Sometimes in parenting, I feel so clueless about what to do that I can only laugh.
I have been doing both recently.
One of my children is in a phase of recurrent, amorphous aches and pains. It is utterly unclear whether these pains are psychosomatic or a systemic illness, if they are a severe food allergy or utterly self-persuasive case of school avoidance.
We visit them most mornings, some afternoons, before church, occasionally in the middle of the night, and always with a long frowning face.
My least favorite experiences parenting is feeling ambivalent -- ambivalence and helplessness being the double whammy. There are other terrible things, like fury and impatience, but at least if I rage, the storm hits hard, my own shame harder, and apologies heal. Ambivalence, though, is quiet and slippery; it lingers with a vague sense of unsafeness.
It's been weeks no, even months, that I have been plagued with ambivalence. What does this kid need -- to be pushed or protected? A kick in the pants or head stroked and song sung? When is it all right to stay home from school or get picked up from the nurse's office if there is no visible nor measurable ailment?
With each question I tie a knot until I'm so knotted up, I'm not sure I'll untangle.
This morning after birthday presents and banana waffles (Silas is 9 today!), a morning that seemed all smooth sailing, a fashion crisis and shock of "illness" hit fast and furiously. Two minutes before the bus arrived, everyone was in a fit of panic. There was actual pushing children out onto the front stoop, and I think everyone cried.
How to communicate -- you are resilient! You can DO it! You can ride through discomfort! You can arrive at school without your beloved coat, wearing your ski coat instead, and still be intact, beautiful you! And how do I also listen, nurture, and get kids out the door before the breathy bus barrels past?
These are the questions I'm asking every day.
Yesterday at church, before the service was over, in fact in the middle of a song, the 70-something woman behind me leaned up and started talking loudly. I was taken aback, gave her a small polite smile, little nod, and turned around. But she had things to say and kept talking, so I had to turn around again. I looked at her eyes, and she talked on. She launched into a story about her daughter, whom she adopted as a teenager -- one of the three children she adopted as a single woman. This daughter was a prostitute and has been in and out of jail for years. There were lots of hard times parenting, she said. You do the best you can. You can't do everything but you do what you can. Looking back over the decades, I can see how God never left her; you don't do all the parenting alone. She said a lot of other things, but those are the words I remember. She didn't even know my name, but she struck my need.
Today, between bouts of anger at my kid and myself and Ben for not knowing what to do, at this sickness that moves like a shadow, at the exhaustion of these same questions dragging over the months, I am thinking of her words looking back decades. I'm blind by my own zoom lens right now, stuck at a dead end I can't navigate -- or can't see how to navigate. But these are months of a decade-long story... You do what you can.