My eldest is leaving the house this month. Seniors at his school graduate in February and go on a three-month trip to Israel with a side-tour to Eastern Europe. He’ll leave a vacant bedroom and the family “hot-seat.” When you have several children, a parent’s attention shifts from child to child depending on who’s the neediest at the time. Our family configuration will change with the oldest gone. I have mixed emotions but mostly I’m happy for him as he sets off for the next phase of his life. Full disclosure – I’m also sad to lose the extra driver in my family. He’s been driving his 13-year-old brother to school for the past year, a job which I now get to resume. I enjoyed the hiatus but am intrigued by the opportunities this presents. I was driving my two youngest to school recently and asked my son if he and his brother talked much when they drove to school together.
“Some,” he said, “but usually we’re pretty tired.”
“Well, now you and I will get lots of time to talk,” I enthusiastically said.
In my rear view mirror, this prompted an excellent, textbook eye-roll from my daughter. I knew I was on to something.
With the eldest leaving the nest, I can turn my attention to the other children in the house. We’re done with driving lessons, college entrance exams, the college search, etc with the first-born. Sure, there will be other things we need to teach him but from a different vantage point. It won’t be that daily, up-close-in-your-face kind of parenting.
It’s the lucky children who remain in the house who are the recipients of our wisdom and attention, whether they want it or not. Next in the birth order in our family is our son with special needs. He gets a lot of attention for his health issues – he has a feeding tube and a medication schedule, but truthfully – as long as he is relatively healthy and happy our attention stops there. It’s the third child who is next in line for our scrutiny. I’m sure he has no idea what’s in store for him. I’m looking forward to getting to know this creature again, now that he’s smack in the middle of the teenage morphing years. Maybe now that I’ve practiced my parenting skills on my eldest, I can perfect them with this child. Or maybe I’ve learned what’s important and I just won’t care about the same stuff. It’s kind of like a weird science experiment – so many variables and hypotheses.
Strangely, I find myself thinking of the swimming pool of all places. For a few years, I volunteered as a “stroke and turn” judge for our neighborhood summer swim team. I had to scan three of the six lanes of the pool to make sure the swimmers were swimming “legally.” If there happened to be only one swimmer and two empty lanes, we were taught to keep scanning as if there were three swimmers so the one swimmer didn’t have a disadvantage of being watched every moment. Each swimmer should benefit from the judge’s gaze being averted.
This struck me as a great metaphor for parenting. I don’t think it serves my children well to have my attention every minute, all the time. I am constantly scanning their lives while deliberately looking away occasionally. Nobody wants to be watched all the time.
By looking away, I may miss the occasional “illegal” strokes or turns in my kids’ lives. Let’s hope my parental scanner will pick up the stuff that really counts.