a box of extra unicorn bubble bottles in the cabinet for years.

When Sumner wanted to read the sixth Harry Potter book in first grade, I wouldn’t let him. I didn’t think he was ready for Dumbledore’s death. Wouldn’t the great wizard’s death be like telling him there was no Santa? He bristled at the restriction and then patiently waited. The following year when we finally read The Half Blood Prince, during the dark chapter before Dumbledore’s death, Sumner casually asked, “Is this the part where he dies?” He knew all along about the things I tried to protect him from.

Still, I made Zola wait until her seventh birthday to read The Goblet of Fire. I am still worried about the darkness. Have I learned nothing?

There are two reasons I distrust my children: I worry about other people’s perceptions of my parenting and I think I know my children better than they know themselves.

Somewhere in the last few years of parenting teenagers, Philip began listening more and saying less. He often repeats to Sumner and Ramona, “You’ll figure it out.” They’ll figure out how to manage their school workload. They’ll figure out what they want out of a romantic relationship. They’ll figure out what they want out of an education. They’ll figure out if and when they want to use drugs and alcohol. They’ll figure out what life is all about. If we dare to trust them, they can trust themselves.

I think “You’ll figure it out” has become his refrain, because Philip needs to remind himself to trust them. It is a little reminder of our children's blossoming autonomy and proven resilience. I, too, have to remind myself of this everyday: Trust my children.*

*Unless we are tired and hungry. Then both children and parents must eat and sleep so we can begin to trust ourselves again.