Jul 1, 2010

The Conflicts of Their Interests

For years we've made travel plans with our children, despite whatever small obligations we/they might have at home. It was awfully convenient back when they didn't have the awareness to know what they were missing (back when a peek-a-boo-playing parent's face really did cease to exist when it wasn't in sight), and also nice when they'd know what they were missing but the obviousness of the greatness of the experience we were sailing off to have was so apparent that they didn't care about a class celebration or some kid's birthday party--it was hard for my seven year old to know that she was missing her second grade poetry celebration, but when we remembered about it on the beach in Waikiki we were able to laugh it off as not being reason enough to still be in dreary Brooklyn.

Of course all that lovely ignorance couldn't last forever, and just when we started to feel able to count on their indifference, it's all changed. We're in a new phase.

The phase of much-anticipated weekend plans bumping up against important family obligations and travel. And it's significant that they are still too young to be old enough to be excused from many of these adventures, but they are old enough to feel the agony of missing out on, say, a weekend full of baseball double-headers, a movie premier with a friend and his dad, a cherished friend's sleepover, and so on. And I'm just not feeling equipped to guide them through the emotions of having to be in two attractive places at once. It's just life, of course. But it's hard to reconcile in my own head, let alone walk them through navigating their own feelings about it.

Parenting was so much easier back when my children's problems were all things I felt that I'd mastered over my life time. I feel comfortable encouraging them to share (barely, since no one's asking me to share my most precious possessions with near-strangers or friends who are annoying to me), I feel comfortable asking them to take turns, not to hit, to brush their teeth, to avoid eating too many treats, to do things that all of us grownups know just make sense.

But now they're getting into things that are more difficult to resolve. My son complains that he did all the work on a group project and then had to watch the teacher praise all of the kids equally, my daughter is baffled about why she's losing good friends to some of the meaner girls in her grade. And I don't know how to parent this. Because they parallel the things in my life that keep me awake at night.

We have some of the most wonderful family-event-themed weekends coming up this spring--weekends for which we'll be doing a lot of flying, and in the 'old days' of them being just a few years younger these would have been single-minded pursuits. Nothing but plain old 'this is what we're doing this weekend' stuff going on. But now my kids know their sports schedules--my son can see that he's missing a total of four baseball games (out of only, like, ten) and two practices (which are just as much fun). My two girls are missing six soccer games and two practices between them. They're losing some momentum, as well as much of the bonding that goes on during these events. And they're sad about it.

We are clear in our priorities--no one has asked why we have to travel to these amazing (once in a lifetime) family functions--but we are all left feeling unsettled by all they're missing.

I know I know it's just life. We have many more sports seasons ahead of us, and we'll look back on this as having been an amazing spring for being with extended family, and we might even forget that there were tinges of heartache about missed games and other events.

Or we could go the schadenfreude route and pray for rain. Lots and lots and lots of rain. With plenty of makeup games waiting for us in June.

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