I wish I could parent like a grandparent.
I want patience when my son comes outside with the plate of chocolate cake that he walked across the carpet. He’s smiling because he feels helpful and the cake was my idea in the first place. But all I can think about is that carpet and how he might have dropped it and how I might have had to clean it and how this would have been a nuisance. There he is, as eager to share joy as he is cake, and I throw cold water on it. “Don’t bring that across the carpet. I wish you would have let me get it.” His smile wilts and he says okay and hands it over with his tail tucked.
Why eat sweets and be bitter? Why defend carpet I don’t even like—carpet we’ll be happy to roll up and throw into the dumpster someday because it isn’t our style—and correct a boy for being a boy?
How did he see it? He sat eating chicken until I said out of nowhere he could have cake when he’s done. He gasped; it made his night. His face beamed. And then an idea: I’ll go get the cake so we can be ready. I’ll be the big boy Dad’s always telling me to be when I’m whining about something. Dad will be excited if I help by bringing it out. He’ll feel less “stressed.” He’ll tell me I’m a good helper and smile.
He opened the door and I scowled at him. I told him why it was wrong. I told him to do better next time.
I have plenty of excuses on deck. It wasn’t the first time I was tested today, and work was long, and I’m stressed about family, and the world is weighing in on me, and I’m not meeting my personal goals, and a million other trivial things I’ll have the whole day to fret about when he’s gone. How many times will we sit outside in the early autumn while he’s 5 and eat cake that he was excited to bring out on his own? Not twice. And the one time it happened, I corrected him, because that’s what good parents do, and his face fell. Then I wished he had dropped the cake and broken the plate and ground the icing into the fibers to make a stain that lasts forever if it meant I could take back that scowl.
Please don’t let my heavy brow be a stain on the carpet of your memories, son. Let’s go back. Try again. Carry that cake through the den and open the door and see. I’ll be smiling. I promise.
Maybe next time.
I wish I could parent like a grandparent because they know that love means letting things break sometimes. It means allowing too much sugar, saying yes all night even if they don’t deserve it, acting ignorant of some mischief.
It means remembering you won’t be around here much longer, and in a different way, neither will they.