Barry Manilow references aside, and all my screaming spider senses that say don’t pat yourself on the back, don’t say anything, you’ll jinx it (hopefully cancelled out by by me saying to the kids as they marched off to their last day of school “try not to get expelled!”), I think we made it.
The we being me and the kids and the “it” being getting through the school year. Lunches, cleaning, homework, after-school arrangements, piano lessons, field-trips, permission slips, sick days, doctor’s appointments, getting them to bed and getting them up in the morning etc. etc. People keep telling me the first year will be the hardest year and the first year, the school year, the only year (as opposed to calendar, fiscal, liturgical) that really counts… is done. And really…. it wasn’t that bad. At least the parenting part.
I got the report cards back and the kids’ marks are up over last year considerably and same or better from the beginning of the year.
How important is that measure? Probably not very. Certainly if their marks and everything else had gone South I’d immediately dismiss it — “ah, it’s not that important.” But whether the marks ultimately have meaning or not, the fact that they’re good is the best possible outcome I could have hoped for.
That has been a consistent default barometer of circumstance for me this year. I don’t have omniscient perspective so one has no idea what the ultimate significance of anything is in life’s grand scheme. So I just try to size an outcome measure against what I’d reasonably could have expected that outcome to be; I hoped for an improvement in their marks and a sign that my daughter particularly wanted her marks to be good and that’s how things turned out.
Socks and Other Plagues
“Made it” usually means getting through some trial and getting out the other end. But in our case, the relevant meaning is the literal one. We did make something – a new life together with its new routines, habits, expectations, rules, conventions,and all the rest. It is ours alone – mine and my two children – and for my 8-year-old son, particularly, I doubt he will remember much of his life when his mother made that world.
The house got me down every once in a while, when the crap would pile up or the bathroom looked gross or no one could find a clean pair of damn socks. (what is it with me and socks…). But the bad days were not ever as bad as I dreaded they might be, and they happened with much less frequency then I thought they would, better than I reasonably expected on the outset. The tasks of necessity were described to me by the Leaver as soul-destroying, Sisyphean drudgery. I cannot speak to her spiritual integrity, but mine has taken far more damage from attacks of more animate and decidedly human origins.
We made it, and what we made is completely passable home life.
Yes I know, in many ways, big hairy deal. It’s not like we did it on a desert island. There are no soldiers looting my village. There is no locust plague or wildfires. My company is not going bankrupt… well, actually, come to think of it, it was but we got through that one too.
Nonetheless my challenges are hardly memoir-of-the-week stuff. It is trivial and a little grim and very mundane and banal. But it’s the adversity I know and have to deal with and this is where we’re at — pretty much the best result we could have hope for under the circumstances.
Collective, Personal and Possessive Pronouns
However, the most provocative part of “we made it” is the personal pronoun and who isn’t collected into it.
We are the three who went for an ice cream to celebrate the report cards. That is the we that takes precedent. And no matter what changes may come in our circumstances, that will never alter. We all went into this a year ago with egalitarian goals. But the kids very quickly attached primacy in almost all things to the grouping that had the primary care giver. One of the surprises for me in this year is to learn that the “we” doesn’t seem to shift. The we was supposed to shift depending on which parent the kids were with. But it didn’t turn out that way.
There was a home where children felt secure, where things were done, work was completed, life was lived. And within the mundanity of the lunches, the getting up, the going to bed and the chores achievements were made and bonds were reinforced.
With the Leaver, despite all her efforts otherwise, she could not quarantine her struggles with self-definition in her new context (as she’s communicated to me many, many times.) She did as much as she could and unfortunately, that fell far short of where she wanted to be and what she thought was necessary and reasonable expectations.
Those struggles, at the very least meant the children were almost perpetually reminded of her lack of confidence, lack of certainty and her resulting constant distraction. Children at this age are especially sensitive to these things. With that foundation of security they then feel free to explore and discover rather than hunker down and do the bare minimum. The truth of the matter is that with their mum, they had few experiences of significance to the world outside of the “we” with her. The “we” of mum and the two kids after a year of struggles, has nothing tangible or consistent to show for it that they can call “our.”
It’s 8 am. It’s a Friday. I just found myself instinctively checking the clock and calculating how much time I have to make lunches and cursing myself for waiting fifteen minutes too long to make sure the kids are awake. But this last Friday is a PD day — no school for the kids. Now, I sigh, with relief, imagining the coffee I’m going to have on the deck in the summer sunshine, basking in the peace of a kid sleep-in. And a millisecond after the thought, I hear the soft irregular “plop, plop… plop plop plop” of my son’s bare feet coming down the stairs. The primal cerebellum habit driver of Wii, overcoming the conscious wish of sleeping in.
I got the Wii at Christmas which was a bit of a big deal. My wife and I looked down on the whole idea of kids glued to games. But not only has it been an effective motivator for everything from getting up early to saving allowance money (for games and stuff), it’s been a great levelling catalyst for the two kids to do stuff together. They play games together all the time, coaching, cajoling competing. Not easy to find something that will do that for an 8 and 11 year old, brother, sister on a regular basis. A wee bit of we via the Wii
Final Fist Pump
This year will never be like any other. I could think that it may be the hardest. But who knows. May be for shear circumstance overload — yes. My daughter, a year older, will be able to take on much more responsibility next year, and I probably won’t have to worry about after school care as much. I probably don’t have to walk them to school next year. I hope I still can. The mornings with them, breakfasts, and the hug and kiss on the corner – my son waiting for it, my daughter, now almost as tall as I am, cringing every time I did it, but I couldn’t help but notice recently, her pausing before the cringe, waiting for the kiss whilst cringing — this I will miss deeply. But they grow up. Can’t be helped. And taxing routines are soon looked back upon wistfully as fleeting opportunities.
They might very well still learn to loathe me and resent me and later become porn star drug dealers before moving on to psycho killer occult priests poaching gorillas in the Congo (then writing a best-selling memoir of the week that blames my parenting). But this is right now, and we cannot have hoped for better results.
Nonetheless, no lunches, no herding out the door — the relief is incredible. Combination graduation day and New Year’s. When I looked at the beginning of this year I was overwhelmed with decisions and planning, not to mention the emotional turmoil of being dumped. Now, here we are and here I am and I can excuse myself the triumphalism and a bit of a fist pump. We bloody well made it. And the we includes me.