Wednesday, January 26, 2011


When describing how to find a balance between available resources and their children's needs and personalities, parents commonly use all kinds of circus metaphors: a balancing act, walking a tightrope, juggling. They are all good metaphors, I think. But for me, parenting is like walking on ice. Sometimes the ice is solid and gritty; you can walk across quickly and safely. Sometimes the ice is fragile and slick, but with care and a little luck you can make it across. Sometimes we can't see the condition of the ice. Or we know the ice is thin and slippery, but we are in a hurry and see no other path.
Of course, as in all things in life, some people have better boots than others. I'd like to think my husband and I have pretty good parenting boots, and a careful tread, but I am always aware of the ice down there. And hoping that if there are any slips and falls across the way, that they are the kind we can get up from and finish our journey.

As Valentines Day approaches each year, my oldest child always gets excited to make her Valentines. She looks at her back issues of Family Fun magazine for ideas, and she and I brainstorm things to do. In past years she has made Smarties Bugs and Sweethearts mp3 players (from Family Fun). Last year she took blank Shrinky-Dink paper and designed and shrunk 28 heart necklaces, each personalized for the kids in her class. (The boy who liked Percy Jackson got a lightning bolt; the girl who is on the swim team got a blue heart filled with waves.) This year she plans to hand out tiny stuffed hearts, which I will sew on the machine, then she will stuff and hand-sew shut. (Yeah, we'd better get started on that.)
My son, on the other hand, is not interested in making Valentines. He is not even interested in picking out the Valentines at the store, although he doesn't mind labeling once they are bought and sitting in front of him.
Our youngest has not yet gotten to the age where she needs to label Valentines. But last night she sat down and glittered up seven wooden hearts to mail to her cousins. It will be interesting to see where she falls on the spectrum of homemade Valentine gifting. (And once I go back to full time work next year, it will be interesting to see how much time I have for helping her...)
Is it fair for me to spend hours with my oldest each year, working on Valentines? Should I urge my son to make his Valentines too, even if he doesn't want to? For me, the answers have been yes, it is fair. And no, I shouldn't make him.
I remember coming across an explanation of 'fair' vs. 'equal', back before we had children. The idea was that equal means each person gets the same things as another, while fair means each person gets what they need. It might be equal to make sure all three children wear glasses, but it would not be fair (that is, if they didn't all need them). The explanation of fair vs. equal seemed so simple and clear cut, back when it was theoretical.
The slick ice comes in when one child seems to be needier than another, or (in the case of my son) where one child skates through this world not seeming to need much at all. My husband and I regularly take the kids on individual dates so that they get one-on-one time. Each time the girls get a date, they know where they want to go, what they want to do, and which parent they want to invite on the date. My son has ideas of which places he'd like to go, but doesn't care which parent takes him. And most of the time, when getting ready to go, he tries to invite at least one of his sisters to come along. He gets his homework done without extra guidance or cajoling necessary. He does his jobs on time and (generally) with few reminders. He's a sweet kid, a kind brother (usually), sensitive, smart and a homebody. But he doesn't get as much as his sisters do. The attention our youngest gets would drown the poor boy, I know. She is a bit of an attention hog at the moment, that girl. Time-wise, discipline-wise, expense-wise he's just a low maintenance kid. I am aware of it and always keep in mind that the day may come when he needs more than the girls.
But for now he is not a squeaky wheel, and sometimes that worries me. I tell him that no, he cannot invite his sister on our date, that I just want to spend time with him that day. I try not to mindlessly hand him the small tasks around the house which I know he will complete quickly and without complaint, where I will have to drag his sisters kicking and screaming through the process. I make sure to sit on his bed every night and read to him. So I am paying attention to him, trying to make sure that he gets what he needs, and trying not to suffocate him either. But yesterday I picked up his shoe and saw a hole worn right through the toe. They are his only gym shoes and he wears them every day. (They were washed last week and had no hole. He drags that foot when he stops his scooter.) How many days was this boy walking around in the winter weather with a hole in his shoe? You can bet that if his sisters had a hole in one of their many pairs of shoes, they would be telling us about it.
With this boy, the ice seems so firm and solid. I don't know where his thin patches are until the holes gape through.


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