I loved bedtime when my kids were babies--and not just because it meant having a few hours of quiet. I loved it because I'd get to sit in the dark with them and sing. I sang "Sweetheart Tree" and "The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond" and sometimes a little John Denver or even Laurel and Hardy ("Trail of the Lonesome Pine"). They're the songs I haven't sung since. They grew out of them before I said it was okay for them to. They didn't ask for permission.
I also "wrote" each of them a lullaby. My oldest, now 14, got embarrassed the other day when I mentioned this to him. No, thanks, Mom, you don't need to sing it for me now:
Baby laugh and baby smiles
Baby steps toward grownup miles
So let me hold your tiny hand and keep you safe while I still can.
Let me come now when you call.
Let me catch you when you fall.
While apron strings still hold you near
My love can wipe away each tear.
Baby laughs and baby smiles
Baby steps toward grownup miles.
Nothing brings out the sap in me like my children, especially when I think of how different life was for us all when they were still at that rock-able age.
My 11-year-old son got in a fight at school this week, if by "fight" you mean another kid shoved him around for standing up to him and then hit my son in the face before running off to tell the teacher my son had hit him (not true, by the way; witnesses concur). But he was fine--completely unfazed. In fact, he didn't even mention the incident to me until more than an hour after he got home from school. He laughed it off, said the kid is a jerk but doesn't worry him. I think that kid worries me more. I wanted to call his parents, hunt the child down myself and have a few words with him, show up at school and haunt the halls and playground until June. But my son doesn't need me there. He's taken care of the situation . . . and he's stronger for it.
I was talking to my sister about this today, and she said that as much as she wants to fight her kids' battles and take away everything that might make them sad or afraid or alone, she knows she can't and shouldn't. I agreed. It takes more than love and protection to make a child happy: it takes a sense of empowerment. The kid who hit mine isn't strong and he isn't happy. My child is.
I'm not entirely sure how he got that way. I'd like to take the credit but it's not that simple. He's always been his own little person, as I put it. He's never cared what others think of him, never tried to impress anyone. "I know who I am," he told me that afternoon. "That's all that matters."
My 8-year-old daughter isn't quite as empowered as he is. I hope I can say "yet." I'm working on the "yet." She's constantly caught in a tug of war between one group of friends or another. She asked me the other day which of two of her friends I liked better, because, she said, they were making her choose. "Don't choose," I said. "Find other friends who won't make you." I don't know if I helped. That's how parenting goes most of the time: Did I help? Or did I just make matters worse? Did I say too much? Too little? Her grades have dropped recently, and her teacher thinks it may be because the social situation at school is preoccupying her. I want to jump in and fix things, but this is only third grade--only the beginning of the minefield that is the social life of a pre-adolescent girl. I can't fix things. I can only help, whether that's by listening or by agreeing with her that, yes, her friend was mean or by continuing to do what I can to make her feel strong in other areas of her life.
I truly had no idea as a young mother how much as a not-so-young mother I'd want to keep catching my kids and coming when they call--how much I'd want them to "let" me. And I had no idea how hard it would be to see the strings unravel--because they have to--and then hold my breath while they find their own footing.