I think it was a bike that made me wonder.
I’d already been up all night, Christmas Eve was long gone and the appearance of dawn and my 6-year-old son were both imminent.
And the last damn pieces of the bicycle I’d been working on since midnight, the one that Santa would get all the credit for anyway, just would not come together.
That’s when the switch flipped. That’s when I plopped right down on my butt and wondered aloud, “Why am I doing this? Why do any of us do ANY of this?”
And I didn’t just mean the Christmas part. I meant all of it: Why do we give up our time, our freedom, our money, sometimes our own hopes and dreams, our very essence to raise our kids as best we can and hope against hope that we’re making the right choices and teaching them the right things (even though none of us got a manual when they were born). Why not just let them run wild like we know some do and say the hell with it?
That was 25 years ago. I have an answer now.
No Pressure – Just Pull Off a Perfect Christmas…
Right now, you’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed. As if the regular hubbub of school and work and soccer practice and piano lessons and dinners that don’t make themselves and stuff that breaks at just the wrong time weren’t enough, you have to add shopping and planning and decorating and scheduling and every bit of it has to be just perfect.
I do think in some regards it was easier for us parents of millennials when you guys were kids. The world may indeed be a harder place – if it’s not, we sure do know more about it than we did then. With Twitter feeds and Facebook and 24-hour news, information overload is a real thing.
But two decades ago, as a world, we weren’t fighting non-stop (Un)Holy Wars. The economy was friendly and had been for some time; you came of age in an epic recession. The worst thing our president had messed up was a blue dress; the president you’re inheriting might mess up an entire world, we don’t know. I guess every generation is a little less innocent than the one before but you guys kind of got your asses handed to you. So yeah, now you have to pull off a perfect Christmas too, and not just this year, every year to come for a lot of years.
Then again, we didn’t have Amazon and actually had to go to the mall. But I guess that’s not really a fair tradeoff.
My wife and I have five kids, all grown. We did not arrive here by traditional routes; I was a full-time single dad from the time my son was 2. Before you go giving me credit, realize she raised four on her own from the time they were in elementary school. We met when the oldest became friends in middle school. Two boomeranged and just left home at the end of 2015, so for 31 years we had a kid in the house every single day.
How Do You Know You’re Doing It Right?
We’ve had a year to ourselves to think about it now. Everybody’s healthy, employed or on the right educational track, terrific spouses, no arrests, no substance abuse problems and in general as happy as anybody can be in the world I described above. As parents, we hit the jackpot.
My wife and I were putting up the tree last Friday night, dragging out the comfortable old decorations, looking forward to everybody being home. Decorating was familiar, but different, sweet but a little hollow, like a malt ball you’ve sucked most of the middle out of. We dropped an ornament on the tile floor. The sound echoed around the house like a voice in the Grand Canyon.
We looked at each other and laughed. We missed the kids. We missed being needed like that, like you are now. But for the first time we gave voice to all the things that we did right. We congratulated ourselves. The feeling of peace was beyond profound. The sense of accomplishment was pure relief.
How did we know we were right all those years? We didn’t. Blind faith. Second guessing. Endless worry. Some regrets.
This is why you do what you do, this is why your life is so frantic. Ultimately, parenthood will define you. Done right, it’s exactly what you hope it will be.
And for once, for Christmas, you’ll get exactly what you wanted.