Yesterday, as I drove my kids to school, I turned down Adele singing about why she’s sorry, looked at my eldest son (who is all of twelve years old) and said “do you have your energy gels for the cross country meet today?” He doesn’t like to eat or drink before his meets and I just. can’t. stop. micromanaging. him.
He looked at me and shrugged, the universal adolescent shrug that means: yes, no, maybe,probably, please leave me alone.
“Because, I mean, if you eat and drink you might be a little faster.” He shrugged. I don’t know what the shrug meant but it should have meant: “Stop mom. I am fast. And I am only twelve. And you are a hypocrite because you posted an article on Facebook last night about how kids my age should be trying all sports, because even the “best,” twelve year old athletes rarely go on to college sports and almost never go on to professional sports.” The shrug should have meant “can’t you just accept my really damn good races as ‘awesome,’ and don’t you realize I am amazing because I ran when I was sick, and I cheered for all of my teammates, and I am proud?”
His shrug probably didn’t mean all of this things, but it should have. So I quickly backtracked. “Don’t eat the gels if you don’t want to. I am so proud of how hard you have worked, and your effort, and the fact that you started the season off with a really crappy virus and kept running through it. I am proud. I am proud that you are an awesome teammate. I cannot wait for today no matter what your time is or how fast you run.”
I should get off of my kids backs a lot of the time, but sometimes I don’t because… so. many. articles (A quick Google search pulled up 73,900,000 articles in .05 seconds).
As Adele dreamt about California and the way things used to be, statistics about parenting flashed on my windshield, one after another, causing me to lose focus on the school buses switching lanes and the other mega SUV’s chauffeured by similarly frazzled moms taking their kids to school.
I thought about how many of the kids who get into the Ivy Leagues are depressed and even suicidal by the time they get there (perhaps it’s withdrawal from the organic food and energy gels we force down their throats as we helicopter them around the their first eighteen years out of the womb). I saw my son watching me from the passenger seat, and thought about the “suicide monitors,” in California, near Palo Alto, where the kids are so stressed they are throwing themselves onto train tracks, in high enough numbers that there are “suicide monitors.” I thought about the things I tell my kids “you are good enough,” and how that differs from what I show them “eat an energy bean so you are faster because you are not good enough.” Sigh.
The meet was great. I mean, not for the parents near me who had to listen to me scream at my kid as he ran by, or for my kid, who was horrified as I waved pom-poms (for real—it was school spirit day) and shouted “pick it up,” but I mean, it was great for me. It marked the beginning of a two week period that I am allowed to get my kid early to take him to the orthodontist, and not have to force feed him energy gels, so great.
We came home, and as we sorted through Halloween costumes, I asked the same twelve year old how the studying for his social studies test was going. He shrugged. I looked at his study packet and saw a map. Of Africa. “What do you need to do with that?” I asked.
“Memorize the 54 countries, and the rivers and learn about the facts in my study guide.” I panicked because I am not as smart as my kid and I don’t think I could handle that test. And he saw the anxiety as I printed off more blank maps. “Just keep labelling until you get all 54 countries correct,” I said as I handed him the stack of maps.
“Mom, you just handed me 200 maps, you used the whole pack of printer paper, you seriously want me to do this 200 times?”
My husband intervened. “Honey, why don’t I do this?” he implored whilst giving me the look that says you are being scarier than the ladies on Dance Mom, relaaaax.
So I walked over to my son, “I just want you to know how special you are, no matter what grade you get.” Then I remembered the article that said no matter what you do, never tell your kid they are special.
I stumbled over my words, “I mean, you aren’t special,” saw my husband’s face, “well, you are special, I mean, just not in the bad way. And it’s okay if you don’t get all A’s,” and remembered that I was probably lowering his self esteem by setting the standards too low. “I mean you are totally capable of A’s,” suicide monitors and drugs, “but we will love you if you don’t have all A’s, and I mean you can totally live with us if you need to after college,” husband side eye, “but you won’t need to because you will be successful,” oh god, defining success can damage self esteem, “but success is a very broad term and you can be successful in so many ways even if you don’t go to college. But you are very smart, so you will totally go to college,” except maybe not, because by telling him he was smart I just doomed him to a life of lackluster performance (see here, here, and here).
The talk was sort of a success, because my son didn’t shrug, he spoke. “Mom, you have to stop reading the parenting articles, I am really happy, but you are really too stressed.”
So yes, I need to stop. Because kids will fail, they will succeed, they may get sick, they might do drugs, they will make monumental mistakes, but worrying usually doesn’t help. At the end of the day I can do my best, act less crazy and remember what a wise friend once said: “sometimes you have to let go and realize a really big hunk of life is a crap shoot, so be the best mom you can in the moment—don’t worry so much about how you are screwing it up.”