Monday, August 16, 2010
It was just a little past bedtime but I was unwilling to break the magical spell. My littlest one, only four, and still very eager to snuggle with mama in the minutes before sleep, had tucked himself neatly up under my chin. The back of his little body fit perfectly in the crook of my own. My arms wrapped all the way around his relaxed frame and his cheek rested comfortably on the fleshy part of the back of my elbow.
He was so content, so tucked in and safe. We’d lived in this house, in a beautiful Utah valley, for two and a half years, more than half of his lifetime. His best friend lived across the street and although both were painfully shy, when put together they somehow found courage in their joined forces. After sending the big kids off to school every morning, his days revolved around running errands with his mama and leading army missions with this buddy across the street.
His life was ordinary and predictable. And it was all getting ready to change.
He didn’t know it. His older siblings didn’t either. We held off telling them of the chance we might be moving again until we knew more certainly that it would really happen. But applications had been submitted, interviews arranged, and the job had been offered. A job that meant an office in New York was waiting for their daddy to show up. And a job that meant the world my children knew so well was getting ready to be turned upside down.
As we snuggled in his bed that night, waiting for the sleepies to make his eyelids heavy, I sensed the magnitude of this decision that had been made. It’s sometimes alarming to think about how much power we have over our children’s lives. It can be humbling to ponder.
So much of their day to day life is easily spelled out. We can set it up to look like they’ve made their own choices. Which cereals they can choose from at the breakfast table. Whether the red shirt with the truck or the blue shirt with the dinosaur is the perfect one for this day’s adventures. Exactly which three videos will be lugged home in the library bag.
But a lot of the big stuff is out of their control. Grown-ups have discussions and make decisions, that can translate into huge life changes for the very people who never get to vote. And in reality they shouldn’t get to vote. There are too many big picture pieces of the equation that children are not capable of factoring in. The weight of some decisions rests solely on the shoulders of moms and dads.
I knew we’d thought through all the pros and cons. I knew we could find a good life in New York. I had my speeches ready, about how there were new friends just waiting to be met, way out East. We had email and the internet, and could easily stay in touch with close friends we’d made in Utah. But there was no sugar coating the fact that each one of my children was being asked to start over. We weren’t asking them if they wanted to move. We were telling them.
It made me think about all of the ways we choose for our children. So many days I ruminate in how they are their own people, their own unique personalities, and I cannot change who they are. But there is a power that is bestowed upon parents that exists no matter what personality type a child inherits. No matter how their offspring feel about it, sometimes moms and dads have to make unpopular choices, and just hope they can spin it in a way that makes it palatable.
We’ve done it several times as we’ve made moves from state to state. But I think divorced parents have some of the same issues. They’re forced to make tough choices, carefully weighing what the words ‘the child’s best interest’ really mean. So many variables, each to be worked out for the greater good of the family. Each individual at risk of feeling unheard or dissatisfied.
We’ve had friends who chose to send their children to private schools, and friends who’ve chosen to home school. Both have life changing implications for children. In hard economic times parents who decide to downsize and simplify may force siblings to share a bedroom for the first time, in a much smaller house. We’ve known several families who’ve been dealt the difficult cards of a life threatening diagnosis for one of their children. The stream of hard decisions begins long before the first day of treatment.
But I wonder if the key to parenting comes back to that magical moment I didn’t want to end when my baby boy was drifting off to sleep. Maybe the most important thing we can do, as we navigate the treacherous waters of parenthood, is to make sure every choice we make for our children leads them to a sense of safety, stability and comfort. My snuggle times with each of our children has not been dependent on a certain house, or a certain state. The comfort it brought to them came from the sense that no matter where we lived, mama would be there, to brush the hair from their eyes before they fell asleep at night.
It’s one of the topics I’ve never seen addressed in those parent help books that stand in a proud line at the book store. It’s an aspect of parenting you might not even see coming until it’s landed on your doorstep. The control we have over these new citizens of the world that we’ve been entrusted to raise is greater than we sometimes realize.
It’s so important that we never minimize its impact.