Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gasping for Air (or A Day with Dad)

There's a moment - teaching your daughter to ride a bike - when you're chugging along with one hand on her shoulder blade.  You're chugging along because you're 48, and you really don't run much anymore.  She's hanging on to those handlebars for dear life, concentrating on the road ahead like only an eight-year-old can.  And there's a moment - letting go and watching her ride on - when you think to yourself: I was made for this.  You gasp for a big gulp of air.  She wobbles a bit, rights herself, rides and rides some more.  And this whole parenting thing seems so simple, so pure, so completely and totally delightful.  She's riding a bike - and that smile paints the world in a thousand colors.

Then there's this: Your oldest is a teenager now.  She already knows how to ride a bike.  And how to bake cookies and use a cell phone.  The choices she's making are so much more complicated than riding or walking to school, reading the comics or a chapter book, watching TV or playing ping pong.  The whole parenting thing takes a wild and unforeseen turn.  It's no longer as simple as teaching her how to ride a two-wheeler or how to hold a fork.  Now it has something to do with boundaries: What's safe?  And what's not?  What's self-expression?  And what's rude?  You're baffled.  Facebook changes everything.  Sometimes, over dinner or passing in the hall, she looks at you like you're stark, raving mad.  And sometimes you are.

So, forgive the second person bullshit.  I guess it's the only way in - my only way into a manic day of parenting joy and angst.  In the end, this is what it is for me now.  I'm totally devoted to all three of my daughters - what amazing people they daily become!  But teaching one to ride is so, so, so much easier than fumbling around for the right mix of encouragement, expectation and boundary-setting.  I find myself lurching - gracelessly - between wonder and woe.

I like to tell parents that raising children is a vocation - a calling as challenging and holy as any other.  (Advice is cheap.  Spiritual advice, even cheaper.)  But I think I appreciate the vocation-thing these days.  Vocation has everything to do with paying attention, listening, sitting still long enough for the spirit to speak.  With all three of my daughters, I do best when I do these things: pay attention, listen, sit still, wait.  There are indeed boundaries to set; but I do that best when I've taken time, invested soul, listened well, laughed hard.

At the end of this long day - bike riding joy and Facebook worry - I ask God to bless my better choices and forgive my lousy ones.  And I ask God to help me out tomorrow as I do it all over again.  Nobody sent me a script.  So I guess we'll have to make it up.