This week my husband of 27 years and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary by heading to Chicago for a few days. We’ve never visited Chicago and it’s on his “bucket list” to attend a baseball game at the world-famous Wrigley Field. It’s the first time we’re traveling without kids in tow. Which means it’s the first time we are leaving our high school-aged son “home alone” (insert “ominous music”’ here…)
Once you become a parent, the heartstring emotions surrounding your child’s “firsts” never leave you; nor does the tug of war inside ever get easier! Parenting manuals rarely include a chapter on handling the emotions that accompany our children’s “firsts”. Sure they tell you the JOY you experience recording your newborn’s first bath, first words, first play date, first birthday. And it is indeed pure JOY!!! Whether it’s initially hearing them say “Ma Ma” or putting them on a school bus the first day of kindergarten, a mother’s heart simultaneously stretches with pride – and constricts with fear all at once!!
We are thrilled our “baby” is going to school yet frightened out of our minds at the “possibilities” of harm that could come their way.
“What if they are scared? What if the other kids pick on them? What if she cries and nobody comforts her? What if he isn’t accepted because he’s quirky?”
The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get easier the older they get. New parental fears creep into the recesses of our minds:
“What if they don’t make the little league team? What if they get bullied in Middle School? What if they get into drugs and alcohol? What if they don’t get good grades? What if they don’t get into the college of their choice?
When our babies are newborns, we look forward to the day we will be at their high school and college graduations, or sitting in the front row at their wedding, and then congratulating them on the birth of their own children. The vision of sharing in these milestone events sounds wonderful at the time - especially 2 to 3 years into parenting when you can only dream of returning to the care-free days of independence now that the novelty of changing diapers, putting kids in and out of car seats, watching Dora the Explorer for the umpteenth time and folding the 5th load of laundry this week have worn off.
Yet I haven’t come across a single parent who would trade the emotional roller coaster of parenting for all the treasures in the world. Because children themselves are the greatest treasure there is! Sure it’s scary watching your teenager pull out of the driveway ALONE the first time he or she gets their Driver’s License. Yet no one can explain the pride exploding in a parent’s heart when everything “works out just fine.”
Their date for the prom is poised and charming (making the years of teaching manners and respect worthwhile).
They hit the baseball at the bottom of the 9th and the outcome of the game rested on their shoulder (and all the years of sitting on the bench and cheering them up after disappointing outcomes fades away).
They were awarded the honor of “Funniest Thespian” from the Drama club they joined (making the angst of encouraging them to try countless activities, having spent hundreds of dollars on items that sit idle, totally worth it).
The garage door opens at 12:35 am and they are home safe and sound (without a scratch on your car). (Being thankful that the one who holds your heartstrings is living life in a responsible and productive manner).
It’s futile trying to prepare yourself for the oncoming train of emotion that overtakes you. And truth be told, like watching a good sporting event, the emotion and energy of “not knowing what’s going to happen next or who is going to be the winner” is exhilarating.
It’s not whether our kids win or lose, pass or fail, are successful at life or utter failures that determines the measure of a life well lived. What matters most is how we as parents respond to the twists and turns of life. Failure in one form or another will happen. How we respond and enable our children to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and keep moving forward determines the measure of a life well lived.
So we leave on our trip tomorrow morning and look forward to returning to “whatever we find” from our child’s first “home alone” experience. I do hope the dishes are clean in the dishwasher though. :)