Parents, this one is for you.
LESSONS by David L. James "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?" Gospel of Luke, Chapter 11
She asks for pop, I pour cold water. He asks for Kool-Aid, I pour cold water. She asks for toys, I buy gum. He asks for the hammer, I tell him to look for it. Asks for chocolate, I peel an orange. Asks for money, I dish out chores. They ask for help, I give them help. She asks for ice cream, I fix lunch. He asks for a sip of beer, I pour cold water. Asks for understanding, I offer advice. Asks for more time, I give excuses. They ask for a later curfew, I say no. She asks for a swimming pool, I take her to the beach. He asks for it big time, I give it to him big time. They ask and ask, I give and give. So when they finally ask for answers, I give them love. When they ask for their freedom, I give them love. And when they ask for love, I give them everything. ~ from Poetry East: Origins (Numbers 98 & 99, Spring 2020)
I was quite moved by this poem even though I’m not a parent. Perhaps it’s because I was fortunate enough to have been lovingly parented, and now, with the wisdom of age, I can better appreciate the perplexing challenges my parents must have faced.
They did give me everything they possibly could with what they had, in light of what they knew at any given time.
The poet himself confessed:
As a father of three, I know I have failed my children in many ways. There’s no guidebook to read, no list of rules to follow, no set amount of prayers to say that will guarantee their future success and happiness. Parenthood is a crapshoot; we roll the dice and hope for the best. As parents, we stumble and plod along, trying to find the correct answers, trying to do the least harm, trying to shed some light in this big old world of darkness.
Granted, parenting is tough in the best of times, but what about during a pandemic? This poem got me thinking of how parents are struggling to cope with this new normal of working remotely, with virtual or hybrid learning for their kids, arranging for childcare if they work outside the home, juggling the usual dozens of other things — all while trying to maintain a somewhat steady routine and foster family harmony.
There’s also dealing with the stress, anxiety, and immense fatigue accompanying unprecedented demands, the huge challenge of simply staying sane one day at a time.
My heart especially goes out to teachers who are also parents: how do you manage to teach your virtual classes with your own kids trying to learn remotely in the next room? Wow. Teachers, who have always been superheroes, are the new masters of learn-as-you-go, fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants improvisation and innovation. Make it work, keep the wheels turning, trial by error.
What was once unfathomable has become reality.
As the poem suggests, an important part of parenting is deciding what to give and not give, and being there to provide answers. And as kids grow older, their questions become more complicated, more consequential.
With the pandemic, some of these difficult questions are being asked well before children have the mental and emotional skills to process the answers. These hard questions should never even have to occur in the minds of young people, while parents realize they simply do not have the answers.
What do you say, how do you make them understand when they ask and ask: Why can’t I go to school? How long must I stay home? Why can’t I see or play with my friends? What am I missing? Will school ever be the same again? Is the pandemic forever? Who will take care of me if you get sick or die? Are you going to die?
In this time of uncertainty, these questions can be devastating. Now, in addition to all the traditional roles parents fill as caregiver, provider, teacher/tutor, comforter, protector, and counselor, they find themselves having to be seer, sage, wizard, pioneers navigating uncharted territory.
And I think of the anguish of those who are unemployed and are struggling to feed their kids, healthcare workers on grueling 14-hour shifts who hardly see their families, or parents who have had to quit their jobs to homeschool.
I know mothers and fathers are finding many new and creative ways to answer their children with love — a unique brand of love that tempers grief and fear with reassurance and hope.
If this pandemic has taught anyone anything, it may be to show how parents have unselfishly given all of themselves and more for their children, however painful, however difficult, however self sacrificing. Not easy to do, when worry rules, the obstacles seem insurmountable, terror and dread are your constant companions, when you’ve been rattled to the core.
Circling back to James’s poem, perhaps the greatest lesson for humanity is that when it comes to parents and kids, love always was, and will forever be, everything.
The lovely, talented, and forever young birthday girl Mary Lee Hahn is hosting the Roundup at A Year of Reading. Be sure to wish her a Happy Birthday, then check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend!
♥️ Special thanks to dear poetry friend Andrea Potos for sending me a copy of Poetry East, “Origins,” (Numbers 98 & 99, Spring 2020), in which “Lessons” by David L. James appears. 🙂
*Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.