He keeps surprising himself over and over again. Befuddled by his own success. While I sit quietly on the sidelines, not surprised at all.
My youngest, a bit of an Eeyore with a mother who channels a lot of Tigger, generally underestimates himself at every turn. Growing up with an older brother who was not the kindest Alpha, he became far too used to being told what wasn’t right with him. No matter how hard I tried to drown out that voice and build him up, he over-indexed on it. Perhaps an older brother’s opinion matters more than Mom’s at a certain tender age. And moms, if we are doing our job right, just love you no matter what. While that is wonderful and right and good, it also lowers our credibility in the ego-boosting department. We’re hopelessly biased and our kids know it.
My “baby” has always left the brashness and bravado to my eldest son. He will never beg to buy a dirt bike (or ride one, for that matter). He doesn’t long for a tattoo. He has zero interest in contact sports, finding his brother’s previous love of lacrosse quite puzzling. Let’s just say if the school was calling to talk to me, I could say with almost 100 percent certainty, it wasn’t about him. He takes care of business in his quiet way.
Perhaps that is my doing. Since my divorce—once he got old enough—I’ve made it clear he was the CEO of his own business–and for now, that business was school. I don’t generally edit his papers, help on the science fair project, hover in any way. On the plus side, he sees I have the utmost confidence in his ability to not only handle things, but figure them out. I am always there with an ear or advice—but am clear what he reaps is based on what he sows. Conversely, there may have be days he wishes that I cut him more slack. I guess each generation improves upon the prior. I definitely am more present and encouraging than my mother was. Perhaps he’ll improve on my shortfall with his own children. I certainly hope so.
I like to say he’s a Renaissance Man: he nailed it on the school stage, won a statewide poetry contest, took the award in a tech entrepreneur showcase, brought home a string of ribbons for original comedy, and competed in the statewide speech tournament playing the role of a quirky Irish priest. Did I mention the gold award at the state science fair? Yep. You’re right. Now I’m just bragging. Mea culpa.
At every turn, he has doubted himself. At every turn, he has told me, “I’m not going to win. My (fill-in-the-blank) sucks, Mom.” I joke that he will win the Nobel Prize but say to me privately, “Wow. Can’t believe they fell for that one. My quantum theory really isn’t that good.”
My eldest, on the other hand, can write a paper rife with grammatical, spelling and syntax errors and proclaim it a masterpiece. Or, sometimes, just “good enough.” And that’s good enough for him. He happily moves on to other pursuits he feels are worthier of his time.
I don’t lay all of this out because I kid myself you take a grand interest in my children, but rather to present a conundrum I have to believe many of you have faced. We raise our children—or are raised ourselves—by the same parents. And yet, some of us come out believing we were born for the gold medal. And others, even while besting peers at the finish line, believe we just aren’t very deserving.
My wise words on that?
I believe we are a soul in a body and have laid out challenges for ourselves before we enter this lifetime. Some of us choose easier routes than others. I’ve been reading Ainslie MacLeod’s book, “The Instruction,” which provides a possible framework for soul types, levels, challenges. If you’re into the spiritual, you’ll probably like it. If not, let it lie. It’s been a helpful resource for me as I look not just at my own choices, but also those of my kids.
Parenting these two children requires a few of the same basic skills, but a lot of different hats. I wear my cheerleader hat for my youngest often, even when it just annoys him. And I wear my wise counselor hat for my eldest, trying to temper his enthusiasm so he channels his Tigger energy without squashing those around him. (It’s usually me that is squashed as I try to offer said wise counsel.)
Like all parenting, it’s rewarding but exhausting too. Do you ever come to the end of a day when all of your kids need you at the same time and wonder—what’s left for me? Besides the dishes, the bills and the laundry, that is.
It is those days when I sit back and watch the movie in my head. My eldest marching proudly into the kindergarten classroom with nary a backward glance, as other children clung to their mothers and cried. The look of shocked surprise on my youngest son’s face when people he doesn’t know stop him after a performance and tell him how good they thought he was. The slow—and boy, do I mean slow—progress my eldest makes on tempering his temper. The ability of my youngest to now pick himself up after falling apart from fear of failure—and to move on.
And on those days, I admit to myself that I have so little to do with their success and yet, so much. I know that doesn’t make sense. But it’s true. I just provide the steady backdrop, the unfailing love and encouragement, for their successes, failures and everything in between. But making it happen? That’s all them. Completely them.
Sometimes it’s smooth, like butter. Other times, it’s a bit ugly and rough around the edges. Overall, they’re nailing it. With every success, every failure, every proud-Mama moment, every how-in-the-hell-could-you-do-that-because-I-didn’t-raise-you-that-way incident—they are getting there. Wherever there is. Further into life. Hopefully a life they co-create with the Divine, rather than one they accept passively.
And that is no surprise to me.