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Doing What I Am Told

It's ironic to me that we put all of our love and care into children and our parenting success is measured, in large part, by how well they stop needing us.
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I am downstairs in my office writing because Charlie told me to.

We are basking in the Christmas afterglow around here. We are taking the last of the Christmas calories out of their Tupperware and throwing them away as we make our New Year's resolutions. The boys are fully exploring their Christmas booty. They have put away the Nerf guns and the instant gratification they offer and moved on to the more subtle long-term toys. Charlie, 10, got a science lab for Christmas that we played with for a while. Our experiments are on a window sill letting science do its magic.

My wife and my mother-in-law went to the store for our first post-feast grocery run. Eli, our five year old was going with them but decided to stay home for the science experiments and the offer of staying in his pajamas all day. Don't you dare judge. You would do it if you could get away with it. After the science experiments were put away to do their thing, Eli brought down a marble track set he got from Santa. It is a set of tubes, tracks and other plastic pieces that can be put together in any number of sequences that allow marbles to travel through from top to bottom. They allow for hours of play and make just enough noise for them to be popular in our house.

I figured I would be in charge of initial construction. Half the fun and benefit of these sets is using your imagination and ingenuity to figure out different ways to put it together. However, Eli would need some help with the basics. As the Dad, that task normally falls to me. I finished a quick fix on a leaking PVC joint under the sink and headed to the living room to help with the marble track. Eli watched as Charlie opened the box and dumped the contents on the large rug in our living room. He looked up at me. "Can I help you?" he asked.

I blinked at the finality of his tone and the slight hint of dismissal. "I thought I would help," I said.

Charlie fiddled with his phone for several seconds while I stood there. After a few moments Shawn Mendes' voice came sliding out of the brand new football speakers his phone was attached to. "No thanks," he said. "I've got this."

Eli nodded in agreement. "Charlie can do it, Dad." His front parts were talking to me but his back parts were moving in time to Mendes' song "Stitches". "We don't need any help."

Charlie nodded again. "We can put this together," he said. "Why don't you go do that writing thing you do . . . downstairs."

So here I am. I sit here celebrating the successes of parenthood and dealing with downside. We raise our children to possess specific character traits. Among these traits are liberal doses of helpfulness and independence. I won't speak for everybody, but those traits are highly prized around our house. The boys just displayed both of those traits and it is wonderful and it sucks a little bit at the same time.

I should explain a little. Charlie faces some challenges. He is a wonderful, warm, caring kid but he has some cognitive processing issues that make it hard for him to interact with people sometimes. He works on it constantly and is largely successful. He has a set of coping mechanisms that he uses and his Mom and I might know when he is struggling, but most people never pick up on it. Little brothers, however have a way of working past coping mechanisms.

Eli is very good at being a little brother. He sees Charlie's buttons and pushes them gleefully. When too many buttons get pushed, Charlie starts pushing buttons back and when that happens it gets very loud around here. I grew up with two little brothers so I know about button pushing and loud. I know a lot about the loud.

Charlie is winning his struggles. He has victories every day. I am sitting here all alone as part of his latest victory. He saw a problem. He had a solution and he put it into motion without being asked. He took control of the problem and his brother and fixed it. Eli let his brother help him and left the buttons alone . . . mostly. They are doing as we taught them. That is wonderful . . . mostly.

It also means that they need their Dad just a little less than they did a few hours ago. That is also wonderful . . . and a little sucky. I don't want them to be completely dependent on me forever, but I am not completely ready to not build the marble tracks and science sets just yet. I have seen this happen before. First they can dress themselves and wash their own hair. Next they can make their own breakfasts. Then they can build their own marble tracks. Soon they are tying their own hockey skates and finding their own rides to movies they will see without you. It's only a matter of time before they are driving and graduating and leaving for college. All of this is wonderful and all of it sucks.

It's ironic to me that we put all of our love and care into children and our parenting success is measured, in large part, by how well they stop needing us. It's also ironic that the thought of my children not needing me saddens me much less than I am frightened by the thought of my sons living in our basement when they are 38. Parenthood is filled with little ironies and paradoxes like this.

As I write this I am hearing noises from upstairs. Apparently they are not quite ready to leave for college. Eli is a "butthead" and Charlie is "being so mean." The little parenting successes have a specific life span when considered individually. This one lasted about 40 minutes. It is becoming a trend however, because it happens more frequently. They are slowly growing into functioning humans just as we have taught them. It's wonderful and it sucks.

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