Being a parent is work. It’s work every day. Some days the work is difficult, and you need a drink before 5 p.m. Other days the work is less stressful, and it feels more like play. In either case, parenting is a job that you can’t escape. From the minute that child comes into your life, things are different. You are different.
Today, my little Luke came home from school with summer break fever and without his homework folders. The math homework he was supposed to be working on tonight was apparently left on his desk instead of making its way into his backpack for the ride home. Luke hasn’t forgotten his homework once all year. His oversight hit him hard.
“I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I forgot it,” he said repeatedly.
“It’s okay, Luke. It happens. You’ll just have twice as much to do tomorrow, but it will all be fine,” I reassured him.
“I can still work on some other stuff,” he said, reaching for the memory verse he needed to work on. He took it in the living room and started practicing it. A few minutes later, he returned. I could tell he was still angry at himself. He’s a lot like his mother, proud and stubborn, but I want him to be better than his mother so I tried reasoning with him.
“You’re being too hard on yourself, Luke. You haven’t forgotten anything all year. It happens sometimes. It will be fine. No worries.”
He went upstairs, and I lost track of him while I started Joe on his book report, a game board about the historical fiction work he’d recently finished reading. (Have I mentioned how much I hate grade school book reports?) When I found a good stopping point to escape from the dreaded game board, I went in search of Luke. I found him in the basement. He was sitting in the middle of a big pile of Legos, cleaning up.
“Luke…what are you up to?” I inquired.
“Cleaning. Since I forgot my math homework I thought I should try to do something else good.” My little guy was punishing himself for his oversight.
“You realize, sweetie, that I’m not angry at you for forgetting your work. It’s the end of the school year and you’re excited. Sometimes people forget things. It’s not the end of the world,” I told him.
“I know,” he replied. “I still can’t believe I forgot it, though.” He was taking this much harder than I thought.
Damn. He is my kid. Poor thing.
Now, I’d like to say that I immediately stopped him from cleaning the basement because I didn’t want him torturing himself any further, but I can’t. He is me. I can completely relate to his need to be angry at himself a little bit longer for his error and to try to make up for his mistake in some small fashion. Not wanting to interrupt his process, I let him keep right on cleaning. Besides, a clean basement is a clean basement however you come by it, right?
Parenting is work. It’s a lot of work for something you volunteered to do and will never be paid for. But, there are days like today, when I look at my sons and truly understand that the investment of time I’m making in them right now is worthwhile. Yes. They’re learning some bad things from me (like how to be hypercritical of their mistakes, apparently), but they’re also learning some good things from me too, like how to take responsibility for their actions and how to turn a negative into something positive. Today I received the first positive performance review I’ve had in a while. It felt good too. Now, if I could just find the person who could give me a pay raise, I’d be all set.