First Monday back to regularly scheduled programming, kids happily ensconced in school, me back at Parco, I was bound and determined to give out gold stars, to stop the incessant whining about my indecision and focus on others' efforts, on someone else's abilities or inabilities to decide what to do.
I didn't wait for a chance encounter, I just willy nilly started out giving out gold stars to regulars, to the lovely barrista and to a few of my fellow coffee-drinking time squanderers, women who I well know are trying in a myriad of ways.
Stars in place, one in the middle of a beautiful new tattoo of boxing gloves, others on shirts, interesting conversation, of course, ensued.
One woman, a fiery former journalist back in school for interior design in between raising two kids, began talking about a chat she'd had with her 12-year-old daughter. She had some concerns about the mega-popular Stephenie Meyer series, Twilight, which her daughter had just read. She was concerned about its conservatism.
"It's about vampires and they don't even have sex, because the writer is Mormon and doesn't believe in premarital sex," she scoffed, waving her hands excitedly. "So I said this to my daughter, I said, 'They don't even have sex, do they?' and she corrected me,'They have sex in the last book, Mom.' But, I said, "By then they're married, right?' and she said, 'Yes.' So I said, 'I just want you to know, I don't want you to have sex right now, but I think you should have sex before marriage...' At this point, she said 'Ew! Mom!!' So I said, 'What, you don't want to talk about this now?' and she said, 'I don't want to talk about this ever!' "
I died laughing. She'd already gotten her gold star but I was tempted to give her another for the great story. I have been talking so much lately about what I have come to refer to as Precision Parenting, the painstaking, swiveling navigation between various courses of action to be taken in any given circumstance that is required in the attempt to raise open, communicative, independent, understanding, sometimes-happy people, a navigation no GPS system could ever attempt to speak to. If one could, I might waiver from my adamant anti-GPS stance.
It might seem strange to be guiding your 12-year-old toward sex before marriage, but I find myself in just the same boat. While I sometimes steer clear of actually recommending courses of action that some might see as morally questionable or in some cases that even break laws (there are, frankly, some laws I just do not wholeheartedly endorse), I try to at least offer up my own openness toward, well, toward most anything, anything that might in some way help them lead fulfilling lives.
Take a recent sidewalk exchange between me and Eli.
"Mommy," he said, "have you ever kissed a girl?"
I didn't skip a beat. I am well accustomed to the inquisitive ways of my constantly pondering 8-year-old.
"You mean, like how I kiss Grandma or like how I kiss Daddy?" I asked.
"Like how you kiss Daddy..."
Here I paused, not because I didn't have an answer, but because I was disappointed that my answer offered up a conservative behavior, one that might seem to imply judgment that I really don't have, especially when it comes to others' choices.
"No," I said, somewhat sadly, "I haven't." I thought to add more, like my friend to suggest that he should kiss someone of the same sex, especially if he was so inclined, but I didn't. I didn't really feel that my judgment for or against was germain. Hopefully, in my not condemning the question, in answering it honestly and not balking at it or taking it as silly, he would see that I didn't think the topic was untoward, that he would feel free to do or not do what he wished when or if the situation should arise.
My Precision Parenting skills have been tested, as well, with Oscar. I am reminded this fall of last year's first days of school, when my deep-brown-eyed kindergartner was reprimanded in school for hugging all the girls. The teacher was hesitant and sweet when she told me, "I don't care, but I'm afraid other parents might complain..."
Complain? If by telling me daily how their daughters spoke about nothing but Oscar was complaining, then they complained incessantly. Playdates were demanded by a series of girls, one after the other. I was a little flummoxed as to what to do. On the one hand, I could see that invading people's personal space, even if the little girls liked it now, in kindergarten, could pose a potential problem down the road. Grabbing what you like at the gym, for example, is a no no. But, then, it was Oscar's interest in connecting, his openness and affection, that were the drivers of such "bad" behavior. How could I squash one without squashing the other? Challenging.
This year, I have heard nothing yet of hugging, but have heard tale of Oscar's charming ways by a few mothers in not altogether positive tones. "My son says, 'Oscar is so funny in music class!'" one mother says and we both sigh.
There are times to be chatty and silly and times to listen, to stay silent. To be fair, my husband and I, sad or no, never learned the difference between those, opting always for the former rather than the latter. It is hard to teach what you yourself do not know. And, as for what we do know...oh, wait, that's so little. All we can know, like doctors, is what we've seen before. And even that often doesn't apply.
I was running through the park yesterday, a beautiful still-summer Sunday, when I caught a glimpse of a flying something overhead. Could it be a dragonfly, I wondered? Could I be on the right path? There are so many paths in the park, it's hard to know...I looked more closely and saw that it was a bee. I laughed. Why should we be afraid of one flying insect and inspired by another? Especially when from way down on the ground it is hard to distinguish one from another? Bees sting, I know, but rarely, and they certainly do more good than harm. As I thought about this, trying to determine why what inspires us inspires us and what scares us scares us when often there is little difference between the two, I looked up again at something flying overhead and saw that it was, indeed, a dragonfly. I guess, I thought, just the questioning of things puts me on the right path.