Well, I’m back from my ten-day vacation in the U.S., where – despite landing about 18 hours before Hurricane Irene kicked in – we managed to have a mostly bright and sunny family holiday filled with lots of swimming and relaxation.
Re-entry? Not so relaxing.
Within the first 24 hours of landing (on a red-eye), we viewed two flats for potential purchase, got caught in a torrential downpour which soaked all four pairs of Wellies (boots) worn in our family and began the migraine-inducing, spread-sheet requiring coordination nightmare that is planning the after-school activity calendar.
I’ve written before about how best to manage re-entry after a vacation and sadly, I did not really take my own advice this time around. (Addendum to this list: do not write checks when you have only slept for 1.5 hours.)
But I did one thing right, which was to resolve to tackle one “big” thing on my endless To-Do list: having my kids take more responsibility for themselves.
I’d been thinking about this before I went away and – per an earlier post on life skills for ten-year-olds – had already begun to put them in charge of things like cutting their own food and tying their own shoes. (Yeah, I know…pathetic. But better late than never.) They are also both required to do a chore: my son is in charge of the recycling and my daughter sets the table every night.
But as summer wore on, I realized how very much I do for both of them – things like laying out my son’s school uniform in the morning and clearing all of the dirty plates from the table – the very sorts of things that no one did for me when I was ten years old.
While in the States, I also spent some time with my brothers’ six (!) kids and noticed how all of them – even the 6 and 8 year 0ld – do a lot for themselves.
And then, upon my return, I happened to read this fabulous post on the New York Times Motherlode blog entitled A Traveling Parent’s List. In it, legal scholar Lisa McElroy shares the lengthy and detailed To-Do list she left for her husband when departing on a recent two-week business trip. It includes things ranging from asking him to buy their daughter a sparkly (but not crop-topped) leotard to telling him how to prepare home-made tomato sauce to requesting that he obtain more food for their pet frog.
I’m sure that this post was written tongue-in-cheek. But even if McElroy is making fun of her own control-freak tendencies, I’m guessing that there’s more than a hint of truth in there.
Lord knows she’s not alone. I just pulled up a document from my own computer, plucked from a week-long trip I took a few years back. On it, in addition to the sorts of normal things you might remind a spouse to do – like giving my son his asthma medicine and being sure that the kids bathe every so often (!) – there were also things like (original formatting included):
–please open Isaac’s book bag and take out any relevant slips/sheets etc, and save the weekly newsletter for me when I return; also clear out sandwiches/snacks/water etc as he wont have school for 10 days
—remember to wash Isaac with Green soap and for allie use 3 capfuls of white Oilatum stuff in the water
–after they’re done, coat her body with white lotion (and hydrocortisone as necessary)
REMEMBER TO LOOK IN HIS LUNCH BOX FOR HALF EATEN SANDWICH-SAVE FOR TOMORROW AND DITTO FOR FRUIT LEATHER ETC;
When I look at this list now, I cringe. And I know – in a way I perhaps didn’t realize even a few years back – that as with so many things involving our kids, this list is so much more about me than it is about them. My children don’t really need me to micro-manage their lives. They are both, in fact, quite independent. And my husband is more than capable of making sure that they get to school on time and eat their sandwiches.
Rather, *I* need to micro-manage their lives because it helps me to feel…in control. I’m not proud of that. But it’s true.
But that needs to change. Among other things, I’m hoping to go back to work full time (more on that later) so I will – per force – have to let go. My kids are also demanding more independence for themselves. My ten-year old wants to walk to school on his own. And if he does that, he’ll need a cell phone. (Both ideas terrify me.)
So, it’s time to cut some chords. As of about a month ago, they are both now in charge of making their own breakfasts. And last night I insisted that both of them clear their dirty plates from the table. I also let my son figure out when his violin lesson is happening this week, rather than looking into it for him.
These are small steps, I realize. But Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Nor is adulthood.
Image: 324/365 Lists by Vinnie123 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.