Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Parently

Alex is 25 years old today. He just finished his first year of law school.

26 years ago, Joni was recovering from a spinal fusion, and some doctors said that carrying a child to term could be very dangerous for that fusion, but she did it, even spending a day in labor before her C-Section. Her fusion held and Alex was born.

The years since then have been financially draining, physically painful for Joni, and trying at times, but we are lucky. Alex is a good person who generally cares about people and succeeds at everything to which he truly applies his active mind.

“He’s very smart,” the pediatrician said shortly after Alex was born. “Too bad. The smart ones are always more difficult.” In many ways, I understand what he meant. Alex will argue for the sake of arguing, often switching sides in the middle, just for the intellectual stimulation of doing so. It used to piss me off, until I heard him doing it with his friends, some of whom do the same thing. I guess he’ll be a good lawyer.

Here’s the crux of it—parenthood is not easy. It’s a complete drain on your time and finances, and for all that, you are often just perceived as a bother. In the end, your kids will grow up to blame their faults on you, but are they wrong to do so? While you take pride in seeing them excel, often crediting that to what they inherited from you, you also cringe when you see that they have some of your worst foibles. There are times when they appear as reflections of what you don’t want to see in yourself.

Then there are the tragedies or near-tragedies. Years ago, my friend Hanley’s daughter died of an asthma attack, and I wasn’t a very effective friend. Alex was very young, and I couldn’t fathom the idea of losing him, so I under-reacted. Since then, I’ve tried to be supportive when friends Genny/Ron and Mike/Arlene went through health issues with their children, David and Nora. Fortunately, those children survived and thrived, but I can only imagine the pain they must have experienced.

So why do we do it? Why make ourselves so vulnerable by having kids at all?

The answer is found when they come home or call you with some minor success or happiness, because from the first day they’re born and look up at you, every smile or joyous laugh makes you forget all the difficulties and relish the moment. It can improve your entire week.

I’ve been lucky to parent with Joni because she’s tougher and more consistent than I am…just ask her students. She’s also more compassionate and patient, with the ability to listen to children ramble endlessly before finally getting to the point. As you might guess, that’s not a skill I possess. But what makes me effective as a parent (when I am effective) is my understanding that while I can love him and guide him, I can’t control my child…I’m just along for the ride. As such, I relish what makes Alex happy, even if it is not something I would normally do. In the end, if he’s happy, I’m happy with that.

I have no idea what his or my future will hold, but I do know that I’m extraordinarily thankful for the last 25 years. I have vivid memories of all the good times that Joni and I have had with our son. Alex is full of fun, he and Joni are my best friends, and I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with him. I love him more than he will ever know.

Happy birthday, Alex…and thank you.

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