Parenting is an exercise in presence. This has always been true, of course, but it’s getting even more so as my children get older. I wrote about this a bit a week and a half ago on Instagram: “Sunday night. Snow falling softly. Just back from hockey game (3rd of weekend). Thinking about how parenting a tween is an exercise in presence. It is about being there, often silently, often without acknowledgement. You have to trust that it matters, and that it is noticed, that you are there. You give presence and patience and awareness and believe it is felt even when you aren’t told so. It’s a reminder of what I have long known, that love is as simple and as difficult as being present with another person.”
What I do these days is listen, make dinner, pack lunches, drive a lot. I drive to school, I drive to practices, I drive to playdates, I drive to games. I pick up, sitting in the car, often mutely, and drive friends who chat animatedly in the backseat. I tuck in, kissing foreheads and waiting for updates to come pouring out. Once in a while they do, occasionally on a flood of tears, but often they don’t. I just need to be there when the moment comes.
I try to be stoic in the face of frustrations and moods, knowing that my job is to be there, no matter what. I think often of a wonderful essay by Jenny Rosenstrach in which she acknowledges that there is much we cannot do to protect our children from the vagaries of life in middle school. What we can do, she says, is what she learned from her own mother. We can make sure “they never doubt that home is the most comforting place for them to be. That is what you can do.”
These are the day so when I have to learn, all over again, that love is about abiding. It is staying near. It is working in my office rather than going downstairs, because Grace has decided to curl up on the couch in the next door room. It is sitting on her bed reading before bed, even though it’s less comfortable than my own bed, simply because I know the quiet togetherness comforts her. It is showing up to games, even when I’ve been told not to cheer too loudly, and watching, because the minute I glance down at my phone will be the instant she looks over.
Mothering these days is about knowing that I can’t fix everything – or, often, anything. It is knowing that listening without trying to change is actually the most profound gift. It is about trusting that she sees that I am there, and that she senses, somewhere deep and inchoate, that that is a demonstration of my love. And I know, by the way, that this is all practice and training for parenting a teen, the days which hover on the horizon, whose advent is around the corner. I definitely don’t feel ready. But the days are coming, so I’ll gather what I have, which is my love, instinct, and a fierce belief in abiding, and I will do my best. I’ll mess up, and I’ll begin again.
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