If you know me at all, you know I have exemplary worrying skills. In fact, I am paid to worry for others. And I do my job well. Now that I am a parent, I worry about Sun’s future. I worry about her ability to pay for college, her first home. To be financially independent so that she will never need to rely on anyone else to keep a roof over her head.
Being a planner in addition to being a worrier, we have saved money for Sun’s college. We have a rental home that is more desirable than our own home. It will be paid for just when Sun starts college. And then it will be sitting there waiting for her to make the decision to renovate and own it or not. We’ve got the basics covered. Her personality is a lot like mine, so I feel pretty good that this safety net will not hold her back from pushing herself hard to accomplish whatever she decides is her life’s path.
From Little Miss Sunshine, on Marcel Proust:
French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he’s also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh… he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you’re 18… Ah, think of the suffering you’re gonna miss. I mean high school? High school-those are your prime suffering years. You don’t get better suffering than that.
For one reason or another, I have been inventorying the life-altering suffering I have endured. First love thinking love conquers all (it does not conquer a drug addiction, I learned); the second love from my head that failed just the same. High school. Law school. Graduate tax law school. Early lawyering days. Being fired from a job I hated. Overcoming infertility. My crazy family. Just to hit the major ones.
And damned if Proust isn’t right. It’s those years that I look back on with the most fondness. It’s music that was the soundtrack to these episodes that still brings me back and knocks me out.
As a parent, I want Sun to have a good sense of self. To know her value without needing to see it in the mirror of a boy’s eyes. I don’t want her to be a brat who treats people like objects to use and discard. What I really want is to protect her from all the pain I ever suffered. That same pain that, in truth, made me who I am. My brain knows I need to let her learn these lessons on her own, in her own time. And that my role will be a safety-net to comfort and ears to listen and not a lecturer of how to do it “right” the next time.
All a parent wants in life, a parent’s primary purpose in life, is to do her damnedest to assure her child has more opportunities, bigger dreams, and goes further than her own life was allowed.
But do I have it all wrong? It’s the struggle that matters. It’s that stupid “dash on the tombstone” thing. I have learned that working towards a goal is where I find the most satisfaction in life. Not having it accomplished, but doing it. Whenever I end a big project, I am over the moon waxing philosophic about my ever closer date of retirement. Four days later, I am crawling the walls with worry and vexation. Until the next project comes along and consumes me anew, and at last my mind quiets.
Are we doing our children a disservice paving the way smoother for them? Creating safety nets and doing all we can to protect them from suffering? How will Sun ever find her best self if she never gets her heart stomped on and broken into a thousand pieces on the floor? Or if she aces every test she ever takes? Gets every dream job, and it’s all sunshine and rainbows. What kind of shit life is that? And by then it will be too late for her to enjoy her youth in the search.
So now I worry about being successful in my earlier worries that now are covered. Did I just open a different Pandora’s box for Sun? One with less struggle and thus less actual living?
I can’t reconcile the two parts of my brain struggling on which path is best not for me to feel good as a parent but that is best for Sun finding her truest and best self. The struggle is real.