10 February 2005

Single...With Children - February 9, 2005 - My most recent column!

Web-posted Wednesday, February 9, 2005
Single with Children: There's no substitute for school of hard knocks

Susie Parker

There have been times in my parenting "career" when I didn't think there were enough hours in the day to accommodate all the tasks, commitments, requests and essential requirements expected of me.

When my daughter was in kindergarten, I cheerfully volunteered to take on the position of Girl Scout leader. At the time, my son was barely 3 years old and in the middle of what I used to refer to as his "Lewis and Clark" phase of development. Nothing escaped his attention, and everything was ripe for exploration. He hadn't caught on to the intended meaning of the word "no."

Every Wednesday afternoon, 18 little girls in the 5 to 6 age group would arrive at our home after school. Most days I would have everything set up and ready for a meeting that included a short lesson, crafts and snacks, all the while keeping my eye on a very curious little boy, who wanted to be in the center ring, and a dog, who found numerous ways to sneak out every time the front door was open. With 18 little girls, that front door saw a lot of action. So did the dog. And so did I.

And then there were all those years serving in the capacity of "Homeroom Mom," "Meet the Masters" coordinator, cafeteria monitor, field trip organizer, car pool designee, holiday party planner, Sunday school teacher and the list goes on. If you're a parent, you learn on the fly to wear many hats that will take you places you have never been.

Later, you will wonder how in the world you juggled it all and survived. When those kids are no longer small and time-consuming, you will look back fondly on those days you were certain you just might pull your hair out because you were so completely overbooked and beyond exhaustion. You really will miss those days.

As kids get older, another kind of energy drain occurs, but it is more of the mental variety and not nearly as pleasant as corralling small children. I am in the middle of one of those growth cycles and, hard as it may be to imagine, I'd trade it for duty on a very crowded bus with 100 kids headed for Orlando and the Magic Kingdom.

Physical exhaustion simply leaves you tired. Mental fatigue and worry leave you completely drained, and it doesn't disappear after a few hours sleep.

My daughter, the one who used to wear the cute little Daisy uniform, is 21 now, and she is still growing up. She lives on her own and is making all manner of choices, some of which I don't quite understand and many of which I am probably unaware.

Of course, one of the ways to learn how to live is through the time-tested method of "trial and error," and it's a very effective way to learn what works and what does not. However, for the parent of the student using this method of instruction, it can be painful.

Twenty-three years separate me from my daughter, and that means I have had a lot of time to make many more mistakes and learn things the hard way. But, as most of us remember, we too were utterly convinced we knew it all. I know I had to learn many lessons through mistakes, miscues and miscalculations. I still do. I'm sure it wasn't easy on my parents to watch me run the maze and bump into things.

There are times when one of the most difficult things to do is absolutely nothing. I can't step in those size 6 shoes of this daughter of mine and take all of my hard-earned knowledge and avoid all the landmines I see her negotiating. I would do it in a heartbeat, but that isn't part of the deal.

I read in a book recently that acceptance was the answer to all of my problems. Learning I can't change people, places, things or situations, and accepting that I can only change me is the only clear path to peace and serenity. After having tested it for a few months, I am coming to believe and rely on this premise a little more each day.

I'm sure (hopeful) that all of this growth is what makes this journey so colorful. I just wish it made the journey a little easier. I guess I'll just have to accept things and do some more work on me.

If you would like to keep up with my progress, you can access my online diary. Feel free to opine.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at SusieWrites@gmail.com, write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166 or visit her diary at www.susiewrites.blogspot.com.