by Matt Archbold
I recently told my wife it’s been difficult finding the money for our oldest to go to college while also paying for Catholic school tuition — as well as saving for eventual bail for our 10-year-old. The 10-year-old in the back seat of the van barked, “Hey, if they’re still offering bail, I can’t have done anything too bad.” This is the little girl who, from age 2–8, wore a Batman mask. Her first grade teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. She wrote “vigilante.” To make it even worse, she spelled it wrong.
The other day when my wife came home saying she bought new throw pillows, my little one got very excited for a moment until I explained what a throw pillow actually was. “Wow, that’s a letdown,” she moaned. It’s not easy being a parent. And truth be told, I obviously don’t know what I’m doing. I mean, I’ve got the basics down, such as feeding, discipline, prayer, and banning Nickelodeon. But outside of those things, I’m making it up as I go along. And I’ve noticed there doesn’t seem to be any real-world parenting-problem books.
On my list of parenting problems, I’ll say that the second biggest problem I have is that my 12-year-old son thinks he’s invincible. My No. 1 problem is that his younger sister also believes in his invincibility, so she’s out there telling him the ramp isn’t high enough or maybe he should climb up another branch or two and give the parachute they made out of dad’s shirt time to deploy. I walked into the backyard recently, and the two geniuses had taken the ladder and put one end on top of the tree house and the other on the neighbor’s fence, and he was walking across it.
Now, my first instinct was to frantically scream something like “Are you crazy?” — but when you see your son perched precariously 15 feet above the earth, the last thing you want to do is surprise or scare him. So I opted for just standing there with mouth agape, eyes wide, and not knowing what to expect but praying that everyone comes out OK. That’s a real-world parent problem. There’s no Parenting for Dummies book where you can look up “hmmm … boy perched precariously 15 feet above patio. What to do?” My answer? Pray quietly that he’ll come down safely so I can kill him.
My 12-year old son thinks he’s invincible.
I’ll be honest, as a young man I wasn’t sure I even wanted children. The thing is, it’s tough to go from being the star of your own movie where it’s all about … me, where every plot twist, every change of scenery is about me, to married life. But that’s OK because you’re the casting director when it comes to your spouse. You’ve got weeks, months, and years to audition them. “Tell me all about yourself. How would you feel if I left the seat up?” You choose them. Yeah, it’s a leap of faith in the end, but you at least have an idea what you’re getting.
But then comes the surprise guest who immediately becomes the star of the show: the baby. And let me tell you something, this baby is no extra or supporting actor; she’s a prima donna. You thought you were bad. This baby cries when she doesn’t get her way. Screams at random moments. It’s like insta-Kardashian. When you take her out in public, you’re constantly being stopped by people who want to look at her. You go from being the star of your own movie to the chef, the chauffeur, and the bodyguard.
Oh, how far you’ve fallen. Even Macaulay Culkin is like, man what happened to that guy? But I’ve learned that there’s something about falling. When you fall hard enough and long enough, you eventually find yourself on firm ground, perhaps for the first time in your life. And firm ground, it turns out, is a nice place to be. I’ve learned that there’s a great benefit to discovering that not everything is about you.
It’s all very irrational, though. Loving a child is the great leap into the unknown. It is the completion of the magical journey from me to we. It is the decision to love someone who will cry a lot, grow up to roll their eyes at everything you say, go off to college and join rugby despite your advice that rugby is just slightly safer than playing with toys made in China, and yet you will love them in ways you didn’t know possible.
Victor Hugo said, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” I think there’s some truth to that. I’ve learned a lot about unconditional love. My love has no limits. Unfortunately, my abilities do. But in the end, I think parenting is also about learning your limitations. And knowledge like that changes us. It changes everything. But it’s hard. And sometimes you find yourself unsure of what to do, like when you’re watching your oldest daughter play in her first collegiate rugby match and you can’t help but notice there’s an ambulance parked just off the field or that your son is climbing the back of the bleachers.
Sometimes you just don’t know what to do. So you watch. And you pray that in the end everything will turn out OK. Sometimes that’s the best we can do. That’s what parenting has taught me. To pray. Often.