Who am I to know what is best for my children?
A wave washes over me holding a blur of past years’ worries, about natural childbirth or epidural, breast feeding or formula, daycare or staying at home. All of those concerns about babysitter incidents, piano lessons, soccer teams, ballet performances, birthday parties, school bus incidents, balanced meals, screen time, geographical moves, schools, curriculae, grades, band, theater, driving and texting, Facebook, sex education, stranger danger…the list is endless.
Does it really matter in the end that I didn’t give them a “nippy” until after they’d breastfed and been introduced to a bottle months later? That only one invitee showed up for the book swap birthday party? That she sat in a car booster seat until she was eleven because of her petite weight, but I didn’t hold fast with that rule for him? That I, the grownup, made them kill the giant tree roaches that frequented the living room wall, because the grotesque, erratic little buggers never failed to paralyze me, especially when they could fly?
Even before the Divorce was initiated and long after it was final, I worried about what I was doing to my children, what the long term effects would be, of not seeing their dad, of not having that role model, of not having his personality mixed into their daily sensory diets. I knew I could not provide all of what each child needs, being only half of their recipe. Yet, at some point, I chose to believe that I have no choice but to do it all, in spite of the insecure doubts that have been buried year after year.
Maybe it is a benefit of single parenting that I get the opportunity to step back, out of the box, during Dad visitation times and “forget” about the kids. I have a forced “letting go” of control, of responsibility for, and of knowledge about their every move. It is a freedom that can be sobering, like an icepack on the skin after a massage with medicated goo cream. Worry, this chronic ailment, might be better treated by identifying its cause.
While I’ve been on my own retreat, writing, gardening, and eating at a friend’s, and watching chickens for entertainment, my children have been on summer visitation across the Atlantic and a little south of the Arab Spring and Summer, with their dad, stepmom, half sister, and pet tortoise. I don’t know much about what they’ve been doing. I stay in touch, barely even weekly, due to time zones, time crunches, limited Wi Fi, and basic lack of motivation on everyone’s part. In one Skype conversation, Tween boy broaches the possibility of living with his dad in the future.
So it is happening, I tell myself, as he confidently sits behind his iPad web camera sharing his thoughts and ideas on the subject. My friends foretold this several years ago, preparing me for this potential natural-disaster-alert. Unexpectedly, however, I don’t feel decimated. The last year opened my mind to the salvific potential of the young padawan taking a coming of age hike with a mature male. And what better prospect than with the other Half of his genetic code? I wish I could be a fly on the wall for some of those fiery interactions, should it all come to pass. At this point, who knows?
Adult male friends have taught me gobs during the last nine years about embracing uncertainty, risking the unknown, and stepping out of my comfort zones. The few opportunities I’ve taken to develop a relationship with another him have taught me the power of action, behavior, touch, intimacy, and presence, but less so of words. There have been no vows, no guarantees, no clichés, and no institutional blessings or curses. Somehow though, I’ve not yet translated this lesson of the uncertainties and imperfections of life, to parenting.
Now, as I trudge in the 95 degree afternoon heat, up the stone path of my friend’s retreat, toward the open, outdoor shower, I get a sticky, blurred reality check in that infinite space somewhere behind my third eye. Who am I to know my kids’ destinies? My male friends’? My own?
Sweat trickles down my brow as I bend to fumble with the screened tent zipper. I step into the sheep stock tank and open the water valve. Cleansing water rushes over me, making Poseidon challenge Helios’ supremacy of the late afternoon.