Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sometimes I amaze myself

After I finished a query letter this morning I sat back and looked at it with some pride and said to myself, "That is a great letter. Wow. Sometimes I amaze myself." I smiled at the thought and at my terrific letter. This isn't something I say to myself very often and I wondered briefly why it seemed so familiar. Then I remembered where I last heard it.

My oldest son, yesterday, after repairing several household computer issues. He actually says it pretty regularly. So often, in fact, that I bought him a t-shirt saying the very same thing for his 18th birthday last year. He is a naturally positive kid. Gary and I both appreciate this buoyancy as neither of us have ever possessed this level of confidence. And we(quietly) take some credit for it.

Our parents were from a different era. His mother is German raised in a post WWII depressed Eastern Germany, his father a soldier who'd grown up on a farm in Kansas, himself the product of a harsh environment. My Dad was raised by a poor family in east Texas. The oldest of five, he was often left in charge of his brothers while his parents worked numerous jobs. His mother was an alcoholic and his (step)father often indifferent to his oldest adopted son's need to be acknowledged for his strengths. Both Gary's mother and my father have a deep-seated fear of ever being poor again and it was reflected in their attitudes about their lives as we were growing up.

Neither of us ever questioned whether our parents loved us. But we often wondered if they liked us. We certainly didn't feel accepted. They were harsh, demanding that we be perfect (look perfect, make perfect grades, have perfect manners, etc) and expressing a great deal of anger when we weren't. That anger took the form of verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Quite frankly, while the beatings were bad, the things they said were worse and still resonate occasionally in those late night, soft-underbelly bearing discussions couples sometimes have.

We now know we were basically along for the ride, part of the package deal whether we wanted to be or not, as these adults sorted out their own lives. This sorting included divorces, remarriages, job changes, and moving around. Ultimately, they dragged themselves into middle(in my father's case, upper) class living and were determined to stay there. In their minds, having nice homes, nice cars, lots of money, perfect spouses, and perfect kids were the key elements of success. There was no tolerance for anything that didn't fit into that list of expectations.

Fast-forwarding through the years, we have both arrived in our forties in basically one piece. We've come to grips with our parents' struggles and (finally) understand that they faced issues that were far larger than just raising their children. As imperfect beings ourselves, we've forgiven them, in part because we love them, but also because we've made our own mistakes and had to forgive ourselves for plenty.

But we came into this parenting thing with very clear concerns and very focused on not repeating the patterns. It was/is important to us that our kids know how valuable they are to us and how much we genuinely like them. We've tried really hard to strike a balance between discipline and character building and celebrating who they are. Sometimes I think we've made it, other times I'm not as sure.

This occasionally brings frowns (and criticisms) from our conformity loving parents (by the way--my hippie Mom is not a part of this discussion--that's another story for another entry). It's not easy to blow past their comments (do we ever get past wanting to please our parents?), but since we really like our kids (in case you missed it), and we've gained a certain amount of perspective on both our paths and that of our parents, we do just that.

Do we pray that we're getting this right? Every day, sometimes multiple times. It is often my first thought when I get up in the morning and my last as I drop off to sleep at night. But when we see our oldest son about to graduate from high school with honors and strike out into the world with his "sometimes I amaze myself" attitude, we suspect that we're at least close. And when I see Daniel or Sam or Joe beaming after they've accomplished some goal they've set for themselves, I'm pretty sure of it.


jeanie said...

A truly amazing post. We too try to do better than our parents did - and we hope we aren't throwing out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

A moving, heartfelt, genuine post.
You should have column. Warm regards, DavidM

Mary O. Paddock said...

Thanks Jeanie. I do think the trick is to strike a balance between the good and a bad. :)

David! That's quite a compliment, thank you.