I’ve just started Blood Kiss, the first of the Black Dagger Legacy series by JR Ward. I love this book – makes me feel like I’m catching up with well-loved friends with each turn of the page, and meeting some new ones along the way. And I can always count on the inimitable Ms. Ward to provide food for thought and fodder for this blog. Within the first twenty pages of the novel, Abalone, First Adviser to the King, sits contemplating the need to let his beloved daughter, Paradise, live her life on her terms. He fears her failure and consequent disappointment and desperately wishes he could spare her that pain, but he knows that he cannot protect her from herself, her choices or the vagaries of fate. Abalone anguishes in the face of this harsh reality. I can relate.
Parenting is often called the toughest job we’ll ever love. I’ve also heard that having children is to decide to forever have your heart go walking outside your body. And as trite as these aphorisms are, they are nonetheless true. Having children is by turns terrifying, fulfilling, soul sating, terrifying, joyful, terrifying and beyond frustrating. I’ve written before about my frustration. Today I’m focused on the terror. When I find the words to describe the joy and fulfillment of parenthood without sounding like a Hallmark card, I’ll get back to you with my thoughts and feelings on that subject.

It’s almost mind numbing to catalogue my list of parental fears. So we’ll do that another time, shall we?  Or not. But one thing front and center lately is the necessity, as Abalone described, of having to stand back and let my children fail—and then suffer the agony of defeat. I’m not sure, but I think it’s worse for me than it is for them. And, man oh man, do I want to spare them. Which would be bad. For them. I know, I know. But it is so… damn… hard. It’s almost beyond bearing. Almost. 

I want my children to succeed. I want them to have everything that I had growing up, and then so much more. I want them to have every conceivable opportunity that my not-inconsequential resources can provide. I want them to enjoy academic, social and athletic success. I want them to sail through life on waters whose currents sweep them around any obstacles in their paths. I was hoping, because they are so much more together than I was at their age, that they could avoid some of the pitfalls that tripped me up during my own adolescence. And they have, for the most part. What I did not anticipate was that in sidestepping the stumbling blocks that made my teenaged years a misery, they would encounter walls of their very own making and undoing. I hate that.

When I was in middle school I was at the bottom of the social heap. I was considered an aloof bookworm not fit to lick the shoes of the popular kids. I would come home crying after school, asking my clueless mother what was so wrong with me that those ‘in kids’ wouldn’t let me in their stinking clique. She had no answers – I’m not sure to this day what they might’ve been – to offer me. By the time I got to high school, I’d had enough of my own boo-hooing and decided to disengage from the high school social scene entirely. I dated a good-looking, older bad boy and never looked back. It was gratifying at the time, but upon reflection, I realize I missed out completely on anything remotely resembling a normal high school experience. 

As a result of all of this, I wanted my children to be social successes. I wanted them to be popular, student leaders, the kids all the other kids wanted to be with. And they are. Shockingly (to me, at least) so. But running with the in crowd brings its own set of perils. Who would’ve thunk it? One son is constantly worried about his social standing, spending far too much time ensuring his place at the top of the heap. The other son is somewhat less concerned, but spends a lot of his time maintaining his prominence at the apex of the athletic pyramid. When they each teeter on their perches, the ensuing paranoia and pain are heartbreaking to behold. Boy, I don’t miss high school one little bit, have I mentioned that lately?

And I was so thrilled that my secure, confident kids were not suck ups. They didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about people pleasing— they are sure of themselves and speak their truth. Which is awesome. But it hasn’t made them very popular with their teachers or the school administration. In posturing for their peers, they are essentially giving the finger to the adults in their lives. Which, as you might imagine, has not gone well for them. I’ve had to bite my tongue and let them take their licks, even when I agree with my boys that, yes, they are being treated unfairly because they didn’t bother to make sure they were liked and therefore didn’t enjoy the benefit of any doubts.

I have very little experience with the sorts of issues my kids face regularly; I got my wish and my kids are completely different from me at their age. Be careful what you wish for, I’ve been told. Yep, shoulda been more careful…  

So, when Abalone decries the duty of a parent to stand back and watch our children make a mess of things, he touched my heart. You know, the one running around outside my body, making a mess of things I can’t allow myself to clean up. Even though, I really, really, really want to get serious with the Brillo pads. My heart aches for my boys. But I know that the only thing I can do for them is to offer a shoulder to cry on when it all becomes too much, as they learn to navigate waters that are much less calm than I would have them be. Only no one asked me, unfortunately. Maybe it’ll be easier for Abalone — I have to get back to Blood Kiss and find out – I certainly hope so.

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