April 18, 2007

"Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command"

It is funny, I find, to be on the other side of that Bob Dylan lyric. Like most people, I so strongly identify with being part of the youth, part of the now, part of the future. One of the oddest things about being a parent is feeling that I've shifted to the other side of some continental divide. Especially since I live in the land of perpetual youth known as graduate school, I spend most of my time with the sense that my life is still before me, with the major decisions yet unmade. And that's true, in some important ways; it's not like i'm old and dried, here, with my half-done dissertation and my ponytail. But still: Elliot has a future that is not mine . It is very literally beyond my command; I won't be around for it all.

I think one of the most important challenges of parenting will be to learn to be glad about this. I think that I am doing okay so far (and it helps here that I have good role models in both my parents and my parents-in-law). It's a hard thing to balance living in the now with your kid--really loving who they are--with also being excited that they are giving that self up all the time, to be a new and different person.

It's so easy to get attached to what you can't keep. In a lot of women's writing, watching your child grow up is sort of equated with a weird fall from Eden: it's like there was this perfect moment when your child was first put in your arms, and everything else is a lesser bond, a sadder state of affairs. And this is a dangerous emotional road to follow, because if you follow it too long you can end up, as my mother-in-law once said, with a thirty year old "still sucking at your hind-teat." Which...well. You can't argue with that.

Still: even my early encounters with a growing child make me realize that growth often feels like loss. I'm sure this only gets harder.

Anyway, just reflecting here...there's lots to say. Also let me pass along my two mantras which (along with the hind-teat comment) are what I am thus far trying to keep in mind as I ponder all this. First, my Grams, who is a saint on earth, is always so joyful about parenting. I was talking to her recently--she's 89--and she says that for her watching her kids grow was more exciting all the time. "Even still!" she says. "Even now!"

Second, there is a wonderful Sweet Honey in the Rock lullabye, the lyrics of which I just learned are from Kahil Gilbran's The Prophet (so...okay, I liked them better when I thought they were written by a wise old woman, but whatever). They help me remember that Elliot's growth is not really about me, at all, however poignantly I might feel it. It's about his right to his own freedom, and that is a good and happy thing.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams.


Alesia said...

When my first son was younger (under 3), I always felt like I was playing catch-up with him. Just as soon as I'd get a handle on who he was, he'd go and change. This contributed a lot to the feeling of loss. It got easier for me to find more joy in his growth as he got older. The changes are more gradual, and for some reason, this makes it easier for me.

I just found your blog (via Catherine Newman comments page). I like what you have to say!

TH said...

Aidan is really his own person and we have tried to let him be that way. I think the grandparents also had to adapt to this. My mom still seems to think that he is magically going to be all lovey and affectionate, when that is not the case. He has only recently started to give the grandparents hugs.

At least we are pretty much cured of thinking that he should be one way or another. He is not easy going, and he is really going to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by his environment probably for the rest of his life. He has made tremendous progress with being friendly to other kids. All of his uniqueness is much easier now that he can talk so well. When he was an infant it was just really frustrating because he would freak-out, and sometimes we couldn't figure out why.

He has really come along way, and in a few more years he will probably have the self control, and coping mechanisms to pass for a regular old kid, which is really a big deal. For example we just flew to California and back to look at houses, and he did OK. Only a year ago a plane ride would have been impossible. He would have been a crying tantruming mess for the entire journey. As it was he really only freaked out going through the security area, when he thought we would have to take the escalator, and when we were boarding the plane.

I have often said that it is lucky that Aidan came to us because he gets so upset and physically difficult to handle that I am sure he is the type of kid that would be abused in some families. Which is really awful to think about because he is not trying to be difficult. In fact he tries really hard to keep himself under control, but sometimes it just gets to be too much and he can't.