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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Who Are You, the King of the World?

by LJ (bio)

As soon as my son learned to stand a few months ago, he stood up at the front of the Target shopping cart, gripped the red plastic mesh with one fist, and crowed.

He stood there the rest of the time we shopped, teetering dangerously akimbo on his skinny little legs as if at the prow of a ship, holding his free fist aloft and chortling in glee at his own power.

"Who are you, the king of the world or something?" I asked, taking one of his little curls between my fingers. Not being the talkative type, he just gave me one of his famous gap-toothed grins and we went along.

I've been thinking about this moment as a sort of metaphor for my parenting style. Even though he's just squeaked over the one year mark, I want so much to give The Boy the chance at some of these victories. The problem is, they usually only come around when I stop worrying about him.

Choosing not to worry is hard. It's the hardest thing I do every day, especially when there are other moms looking on. (In Young Momdom, the amount you worry over your kid is directly proportional to how much you love them.) I was recently at a backyard birthday party when a young mom flew across the grass, stooped down and pulled two pebbles out of my son's mouth.

"Oh yeah," I mumbled, shamefaced. "He usually only eats them one at a time."

Have I made mistakes? Ohhhhh yes. When you make a point not to worry, you kid will do things like roll off the sofa, drink their own bath water or even take a bite out of a dried-out horse turd. (I deny everything.)

However, this also means The Boy has already got a taste for exploring and independent success. He has opened and shut every door in the apartment about 700 times, can climb up and down the furniture by himself, and figures out his more complicated toys on his own. He wants to push all the buttons and explore all the cubbies. I can't tell you how it makes me feel as a mom to hear The Boy in the other room, playing and laughing uproariously at his own jokes.

I've thought a lot about this, the sort of occasional backseat parenting. My mom taught me that if I really wanted something, it was possible. With enough work and elbow grease, the opportunities were there for the taking.

The proof is in the pudding: between my siblings and I, we are eight-for-eight in college degrees, five-for-eight in advanced degrees, and that's not even counting the wealth of education and bodacity that our spouses have brought to the table. We're lawyers and historians and teachers and musicians and engineers and marketers and analysts and journalists and therapists. We've lived in Vietnam, Jerusalem, Japan, South America, Europe, South Africa. We've worked our butts off in work and school and most of us have flown very, very far from the nest. And I think our folks wouldn't have had it any other way.

This is why Ken Jennings' stories in "Maphead" about negotiating the back alleys of Seoul as a kid in the 70s, or this article about the New York mom who let her 9-year-old ride the Metro home by himself, don't inspire such pants-wetting fear in me. (Okay, just a little bit, but mostly I think they're awesome.) I hope to someday have that sort of strength as a parent--hold your kids tight, pray like crazy, and then let them go.

In the end, that's what I really want. I want to turn to my kids and ask them, "Who are you, the king of the world or something?" and have them say, "Actually, yes, I am."

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