“And how many children do you have?” The exhausted mother inquired leaning in across my teacher desk. It was the end of another long parent/teacher conference. The ones in which I excelled at, chastising mothers and fathers for the failures and behaviors of their third grade offspring. Missing homework assignments, late bedtimes, spaghetti breakfasts, stained t-shirts, who did they think they were fooling? I adjusted my glasses and resumed my authoritative self-righteous posture, ascending across my desk like the Delphic Oracle.
Fast forward almost fifteen years later. I stand at my kitchen window and watch as the last of the backyard kiddie slides is being driven off by a friend with small children. I realize another chapter in my life as a parent has closed. As a 42-year-old naïve educator, I had vowed to take on the parenting challenge through adoption, becoming a single mother not once, but twice, with the intent of proving to those negligent families just how easy parenting could be.
Arriving home from China with a fourteen month old in tow, I quickly witnessed her cutting her nose with a glass obelisk souvenir she picked up in a gift store. The scar of which is still apparent today. Before we made it to the airport I performed the Heimlich maneuver. I swear the cookie I gave her to eat looked harmless. Both incidents occurred within 24 hours of our first meeting.
The reality of my new responsibility hit me like a wet diaper. The first week home I decided to give up television, convincing myself that this toddler was much more engaging, and she was. As a result, to this day, I continue to raise both my daughters without the “idiot box”, as their grandfather aptly named it. Besides, today’s battles are over more sophisticated electronic devices which I parcel out like interest on a one year CD. Oddly enough, I have never heard the words “I’m bored” come out of their mouths… yet. That is not to say it has been an easy journey. I have had my share of sleepless nights, words that needed to be retracted, mine and theirs (but mostly mine), and too many “nobody would believe this is happening” moments to document.
I had lived alone for twenty-five years and I knew that the page where I left off in my magazine could easily be found three days later. Now I barely have time to read the mail. Having five open water bottles on the kitchen counter and no one to claim them is nerve wracking. I was used to coming and going as I pleased, considering only my needs. Now I have a teenager who challenges me to live by the same high standards that I set for her. I have read and highlighted every strategy in the parenting books on how to raise calm and compassionate children and have come to realize how truly difficult it is to follow through with consistency. I agree, wholeheartedly, with their message that we are living in the midst of an undeclared war on childhood. Our children are exposed to too much information and forced to grow up too quickly. I also do the numbers. I am fully aware that when I am 70 years old my younger daughter will be 20 and that I may or may not live to see her contribution to the planet. In my weakest moments, it helps to remind myself that I was the same age as Diane Keaton was when she adopted her two children and she seems to be making progress – at least in the interviews she gives. As an older mother, eating healthy, staying fit and going to sleep way before I deem necessary are also ways I am committed to being there for my daughters. The greatest gift I can give my girls is the notion that I am dealing with my own baggage and that we are all doing the best we can in the moment as our lives unfold.
Being on both sides of the teacher’s desk has truly helped me to become a more mindful individual with a focus outside of myself. Now as I sit across from bleary-eyed parents who are at their wits end, I can relate a story of my own. I get it. Late night power-struggles over homework are no fun. Neither is looking for a viola the hour before spring concert. I now tell my co-creator parents that along with nature and nurture, we are all in this together and making it up as we go along. I am glad I rose to the challenge of parenting. This self-proposed dramatic change has given me another dimension in which to identify and communicate what is truly important. I am still an educator today, and hopefully a more wiser and patient teacher both in and out of the classroom.