What My Son Did on Ash Wednesday that He Should Have Done on Fat Tuesday
With the school year halfway over, I declare defeat. My parenting skills, having peaked in Kindergarten, are no match for the fourth grade.
At Thanksgiving I was given less than 12 hours to whip out or whip up a pilgrim costume for the Thanksgiving feast. My poor son still believes that Nike Frees came over on the Mayflower and that Volcom is old English for “nice shirt.” Now that the Oregon Trail unit is upon us, I’m expected to provide three Pioneer outfits. I planned to buy this shirt and call it good,
but a number of friends came to my rescue with khakis and suspenders. “All you need now is to pull out your straw hat,” they told me. Really? My son doesn’t own a pair of khakis, but they think I have straw hats lying around. I have already advised my son that he probably should not volunteer to be a wagon leader.
Last month he started Recorder Karate. The gateway instrument to Carnegie hall, the recorder was my son’s ticket to fame. He brought it home to practice Hot Cross Buns (the white belt song). He practiced shirtless by the fireplace for about two minutes. Then he didn’t really want to practice anymore, ever. After two minutes of Hot Cross Buns, I didn’t really want him to practice anymore either. Since then, his recorder studies have consisted of a YouTube video of some guy who can play two recorders at a time . . . one in each nostril. It seems my son shall remain beltless.
This Wednesday, already the mother who cannot sew nor sing, I became the mother who allows her son to bring animal porn to (a private Christian) school.
It all started when his hippie grandmother bought him a book at the alternative grocery store titled: Why Dogs Eat Their Poop, and other interesting facts about animals. It seemed like a perfectly fine piece of literature for a nine-year-old boy so I made no effort to proofread nor censor. Until the principal called.
I didn’t answer when the phone rang, but Mr. Ness left a message. Talking in nervous circles, he repeatedly referenced Chapter six. I was assured that the whole eating poop thing was fine, but exhorted that I really needed to look at chapter six. He concluded with something about a huge ruckus in the fourth grade, and the voicemail ended.
I was with my daughter at the time, an hour away from my son and the ominous chapter six. So I called my son on the phone. The mere mentioning of the book caused him to burst into tears.
“Buddy,” I asked (trying not to laugh), “what’s in chapter six.”
“Just a bunch of inappropriate stuff,” he sniffled and sobbed.
“Like what?,” I pushed.
His voice quivered with conviction, “I don’t even remember now.”
It was a few hours before I was able to get home to examine this Chapter Six. It was what I expected: a humorous examination of strange mating habits in the animal kingdom. I did not have to read the chapter to understand the ruckus, the sub-headings spoke volumes. Imagine Animal Planet meets Desperate House Wives. I can say with confidence that I will not be asked to be on any school committees any time soon.
There is a proverb that reads “if you raise a child in the way they should go, in the end they shall not depart from it.” It is a an oft quoted proverb, touted as a great promise to parents. I, however, have always found it to be a great burden. I have always read it to say “if you parent perfectly, your children will walk straight.” But I have never met a child who walks in a straight line. From the time they first rise to their feet, their steps are crooked and imperfect. And my children have always been more wobbly and unsteady than most.
I have also never met anyone who parents perfectly. Still, I have interpreted the proverb to say that the missteps of my children are a direct reflection of my failure. I would like to throw the proverb out all together, but I probably just need to change my interpretation.
I need to read more carefully the simple phrase “in the end.”
Really the proverb makes no promise of perfect children now, only that their final step will be be in line.
There is a lot of road between now and the end. If my children were able to walk straight there, then there would be no need for me to teach. If I were a perfect parent, my children would not need until the end to figure it out.
Really the proverb is not about perfection at all, but about the journey. My children face a destiny of waivering and wandering. My job is not condemnation, but to embrace every tip toe as an opportunity to teach them. To teach them that we can’t do it all, and that we don’t have it all. And so we should surround ourselves with people who make up for our shortcomings, the people who make us better, the people who keep us well dressed. To teach them that we all have different gifts and talents, and if you can’t play it well try playing with your nose. To teach them that some things, though fascinating and juicy, just don’t need to be shared. To teach them that we all make mistakes, but we press on, getting a little closer to the path each time
Yesterday my son told me that they are redoing the playground at school so all the kids have to play on the football field during recess. “It’s kind of boring,” he said, “so me and Seliah have been hanging out under the bleachers . . . ”