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10.08.2010

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On Before Helping Others With Theirs...

We’re having the last late summer picnic at the park. Tio is at football practice down the field and the other 2 are filling their bellies with mac and cheese while they get into as much trouble as I’ll let ’em. We’ve been doing this all summer. I do some writing while they play with friends. Watching the boys playing with others, learning to get along and share, I think about how different a child I was from them and how that effects my abilities as a grampy-parent.

I was a very quiet kid, silent even. I rode the school bus for 3 hours a day and never said a word to anyone the whole 7 years. I spent my study and lunch hour reading and my pool of friends was tiny and special. I made the obese boys look good at sports and I daydreamed my way through academics. Buddy, on the other hand was a hyperactive monster. He got into trouble at every turn and made our lives a mystery from dawn until he finally fell asleep kicking and screaming. The intervening years helped me find my quiet self again but now the noise and haste has returned to our world and I’m finding it more of a challenge than I expected. Buddy’s kids are collectively easier than he was, but age, experience and circumstance have put me in a different place.

I’m a bit compulsive obsessive. Tish might differ on the term ‘a bit’, like being ‘a bit’ pregnant’, but the upshot is a thing gets into my head and I work it until I get it right. Whether it’s a story I’m writing, a political project, or issue in my marriage, I work it over until it’s finished or resolved. For the past couple of years I’ve been trying to slow down and learn to stop thinking and planning things to death. In retrospect it’s caused me a lifetime of anxiety, fruitless worry, and no peace.

Taking charge of these boys has taken that option off the table again and I find myself cycling their needs around and round my head like a double Farris wheel gone wild. Who’s got what homework, how are they getting along/progressing at school, how to resolve today’s issue/disagreement, maintaining social skills and keeping on top of diet, bedtimes, bedwetting, laundry, cooking, and social interactions with their friends and family. Don’t misunderstand, I love it. Each day presents a fascinating new behavioral challenge, a connection between us or them and their environment. But it’s exhausting. Nothing goes as planned. Teaching children is not math, and the mess, noise and constant attention they need calls on all the patience, good nature and judgement I can muster. I have to admit it has me stressed out and I have to learn all over how to cope with living with small children in the house.

Buddy, isn’t aware of all the nuance of what the kids need. As a hyperactive adult he copes with his world differently. He takes each day as it comes and can’t deal with long term goals or challenges. Tish started raising kids when she was a teenager because her mother dumped two baby brothers in her lap. This is third time around for her and she’d rather not jump completely into the deep end of the pool this time. Can’t blame her for that. So, while she and Buddy do a big share I’m the one dealing with the minutia of the boys’ world.

I love them all and enjoy the challenge, the complexity, and their company. But I need to learn where the edges are and how to live within them. As a parent I went full out and took it all as it came with Buddy and his sister. It’ll kill me if I do that this time around. So, I’m breaking out in a rash, losing sleep, or sleeping all day, and trying to figure out when to say no. We’re looking down the track at the next 12 years together. That’s from kindergarten right through high school times three. It isn’t going to get easier and adolescence is just over the rise. So if I want to see them all graduate from anywhere but the funny farm, I better find peace of mind in this world.

For a quiet kid who only sought his own counsel and succeeded in spite of himself, that may be a bigger challenge than bringing up the boys.