Archive for March, 2008

You’re looking down for the first time at that adorable, vulnerable, heart-stopping little face – the one you waited anxiously to see for 9 long months. Your heart is swirling with feelings of love and gratitude; you’re exuberant; you’re in awe. You’re filled with dreams of the future – in your mind’s eye, you look down the racetrack of time and you see, 18 years hence, a young man or woman on the threshold of responsible adulthood, about to grasp life by the horns and exceed your every expectation with verve and aplomb. Or, you’re partway down the track, and though things haven’t gone quite exactly as you dreamed, well, hey, there’s still time to get to the peak of parenting Everest.

I’ve been there (5 times). I’m still on the track. And if I could sum up one key lesson of being a parent with ideals and dreams of the future, it’s this: gently lay aside your script.

A friend of ours, struggling with a wayward teen-aged son, expressed his dismay at the dashed hopes of a thriving family life with this poignant statement: “this wasn’t in the script!” All the solid principles and strong examples and good parenting practices over years did not “produce” what the couple had hoped for. Yet, we all look around and see great kids that somehow spring out of utterly dysfunctional families.

According to the script, if we do the right things, we should get the right results. Life is fair, isn’t it? Sadly, no. Wonderful parents may have a child suffer with cancer, while terrible parents end up with kids that feel no pain. But think of the flip side – all the awful screw-ups you’ve had as a parent, and the relatively small impact on your resilient little ones. Sometimes it’s really good that life isn’t fair!

According to the script, things should happen in a reasonable fashion. But those in the saddle for any period of time soon discover that kids are not calculators – you may press 3+4, and then get 13. Because kids are little people, and they aren’t entirely rational (are you?), and they have their own ideas, thank you very much. They even know that you’re expecting 7, and so they’ll deliberately give you 13. If you’re a control freak, you’ll rapidly find out how well that works – kids can only be “scripted” to a limited degree (call that “voice of experience”).

According to the script, if we watch over our kids diligently, they’ll remain safe and healthy. Not so. In the blink of an eye, your comfortable little world can go topsy-turvy. Over a few months one summer, we trooped 4 of our boys consecutively into the emergency room for various self-inflicted wounds – they were about to issue us a Frequent Flyer pass! After years of shepherding these delightful and exasperating offspring, you begin to trade in your high ideals for more tangible goals – like daily survival!

Aim high – yes! Embrace lofty goals and ambitions – absolutely! But don’t forget that life is full of curveballs, you have limited control of the variables, and only rarely do you get dealt a hand full of aces (my house is full of jokers, of whom I am chief).

There’s an awful lot of ad-libbing that goes on even with a well-written script. If you’re on this parenting adventure, be ready to do a lot of editing of expectations and don’t be surprised at the plot turns you never anticipated!

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It’s finally sunny out today. The winter has been long, and now I can walk out in the yard and see spring’s first flowers, some emerging green, and…my shadow.

shadow.jpgMy shadow.

It’s always there, that shadow. A darker projection of me. Stalking me. Talking to me. Following me around like a black cloud, ephemeral but inescapable.

Measuring every thought, word, and deed by a club-shaped yardstick. That “other” Steve Woodruff. The perfectionist.

He’s really starting to piss me off.

Restless and never satisfied, this shadow knows only one unreachable standard. Who can argue with the standard of perfection? But to reach it? Beginnings are insufficient – only final attainment matters. To try is indispensable, but to fail is inevitable.

“Hey, thanks for coming. Unfortunately, you don’t measure up. Like, never. Have a good day!”

Chased by the shadow, I’ve managed to drive forward relentlessly; some would say, quite successfully. But not according to that alter ego. He can’t be satisfied. He has taken the position of hostile witness, prosecutor, judge, and jury. In that courtroom, all defenses are in vain. Five steps forward, no steps back, or you’re through.

Having high standards is a good thing. Being addicted to perfectionism, however, really sucks. It sucks the joy out of living.

It is time to dismiss this winter-like apparition, this tyranny of displeasure, and walk out into the springtime, shutting the door on its oppressive presence. Oh, to enjoy the sunshine while ignoring the shadow! To be imperfect and perfectly OK with that! Surely there must be a place for high ideals and imperfect reals, for moving forward without gazing backward, for holiness without heaviness!

Get thee behind me, Shadow!” Ooops, I guess that’s sort of stating the obvious. Just stay back there and shut up, will ya? Time is short, and I’ve wasted enough of it…

(image credit)

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