Saturday, February 18, 2012

That's what it's all about: Jan. 15, 2012

One of my many, many theories is that we are here to have fun and to be useful. I think most of what matters in life falls into one of those two categories. The fun category is my favorite.

As long as we’re here, we may as well have some fun
    Last winter, as the snow fell and fell, my husband dug around in the attic until he came up with some old cross-country skis. He trundled the old skis out to his shop and attached them to a seat he fashioned from plywood. He waxed the skis until they were slick as an election-year promise, and I dubbed his creation ‘Frankensled.’
    Our family spent several snowy days dragging Frankensled all over the place, zipping down golf course hills and suburban streets, giving the neighbors rides and dodging the dog as he tried valiantly to catch us. Our boys had a ridiculously good time. We did, too.
    This is a gift my husband has -- the ability to play, to imagine and then build a world that is joyful and sincerely, sweetly fun. It’s one of the things I love and admire most about him, and it’s something that has made all of our lives immeasurably better.
    I’ve been thinking about this lately because I keep seeing articles and books about ‘tiger mothers’ and ‘helicopter parents’ and all these other super-stressed-out people who really don’t sound like they’re having much fun raising their kids. They seem to be raising their kids as if they’re studying for some parenting test – as if their children’s successes and failures will leave some indelible mark indicating their own worth as people.
    For better or for worse, my husband and I are just not taking this approach to parenting. You guys, we had kids so we could play with them.

    Sure, we do all the boring stuff you have to do – we keep them safe and clean and fed and we make them wear seatbelts and helmets and all that. We’re straightening their teeth and correcting their grammar and insisting on ‘excuse me.’ We try to teach them, mostly by example, the joys of meaningful work and the powerful importance of kindness.
    But I think the most critical thing we can teach them is to enjoy this life – to come at it with their minds and hearts open. And, as a necessary counterbalance all those Frankensled days, I think the next most important thing we can teach them is that their lives are theirs.
    I think my sons know I don’t much care what they do when they grow up. Professional labels and corner offices and hierarchies have never much interested me. I want them to be kind. I want them to find work they love and always to do their very best – not because they need to prove anything to anyone; just because their very best is always the right thing to do.
    Their lives are theirs. I gently explained it to my 7-year-old this way last week, as he hunched morosely over his homework:
    “Son, if you don’t do your homework, it won’t hurt me a bit. But if you don’t do your homework, your day tomorrow will be not much fun because you will have to do it and also do all your class work. It’s up to you.”
    The boy did his homework. And if he hadn’t, guess what? My little speech wasn’t just posturing. The consequences are his to confront. I would simply have sent him to school to deal with it.
    So, no, I am not going to go all ‘tiger mother’ and stand over them as they spend hours practicing musical instruments they hate. My husband is not going to force them to play sports that don’t interest them. We are not going to become ‘helicopter parents’ and insinuate ourselves into every facet of their lives and agonize over their every decision.
    You know why? Because it’s just no fun at all to do those things. It’s no fun for us, and it’s no fun for them. And we are here to have a good time.
    Man, I sure wish it would snow again.

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