Sometimes I think being an adult is just about managing decay. Your body finds new ways to fail. Your house, and the expensive things in it, are all in a gradual decline. Your cars need progressively more repairs until they’re not worth the effort any more. Everything is just getting worse, and your job as a responsible grown up is to manage that, trying to make sure things that will inevitably go wrong don’t all happen at the same time, trying to fend off eventual catastrophe by learning to perform repairs yourself, trying to replenish the bank account faster than you have to spend from it, trying to adjust your activity and food intake for whatever crap your body has going on now… Its like you’re a professional manager of gradually dwindling resources.
This, I think, is why having, or being around, kids is so rewarding. In contrast to adults, their lives are constantly getting better. They’re learning new things, maturing in new ways, growing toward new possibilities – and they’re completely unencumbered by any sort of responsibility for the things in life that fall apart. They never have to fix a toilet, take the car in for a new transmission, or add a new stretch to their morning routine just to get their bodies moving. They get to hop out of bed every day and just absorb new life and ideas and activities. And sure, things can go wrong when you’re a kid, but they’re not inevitable — yet.
In fact, as an adult in the life of a kid, your job is to shape all that constant growth, and ensure it happens in the right directions. So when your kid is having a hard time with their growth, and their optimism is wounded, and their potential seems limited, it’s hard on them – but also on you. You want them to grow fast and fully, before their brains lose their plasticity, their bodies start betraying them, and they have to acquire things that will start falling apart as soon as they buy them. You want them to launch out of childhood at a velocity and trajectory that will make adult life easier. They see punishment as unfair, and schoolwork as onerous, and friend drama as catastrophic. You hope those challenges are opportunities for them to grow, and become better equipped for life. In order to be productive, though, the challenges have to be surmountable ones. Few things are worse than seeing your kid face a challenge and not knowing how to help them through it…
It was a tough school year for our older two. Changes in funding in our school district resulted in an early start to Middle School for both of them. Ben did fine socially, but got caught by surprise academically, going from a dedicated gifted student program with a wonderful teacher who figured out how to get into his clever, but easily distracted brain, to rotating classrooms with a roster of teachers, each with different styles – some more constructive than others. Abi, a more traditional learner, with a conscientious approach to her work, had no academic challenges, but finds herself easily overwhelmed by the fast-changing world of pre-teen social drama. Deeply empathetic and contemplative, she feels for her friends and tries to rationalize often irrational behavior. Both are days away from claiming victory and surviving the year, a little bruised, perhaps, but still on healthy trajectories.
Eli, who just turned 8, has yet to meet a challenge she couldn’t tackle confidently. Whether its reading years above her level, making friends with the new kid in class, or charming present and future teachers with her gregarious personality. Also classified as gifted, she’s had no issues so far with focus in the classroom – provided the focus can be on herself as often as possible!
Nic spends plenty of time in the school with our kids, and others, as a reading helper, PTO Treasurer and Book Fair coordinator. And I got to spend some time in a classroom this year, helping out with a Computer Science program at a High School in East Cleveland – not the easiest neighborhood to grow up in, but there were some great kids on good growth trajectories there too.
The old adage about staying “young at heart” does nothing to change entropy. If it’s not your back or your knees that get you, it’ll be a roof that needs repairs, or a furnace that dies on the coldest day of the year. But I think if we try to act more like our kids – deliberately challenge ourselves to learn new things, go new places, meet new people, and do new things – maybe the inevitable decline can be a slower, more enjoyable one…