Bowling 300

They used to say that there is no manual for raising a child.  There are however books, articles, blogs, etc. at our disposal.  Prominent child psychologists run around the country and give talks about their books, make appearances on TV and consult with schools and parent organizations.  It's all well-intended, but the reality is even with all of these resources, this is still improvisation at its best.

This is where one cannot codify or label "good parenting" vs. "bad parenting" or promote "experts."  If you are an expert at improvisation, then maybe, but for the most part, let's be honest.  We're all just making this up as we go along.

As a society, we find comfort in labels. If we can call it something, we somehow feel better about it. More confident we're in control. I have a son who's been given a label.  It's one we struggled with at first, and more importantly, he struggled with internally.  He never says it has, but upon diagnosis his confidence in himself plummeted, and while the "experts" walked away happy knowing they did their jobs, his emotional well-being was left in the lurch.

We want to "figure out" kids.  Let's be frank, there's nothing to figure out other than that they are, well, kids.  Kids play, kids joke, kids are naughty, kids are funny, kids are dramatic, kids get frustrated, kids get tired, kids don't always have interest in every subject.  It's a reality.  How many of you have fallen asleep or let your mind wander in a class that doesn't interest you?

But yet, here we are.  The numbers of kids being diagnosed with attention deficit disorders is staggering.  And the numbers are primarily on the rise in the United States. Are we really that much ahead of child psychology here in the US vs. the entire world?  Or are we feeding our desires to feel like we have control over our children's learning and upbringing?

I don't have any answers, because I'm just improvising.  The reality is, humans are imperfect beings, yet we seek perfection for our children and in ourselves that simply isn't possible.  Life is messy, humans are messy, but that's ok.  We have to accept who we are, and re-evalute our approach.

When Liem was born, I remember doing all kinds of research about how I was going to raise and care for a child, a baby, a person.  What I knew in the back of my head was I did not want to screw this up. Yes, we played music to him in utero, massaged his scalp as a baby to help stimulate brain development, read to him every night of his life, and exposed him to art and culture early on. As he's been growing up, we've tried music lessons, soccer, rugby, swim lessons, and no scouts.  We wryly lament that "we're not one of those parents" who push their kids to play sports at an early age and be competitive, to excel, dominate and win. The reality is, we are.  Perhaps that's not how we feel about it as we go through these endeavors, but it is the reality.

~ § ~

He's now in middle school, and we've entered a new theatre of improvisation.  His grades are fine, he's actually on less medication that in the last two years, and seems to be adjusting well, making friends, and smiling a lot more.  This gives me hope. 

Recently, he did not do well on a test and basically simply didn't study for it.  Upon his teacher emailing us about it, and that he'd missed their appointment to meet, I initially felt like a reprimand and revocation of privileges was in order.  I cannot tell you how much I turned away from that initial feeling after emailing with the teacher.  Her message was one of "how much independence do you want to approach this with?"  It got me thinking more about how can we keep him in the game without creating us, and his school work, as the opposition.  How can we motivate him to stay the course and try. Keep up at least the effort to do his best.

When he and I talked that afternoon, he immediately felt like he was in trouble. He wasn't, but I tried to talk it through with him to figure it out.  There were tears and frustrations.  I thought to myself, what can I do? I'm screwing this up. I'm doing the very thing I tried so hard not to do mulling through books at Barnes and Noble in New York City.  I'm failing as a parent. 

~ § ~

But then it hit me.  In one analogy, it came to me.  As we sat there trying to explain what we need to do to, I improvised...

"Liem, this is like bowling. We, your parents, are the gutter guard rails. You know, the ones that pop-up that prevent your ball from falling in the gutter. Your teachers are the ones telling you what the score is, how many pins you've knocked down, and how many you have left.  You are the one with the ball.  You have to determine how you're going to deliver that ball down the lane. Which side you're going to go down, center, left or right, and how much power you're going to apply.  It takes practice and you're honing skills right now. Hand grip, stance, approach, etc.  

For now, the guard rails are up. We're here for you.  We're here to bump your ball to the middle should you need it, and this is one of those times. We're bumping your ball to the middle a little. Someday, though, the guard rails will not be there, and you won't need us.  You'll rarely gutter the ball. You'll hit as many pins as you can, but each time you complete a frame, you'll move to the next.  The great thing is, the pins will always reset and give you a fresh set to work on. So let's help you get that ball down the lane as best as you can.  Strive for 300, but know we may never get to it.  That's life."

I'm not a child psychologist or an expert of any kind. I'm a parent, an improvisor, and I'm doing the best I can.  I will never be perfect, never always say the right thing, but I can only hope that what I'm doing will raise someone who can be creative, happy, and contribute to this world in his own way. Hopefully we can all bowl our lanes with some sense of purpose, integrity, and empathy for others.

I think today we might just go bowling.

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