Moment of clarity

I’m having a tough time accepting a lot about my life—that the novel is still not published, that my PhD is still a distant dream, that two totally awesome and timely journal articles are languishing at 95% complete and not yet submitted, that Spouse and I are destined to be poor…

And that my eldest is testing out being the school’s resident a–hole.

This troubled me for several weeks, hearing about the times he had to be separated from his partner in crime, stifling my horror as he tells me of his antics, wondering if I wasted my time being so carefully respectful and gentle and loving and patient. If he’s going to throw sand in the face of the sweet and shy one at school, why did I try so hard to do everything thoughtfully, mindfully, and (what I now consider) self-effacingly? Why not actually lock the door when I pee, or shower regularly, or say no to playing with him, or negotiate a little less if he’s going to be antisocial and embarrassing?

And I asked another parent at school, tearfully, “is my kid an a–hole?”

He said something I really appreciated: “No, he’s usually sweet and he’s doing some awful stuff. But that’s his job. Now, my kid’s an a–hole.”

Not true. But I realized we all see things in our children we don’t like, that the socialized side of us wants to just beat right out of them, and the kid side of us wants to run from. The preschool dad who talked to me has a child with some unsavory characteristics sometimes, who is not an a–hole. My kid is trying out some awful behaviors to get attention and see the responses, but he’s not an a–hole. What he is, is different than me and separate from me. We’re now walking that thin line where it’s my job to teach him what’s okay, and it’s his job to choose the okay over the not-okay.

I thought about it, and Super Cool, Sweet, Awesome Lady X at school has a child who is genuinely an a–hole. Sometimes. And another child who is delightful. Mostly. And neither is her fault. And the total a–hole parent at school has a kid who is generally okay. And that’s clearly not due to parenting.

You do what you can and try your best, but some of your child’s behavior has nothing to do with you. (Yes I knew that, but now I have to repeat it more often than “please don’t pick up trash from the street.”) As I try to let Peanut separate and become his own person, I need to stop being embarrassed and realize that he is, in fact, his own person. And he’s four. And if he’s hated that’s his problem and if he’s loved it’s his problem. And all I can do is give him what I can to help get him through. He has to do the rest.

And damned if that isn’t the hardest part so far. Because from this side of the preschool fence, that adorable and feisty and opinionated and persistent and intense child is sometimes miraculously delicious, and sometimes a giant a–hole.