Parenting is Not a Hike
Parenting is something I’ve approached like a hike, planning provisions and girding myself for the climb ahead. I’ve imagined the different types of terrain and weather, calculating how I’ll respond. This isn’t to say that I haven’t been sentimental because I have. I anticipated the milestones and passages coming with distinct markers, from first steps to footnotes in book reports.
I completely underestimated the weight of this blurred time between little kids and teenagers, which is much more fluid dance than rigorous hike. My daughters are 7, 9, and 11. The last year or two has been choppy as the bigger girls age-out of low budget holiday movies with golden retrievers and feel less inclined to play with dolls as frequently as their little sister. The pages of the Keeping of You American Girl Doll puberty books are now gently worn. Remarkably, the older sisters seem to have an innate sensitivity to leaving someone behind, which means that, often times, the wishes of our youngest will be met by the kindness and willingness of big sisters.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter how much compassion or empathy they have, growing apart or growing into new interests outside of our collective nucleus is normal. How cruel that we hold expectations of advancing, all the while chastising the temptation of growing up. Scattering to different interests is a bittersweet triumph.
My youngest slips quietly away or stares out the window. “Would you like to play with Dad’s iPad?” I ask as her sisters do other things.
“No, thanks, I’m not interested in electronics. I just want to play.” The soft melody of Puff the Magic Dragon plays in my head and the lump in my throat, like a lover, comes to hold me close.
It’s no one’s fault, even with limiting screen time, there is a factor of attraction to different things; an inevitable distance. I encourage the imaginative play as well as the digital adventures, even as I quietly mourn the hours of hearing and watching them cavort in the backyard bedecked in capes, crowns, and wands.
The hiker parent in me understands that this is all part of the climb and that we have to find our own pace and the terrain we can traverse best. I find myself longing for more dancing, twirling in and then out, hands clasped, feeling less perilously close to losing touch with one another.
“Mom, what stage do you think I am?” asks one of my daughters. The stage she is talking about refers to puberty and the development of breasts and body hair. They are predictably out of order in who is getting what or experiencing which thing first. My tongue trips on explanations not wanting to make anyone seem ahead or behind, better or worse. I forget that they don’t have expectations of things being perfectly orderly. I remember searching my armpits for hair at every bath time, being shamed for having leg hair by classmates in fifth grade. It’s normal talk for them, which I might count as a victory of my creation, except that it isn’t. It’s all them and their rapid, beautiful, and startling ascent.
The problem with approaching parenting as I have, in this long view, I talk a big talk and am prepared for the well defined moments, but it isn’t how our lives are lived. Today, in particular, broke me with its big girls, little moments, and audible passing of time.
Panic surges, and I worry about missing it, but that isn’t right. Parenting goes on, as does need; it’s not that. It’s the axis between wanting time alone and craving time with them–never satisfied or aware. Guilt pelts me on both sides, whether I am working or parenting, or trying to blend the two. I make plans to scale back everything but being together, thinking it will uncomplicated the emotions of this time past diapers and before dates.
Stopping at a playground for my youngest to play, I watch my eldest daughter, her knees hiked up to her elbows as she tucks herself in the shelter at the top of a slide; the wind in her hair, the sting in my lungs from running across the play structures, and then in a blur it’s bedtime, and I feel another night slipping through my fingers. I have an undeniable impulse to run, sprinting toward the next bridge we’re fated to cross and to rap my knuckles on its boards until they’re bloody to beg a bit more time. “Let me just figure this out without the rush,” but before I know it it’s bedtime, and they have baby faces and teenage limbs, and another night is slipping away.
I must move along, listening and letting go and taking hugs as the wind blows along a trail that has always been intended to split.
This post was written by Amanda Magee exclusively for BonBon Break Media LLC.
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