Peas of Mind

So here’s how parenting works, as best as I’ve been able to ascertain so far.

  1. You do the absolute best you know how, given the knowledge and resources at your disposal, as you summon every ounce of patient love that currently resides in your mortal being.
  2. You ruthlessly doubt yourself at every imaginable turn, worrying that you’re failing to do something crucial or making a few wrong choices that could ultimately sabotage your best and most lovingly laid plans for your child’s success.
  3. You think of all the good developmental indicators your child has shown so far, all the moments where he has melted your heart with his sweetness and innocence. You tell yourself you’re right on track.
  4. Your mind jolts back to the areas in which your child struggles. You think about other children who have no problems in these areas. You tell yourself you might be on the wrong track entirely.
  5. Repeat steps 1 through 4 indefinitely.

It’s a joyously satisfying and endlessly draining endeavor, this parenting thing. No other adult experience evokes such whimsical levity, or feels like such a soberingly high-stakes venture. Nothing on earth feels better, and nothing on earth feels more faintly terrifying.

Here’s a fairly mundane example: I inflict worry on myself over Greyson’s eating. A year ago, he ate virtually anything we put in front of him. Now he has narrowed down the list of things he will willingly eat to about 9 items (on a good day). He is relentlessly stubborn about the foods on his blacklist. The only way we can get him to eat something green is to hide spinach in a smoothie or bury a few peas deep inside a piece of penne pasta.

I get stuck in my head about this. My ever-longsuffering wife will attest to the fact. Enduring a dinner where Greyson refuses to eat his food can dig a trough-like furrow in my brow. I start worrying that we did something wrong in months past that led to this. Or that we’re currently setting a bad precedent by not staunchly insisting he eat everything on his high-chair tray.  Or even that (despite ample evidence to the contrary) he has turned the tables on us, so to speak, and is now calling the shots in our family.

Sounds a bit silly, right? It sounds silly even to me as I type these words. I mean, he’s barely 2 years old. But I have an endless capacity to convince myself that small things have significance, and moral weight, and long-term repercussions.

And so I tell myself, in my more neurotic parenting moments, that my toddler refusing his vegetables means that I have failed to convey something vital to him. Not only about the importance of nutrition, but about the importance of listening. The importance of boundaries. The importance of structure. The importance of goodness itself. I tell myself that depriving himself of nutritive fiber might somehow ultimately deprive him of moral fiber.

Like I said: It sounds silly even to me.

Ultimately it comes down to this: I just so badly don’t want to mess this parenting thing up. It’s a sacred privilege being given a tiny human life to guard and nurture and love and protect. Nothing else I do in my life will be as important as whether I do right by Greyson and his impending little sibling (T minus 6 weeks!), and I am constantly hyperaware of this realization.

This knowledge — or perhaps belief — is both a gift and a curse. On one hand, it lends deep significance to every interaction I have with my son because I see every moment as a building block for his burgeoning sense of identity and his nascent moral grid. But it also creates a foothold for my worst tendencies toward worry and self-doubt. After all, the sense that parenting is a high-wire act with a slim margin of error does not exactly lend itself to savoring the journey.

So my goal is to better find a way to thread that needle between parenting thoughtfully and letting myself off the hook. Perfection can’t be the goal. My son is not a perfectly malleable lump of Play-Doh that I can perfectly mold with the blunt force of my parental ethos.

He’s a little boy. A little boy with a mind of his own. And a will of his own. And at the moment, that will is asserting itself against the peas and broccoli and green beans of the world.

But that’s alright. And he’s alright.

And I think I might be too.


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