Tuesday, August 08, 2006

little lessons, big consequences

I am determined to raise capable children. I want them to be able to do for themselves; problem solve; be ready for the “real world” when it’s time to be thrust out into it. Or better yet, run our home like a safer version of the “real world” so there’s no thrusting, just smooth transition.

I was not totally prepared to take care of myself when the time came. I had never really done my own laundry before I left for college. In a pinch I could get my pompon uniform washed the night before a game if I forgot to put it down the laundry shoot earlier in the week. But I had never consistently taken care of my dirty clothes.

I can remember exactly two times I cooked a meal (for more than just myself) before I turned twenty. Once in grade school I asked if I could cook dinner and my mom walked me through shake-n-bake chicken. Once in high school I prepared a birthday dinner for my boyfriend Sean. Both times I was terrified I’d screw it up and no one would want to eat it. I was nervous and therefore grumpy and did not enjoy the process at all.

My parents took care of my finances. I didn’t have a steady job until I started a real job after college graduation. I lived in the dorms all through college so I never really made grocery lists, or controlled a thermostat, or worried about a pilot light.

And this is not complaining. This is certainly not blaming. I had a magnificent childhood. I’ve turned out very well, thankyouverymuch. But I did have to scramble. I did have to think fast when I was left to my own devices. Many times I felt lost and dependant, like I couldn’t survive in an apartment on my own even at the age of 21.

And when I learn new things I feel such a sense of pride and accomplishment. The first time I used a stud finder and laser level to hang a series of pictures on the wall so they were straight, evenly spaced and looked right (finally), I was so pumped. When I bought myself a drill with my birthday money and figured out how to hang curtain rods, put new hardware on cabinets, hang a porch swing, etc., I was thrilled. All of this is so incredibly recent, I’m a little embarrassed. I’m a pretty good cook now, and I love it. I love that I can throw a dinner party for eight and with the right planning and preparation have only a few things to do once my guests arrive so I can sit and have a glass of wine and wait for the buzzer to tell me dinner is ready. If I want new curtains or a Halloween costume or a shirt with a short-billed dowitcher on it, I can just make it. I feel so good about that.

I wish I had learned a lot of this stuff earlier. And without burdening my children with unnecessary responsibility I want them to learn it, too. The thing is, they LOVE it. Learn how to run the washing machine?! Totally fun. Set the table? So proud of being able to get plates out of the high cabinets and make the table look nice. AND get to tell everybody where to sit? Can you say “power trip”? Feed and water a duck everyday? They can confidently say “that is MY duck.” They want jobs to do. They want to practice these jobs and learn more and more and more.

And here is where my problem lies. And here is why my parents probably didn’t and ALL parents don’t let their kids do more. It requires the transfer of control.

Phoebe loves to clean the windows and the mirrors with Windex and paper towels. She will literally jump for joy if you ask her to do it. Every parents dream, right? Well, I end up with streaked mirrors with only the bottom 2/3 wiped because that’s how high she can reach. They fight over who is going to make lunch. I should be thrilled to sit at the table drinking coffee and fielding the odd request for advice while the kids prepare a meal! But then it’s peanut butter and jelly everyday, with the peanut butter only in the very middle of the bread, not spread evenly across. And sometimes we have two main dishes and no side--let's put half a sandwich and a piece of left over pizza on a plate and call it a lunch!

This might sound totally petty, because it is in a way. I may sound like a control freak, but comparatively speaking, I’m a laid back mama (have you seen the way my kids dress themselves?!?!). I don’t know why this is so hard. I don’t know why it requires me to daily remind myself that it is worth it to have streaky windows, because Phoebe is learning an important skill; it is okay to have an unbalanced, unevenly spread lunch because Moses is enjoying making his own lunch, serving his family and learning about the food groups; it’s fine to have wrinkly clothes because at least Oliver knows which drawer his shirts go in and doesn’t believe the clothes magically appear in his dresser each week; it’s not going to throw our whole schedule off to have the kids run the vacuum, even if it takes them twice as long as it would take me.

As I write, I realize it’s not just practice for them. It’s practice for me too. We’re all learning this transfer of control on little, inconsequential things. They are learning to do for themselves at home. I am learning to take a deep breath, un-hunch my tight shoulder muscles and let them do it, trusting that I’ve taught them well enough to have a go at it. I need to learn this now with laundry and sweeping up because before I know it, it’s going to be deciding how fast to drive, how many beers to have, who to sleep with or (please, God) not, what major to study, who to marry, which city or state or country to live in. It’s just as much about them learning to be capable as me learning to let them.

So, I will now take a deep cleansing yogic breath and go eat cinnamon toast, yogurt and cereal for lunch, forcing myself to believe that they will make beter decisions, be better adults and feel/be confident and capable because of it.


Anonymous said...

you are such a good mama...and i'm so glad you are writing this blog. i need it. parenting is hard, and those who do it well are few. i totally suck at relinquishing control. or rather, i can relinquish it, but i dont like it, and the tension that produces in me always surfaces somewhere else. agh. glad to know you're out there fighting these battles with yourself too. :) much love to you in corn country...melly

emdunbar said...

it's so much easier to write about than do! it's actually been a pretty rough week with the kiddos. yesterday i balwed...actually balwed because I couldn't find my hammer. i've been feeling like no one listens to me and then i go to use my hammer and it's not there. mo had asked if he could use it and i thought "no, he doesn't need a hammer. what's he going to do with a hammer? there is no good reason for him to have my hammer." but I sighed, let it all go and said, "you may use it if you put it back in the tool box." no such luck. nobody listens to me. after i stopped crying i found my hammer rusting in the rain.

i appreciate you reading and commenting. YOU are such a good mama. Tell lucy lu hi for us (and annie, although she may wonder who we are). Much love to you in cotton country.

Hope said...

That is a great entry Em! I wonder about transfer of responsibility with Sammy as well. We are getting to the age where he needs a list of things to do. I grew up with lots of chores and I think there was the expectation that I was in the kitchen with mom helping with dinner all the time because I was a girl..so I learned a bit about housekeeping. But those kiddos of yours are still little. They have years and years ahead of them to become self-sufficient and they most definitely will with you as their mama. You're a brave lady to let 4, 5 and seven year olds prepare your food. I Most certainly will have my kids doing work just like I did when I was little but I don't think I'll ever let them cook me the whole darn meal on a regular basis no matter how much fun they think it is. They can practice weeding and folding laundry instead. You're right, it is a control transfer and I don't think that in most things (at least not right now) I can let go. Maybe when they're confirmed they do more....we'll see.

emdunbar said...

It's hard with the older two because the WANT to do so much, but it's hard for the opposite reason with Ollie. He says of almost everything I ask, "I can't do it all by myself!" So tasks for him have to be broken down into bite sized chunks. "Can you pick up four toys?" "Can you pick up the books?"

Right now, as I type, Phoebe is making cinnamon toast for their afternoon snack...and I mean theirs, not mine. A woman can only eat so much cinnamon toast.