Parent Trip

Originally Published: September 9, 2002

And it begins again.

One backpack is ripping. Right there at the straps, the threads unraveling even as I watch it hoisted onto those small shoulders. Overloaded a few too many times with piles of take-it-or-lose-it stuff, hastily torn down from classroom walls by battle-weary teachers at the end of June. I should have gotten him a new backpack. His brother got one, after all, but then, that brother is the proverbial squeaky wheel and so gets more than his due, truth be told. This one never seems to take any notice of the condition of his things, and will in fact wear the most decrepit shirt in his drawer if it happens to be on top of the pile. I should have looked more closely when I stuffed in the new school supplies. Is this a reflection of how I really feel about my kids? Do I in fact love one above the others and therefore unconsciously, adorn him more? Will I be confronted one day by an angry young adult who throws such things in my face, like this ragged backpack in 2nd grade while his brother got the gleaming new Jansport with the infinite number of snappy black zippers and the padded straps? I am pretty sure I like all my children the same, but surely something evil will come of this. I will be responsible for some horrible aberration of character by either withholding or smothering. 

Back to school time tends to dredge up a whole boatload of issues. Not the least of which is the Guilt that comes with kids. It is packaged with them, pre-assembled and ready to eat right out of the package. If there were a recipe for making kids – other than the traditional one - you could substitute any ingredient you wanted to, except Guilt. The recipe would warn, 

“Do not attempt the use of cheap imitations such as self-abnegation, over -compensation, and generalized angst. They are not adequate substitutions and may result in such problems as failure to rise, failure to cook evenly, failure to be palatable… you get the picture. The operative theme here is Failure.” 

Last week the three boys sat around the table eating the last of a gallon of cookie-dough ice cream – an end-of-summer treat. Fears were voiced as they averted their eyes, fishing around in the bland white ice cream for the chunks of cookie dough.

“How will I find my class? I don’t know what my teacher looks like.”

“Everyone always knows what to do except me.”

“I don’t think I know anyone in my class.”

“I hope my new teacher’s not strict, like that tall guy with the fat face who patrols the halls.”

“I never know what line to stand in.”

“I used to really look forward to specials like art and PE, but last year they were boring. Now I hate going.”

“I’m really dreading recess. I never know what to do when the other kids play those chasing games with the girls. I think they’re pretty stupid.”

“I hope they don’t give any homework tomorrow.”

“I hope they don’t give any homework tomorrow.”

“I hope they don’t give any homework tomorrow.”

“Last year they did.”


“I mean it. I don’t know what line to stand in.”

Faces were sinking lower and lower towards their bowls, the slushy contents now being stirred dispiritedly. 

Why do they have to go through this every year? Their faces all anxious, all so vulnerable. All of them intense, not one easy and care free, going off to face the social, nay, political crap-shoot that is school. Perhaps I should be home schooling… One of my dearest friends does that and her kids are turning out fabulously. Couldn’t I do that? Shouldn’t I do that? What’s wrong with me that I would rather eat poison than school my own kids – any kids for that matter? So I just send them off to public school, hope for the best - and let the guilt wash over me.

Couldn’t I be doing more for each child? Do I treat them too much as a unit? I could take them out separately more often, or at all, even. Should each be in a totally separate sport in addition to soccer and tennis to help them develop a sense of self? But what about unstructured time? Time to just be a kid? And what about music? God, what about music!! It isn’t like I forgot, exactly, but I was just kind of afraid to push… should I have pushed? Is it too late? Shouldn’t they already be proficient at an instrument? Will they have lost the ability to learn to read music? If they were gifted, have we lost the window of opportunity because I didn’t act? Have those neural synapses dried up? What have I done??

Parental Panic – bedfellow of Parental Guilt.

All the things we cannot do for our kids. Like deflecting heartache, disappointment and pain. At some point, parents realize that they are not all powerful. They realize it long after the child has come to understand this. Amazingly, they seem to love us anyway.

I finally had to combat the rising level of terror at the table with the only weapon at my disposal. I said solemnly, “ If you’re not sure you’re in the right line, tap the shoulder of the kid in front of you and say, “Excuse me, is this Ms. McConnell’s class?” and the kid will probably turn around, look at you with wild eyes, burst into tears and sob, “I don’t know!!” Here I had put on my best hysterical voice, which had the desired effect. The boys laughed until tears rolled down their faces, imagining one enormous line made up entirely of crying kids. 

In the morning, it was still funny, and when the moment came to board the bus, they looked less dejected and frightened than they had the previous evening. Or the previous year, for that matter.

Should, Would, Could – the vocabulary of Parental Guilt. You do, you don’t. Give and take, up and down, in and out. You pays your money and you takes your chance. 

Sometimes, I think we think too much. 

Or maybe not enough? 

I don’t know!!

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