On the top shelf above my desk, I have a collection of framed photos of my husband’s family, my family, our family together. I see the curls Dave sported as a child echoed in my daughter’s hair when she was six. My own kid hair– straight as a poker– frames my middle son’s face in one photo. The pictures stacked one in front of the other so that when I look up from writing I can see the mix of them there, staring back at me. It comforting. I feel some implied support from that photo clan looking down.
I talk to my college-age daughter a couple of times a week. She’s off studying in New York. I ask about what she’s eating, how she’s feeling about school and if she’s getting along with her roommate. Though she’s doing well, I always hang up the phone feeling helpless to do more to help her navigate adult life.
I remember those transitional times so clearly. My skin prickles when I consider what college was like, the adjustments, the heartbreaks. I would call my mom a few times a week from the payphone in the common room of my dorm. No privacy was afforded in those “collect” calls home. I recognize now, though, that one good word from my mom on those collect calls kept me afloat.
When I pick up my boys from the bus stop, I ask the same sorts of questions, “how was your day?” “how was lunch?” When those fail, as they sometimes do when met with one word, teenage answers, I throw out open questions like, “tell me about the best thing that happened today.” That works for five minutes.
Everything works for five minutes.
That’s the title of the book on parenting I’m writing. I figure I’ll be ready to publish that book when I’m in my nineties. By that time, I should have a pretty good idea on how I did with my meager efforts to build up new people to help populate the planet. I figure if they turn out okay, and maybe for good measure, I see that any people they build to help populate the planet turn out okay too, I’ll have a leg to stand on when I offer parenting advice.
I don’t know that I will ever stop worrying about my children. I know that I’m not supposed to stop caring for them, supporting them, giving them a good word when they call. In the meantime, though, when we’re not on the phone or at the table together or in the car on the way home from school, this is when I am seized with fear. Has it been enough to keep them afloat? Has my contribution been adequate?
This, I cannot say for sure. I know only that I carry a stack of snapshots in my brain and my heart, small things I have noticed in the day to day business of parenting– one kid helps another with his homework, the middle kid helps carry groceries in without being asked, the oldest kid offers an insight into the human condition I had not yet considered, and another breaks into tears when he feels regret for a wrong he’s done, or compassion for a friend, or the loss of a long-loved family member.
It is in these snapshots, the ones I collect and preserve, that I see that they are, at heart, kind. It’s not reflected every moment of every day, but yes, they are kind people, good people, loving people. I hope that I can continue to build this up, to encourage this, to support them in their quest to be loving, caring and kind people. Heaven knows, the world needs more kindess, even if it’s five minutes at a time.