Saturday, November 27, 2010

A happy weekend, and complicated parenting

Eldest had a 7pm exam Tuesday night (!), caught a 10pm bus, and arrived home at 2am. I think she is genuinely thankful to be here, where everything is known and nothing is new except the paint in the bathrooms and kitchen. It is hard to underestimate how big a shift it is to go away to college: it's a new place and new people and a new level of independence, new responsibility and new problems to solve on your own. There's a degree of stress in all that newness which subtly erodes the fun and excitement of being away. Eldest has done a masterful job of handling it. I'm really in awe of how well she's doing.

Big Guy arrived for day visits from his residential facility on Thanksgiving and yesterday and today. He, too, has had a big dose of newness this fall, although it's been unalloyed by the kinds of positives that Eldest has had. There are new people in his life (many of whom are not happy additions), new structure (at least some of which has been helpful), and a new need for emotional self-sufficiency. It is an unpleasant situation for him, and he is desperately homesick. He has been working hard, holding up better than we expected. I am proud of him.

The family dynamic of having everyone home is both wonderful and complicated. It is good -- very good -- to feel that things are normal again. And yet normal is a mixed bag. It includes happiness and silliness and bickering; it encompasses thoughtfulness and annoying table manners; it extends to balancing seven people's needs, and being mindful of who is feeling left out or annoyed or needs time alone. It's wonderful, without necessarily being relaxing.

When the kids were younger, people would look at my lineup of little ones and stammer, "How do you do it?" I shrugged and smiled and said, "You do what you have to do" or "You get better at it as you go". There's something about being outnumbered by your offspring that drives home the grim truth that you're not in control. Once you've got that reality nailed into your brain, you can deal better with life as it comes. Which, I think, makes you a better parent.

At best, "being in control" as a parent means you swerve back onto the road enough times that you end up heading in the right direction. You re-orient yourself when life drives you off-course, and then re-orient again when you make mistakes, and yet again when you suddenly realize you were asleep at the wheel. The key thing is to know which direction you're headed.

Being in control isn't about being the master of our destinies; it is about wrestling control away from our reactions and teaching ourselves to respond.

Maybe I think this way because I'm notoriously easily overwhelmed. If I think about how I'm going to tackle the whole of my life (or even the better part of a day) I tend to hyperventilate. I find that it's better to know my priorities, quit drafting my master plan, and get working on the next thing that needs to be done. Because that much I can do. Usually.


  1. I read this and then looked at your profile and went 'huh?' then i realized your profile must be old..right? because it says Eldest is 16...and you just said she's away at college. maybe she's a Doogie Howser! :) i love the last paragraphs here, and relate and agree. breathe.

  2. Sigh. She really is 16, and she really is away at college. I miss her!

  3. We live in an intentional community designed to help people with life-controlling issues. Several children and teenagers live here and attend our boarding school, so I have great empathy for your holiday transitions. We watch families struggle with this all the time. I'm glad to hear you are navigating it with success.