Moments of clarity are unpredictable.
Both children are away, one at a science competition, the other at a friend’s house working on an art project. I’m cleaning out the refrigerator and washing dishes in preparation for my weekly grocery trip.
That’s when it hit me, when my role as a parent became completely unambiguous.
My epiphany in the midst of the mundane: My job is not to shield them from pain and discomfort but to guide them so they can cope with pain and discomfort.
That’s not easy for a bubble-wrap momma like me.
In my earliest mom years, my goal was to completely protect Cooper and then Katie from any and all trouble. No sickness, no turmoil, no dysfunction. No raised voices, no processed foods, no violent images.
I thank God for that foundation.
When Cooper was 6 and Katie was 2, their daddy was diagnosed with incurable cancer. My illusion of control was stripped away. Trouble that I could never imagine showed up, uninvited, and moved right on in.
Ever since then, we’ve been coping.
In the middle of my Saturday chores, I was wondering about each child. How was Cooper’s presentation? After reviewing other projects, did he expect that he and his group would win an award? What if he wins and I’m not there to congratulate him? What if he doesn’t win and I’m not there to console him?
How was Katie’s project? Was her vision (as usual, grandiose) coming to life? Was she working well with her friend? Was she being bossy?
So many questions. All answered by a much bigger, more important question: Am I equipping my children to adapt?
I’m trying mightily, but it’s a tough job.
Katie did, in fact, struggle with the art project. We had barely climbed into the minivan after leaving her friend’s house when she burst into tears.
“The archway we made isn’t as good as I expected,” she sobbed. “It barely stands up. It doesn’t look good. We didn’t get enough done.”
(The archway is made of aluminum cans and packing tape, with a cardboard box base. It’s a fine piece of architecture, created by two creative 9-year-old girls with high expectations.)
I let her cry. I ask a few questions. She acknowledges that she’s tired and volunteers to lie down for a little rest.
Meanwhile, I check Cooper’s competition online and notice that the awards ceremony is being live-streamed at this very moment.
I stare at my laptop, watching groups accept accolades for months of innovative, hard work. I’m afraid to walk away, just in case.
At last, my lanky son and his two buddies bound through the lecture hall and onto the stage to accept congratulations for “excellence in systems integration.”
Cooper’s smile reveals that he’s totally surviving without me in the room.
He won’t always win a special award. There will be moments when, despite diligence and extreme effort, he won’t be first or best. There will be moments when, in the words of his sister, life “isn’t as good as I expected.”
Of course, I want my children to steer clear of trouble, to stay healthy, to be rewarded for hard work.
More than that, though, I want them to find joy in tough circumstances. I want them to know when it’s time to rest. I want them to win — and lose — with grace. I want them to revel in the sunshine — and be prepared for the storms.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at email@example.com.