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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Remedial Parenthood

Richard Bach wrote in Illusions, "You teach best what you most need to learn." Frankly, that scares me.

I've noticed that with my second set of kids, born almost a quarter century after the first set, it's getting easier to teach them things. They still grate on my nerves just like the first set, but I have a sliver of additional patience now, and when I offer some snippet of wisdom or a how-to, it flies out of my mouth like it's been waiting backstage for a long time. Perhaps the information comes from long ago archives when I did all this parenting stuff before, or maybe I've forgotten most of it and am making things up as I go along. I have no clue.

It's a different world than it was in 1987 when my first child was born. I'll have to revise the curriculum. Back then, 6th grade was still part of elementary school. Now it's part of junior high (which was once called "middle school"). Ninth grade is part of high school now though it was once part of middle/junior high. A child's success in Kindergarten is now said to determine his or her success throughout the school years. I don't know why they have to keep raising bars and lowering thresholds. And the tests. Those keep changing, too, and the severity of their import. No wonder kids take Prozac these days.

My youngest daughter starts Pre-K this year and I bought her new backpack and uniforms the other day. It dawned on me that I have at least fourteen more years of waiting for kids to finish school, of intensive parenthood. When it's all said and done, I'll have watched at least 24 school years go by, 24 years of homework, 24 years of parent-teacher conferences, 24 years of shopping for new school clothes and supplies. This wake-up made me panic some. Will I survive all this again?

I vividly remember longing for a reprieve, for the day I wouldn't have to worry about kid's grades and school performance anymore and here I've signed up for it all again. No wonder people called me crazy. So what was I thinking when I signed up for parenthood again?

It could very well be that I didn't learn my lessons the first time. This might be remedial parenthood. My older kids grew up fine, but maybe that was beginner's luck. That was just a drill. This is the real and final test of my skills as a parent. I have no excuses now, can't shuck responsibility and say, "This is my first set and I'm clueless." No more rehearsals or the excuse of ignorance.

So life might just be saying to me as one who writes about life and is in the midst of remedial parenthood, You have a lot to learn. I've been told that more than once. It didn't hurt when I was young. As I've gotten older, it stings a little.

So are all parent/teachers forever learners? And do forever learners teach/learn parenting to the grave? When will I get a break?

The expression, "Learn by Heart" comes from a mistaken analysis of anatomical functions made by the ancient Greeks. They believed that the seat of thought was in the heart. As a species we've made lots of mistakes. We even hang on to illogical expressions because they're "cute" or because we're fond of what's familiar. Maybe I've become a fan of lifelong learning, of living as a child with children.

I'll be almost 60 when my last child graduates from high school. I've learned, at least, that parenthood doesn't end there. I may only be an adjunct teacher once my kids leave home but hey, I'll take any rest I can get.