These are all big developments.
When Amanda, 19, was in high school, the typical morning would go like this. Alarm wakes me up pre-dawn. I walk to her room. Knock-knock. ‘Time to wake up.’ (Silence or light rustling.) Ten minutes later: Knock-knock. ‘Are you up?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then why aren’t you getting up?’ Ten minutes later: Knock-knock. ‘I’m up!’ ‘Doesn’t look like it.’ Ten minutes later: Knock-knock. ‘This is the fourth time!’ ‘I’m up.’ And then, Amanda, finally, is up.
So it’s with something close to awe that I look at her record of wake-ups and attendance at early-morning shifts during her first year at her job at Whole Foods. Maybe once — maybe twice? — has she needed help in this regard. She simply is getting up herself and getting to work on time, almost without fail. This is not a particularly elegant system, mind you. Her system, often, from what I can gather, is essentially realizing her aversion to getting up and setting her iPhone alarm two hours in advance, which then allows her to hit snooze 5 to 10 times before actually getting up. But it works. And now, all of a sudden, rather than Jen and I — mostly Jen — keeping track of her schedule in addition to our own, and making sure she keeps that schedule, she’s doing it herself.
This didn’t happen with a threat or a deadline. There were suggestions and requests, but never did we say anything grandiose and irritating like: ‘On Jan. 1 begins The Era of Independent Amanda, or else.’ She just started doing this. It’s as though, practically overnight, she evolved into a person for whom having to be roused by another person every day is not an acceptable way to function. Overnight, she chose the unselfish wake-up method. Almost as though a principle had taken root. A principle that required action. And this action — getting up on her own — was taken despite a clearly established, lifelong pattern of trying desperately to avoid this exact action.
When I pulled in to Quinn’s school yesterday, I realized with a jolt that I didn’t have his usual daily slate of snacks: gummies and cookies, mainly. With grim resignation, I got out of the car, trying to prepare myself — but not prepared — for the total freakout that would ensue. A freakout that starts with him freezing, with a haunting expression that’s a mixture of fright and profound sadness, followed by a low cry, then a louder one, then impossible-to-fulfill demands that I bring him his snacks right now, and meaning it, followed by angry kicking of the back of the driver’s seat once in his car seat.
I had to make a choice: Option 1: Tell him while still in the school to prepare him in advance, while risking a freakout while still inside the school in front of everyone else? Or, Option 2, not say anything, and have him make this unfortunate discovery himself once in the car, possibly upping the shock level and unleashing an even greater freakout than he would have had if I had chosen Option 1?
I chose Option 1. His response: ‘That’s okay, Dad.’ Maybe he hadn’t heard me right? He had.
Sawyer, 2, ran into the kitchen this morning to tell me something. ‘I pee-pee.’ ‘You pee-peed?’ ‘Esh (yes).’ ‘Where?’ ‘On four (floor).’ So now, Sawyer — not only just 2 but barely 2 — is bringing to my attention a problem that had arisen and that needed correcting but about which I might not be aware. Even though that puddle of pee on the floor did not adversely affect him in any way. It was not: ‘I pee-pee on my blanky!’ or ‘I pee-pee on my toy train!’ It was just, ‘I pee-pee.’ Basically, ‘Hey there’s pee on the floor and that, in and of itself, I realize, is bad, so I’m telling you so you can go clean it up since I myself don’t have easy access to the needed cleaning supplies.’
These were big developments. These were progress. In parenting, that means a lot.
Parenting involves, every day, seemingly infinite micro-decisions. Do I let him have this snack? How much of it? Will this set a dangerous precedent? How late do I let her stay out? Do I let this slide? Do I do this myself or make him do it? Much of what we do has very little immediate effect. Usually, we’re not even sure the micro-decisions we’re making are the correct, reasonable micro-decisions. And whatever we were trying to accomplish/teach/resolve/correct/avoid we will almost definitely have to try to accomplish/teach/resolve/correct/avoid again the next day and the day after that.
But, I guess, it’s the direction, glacial though it may seem, that matters? Maybe? Probably. Gradually, things change. And eventually, things happen, kids do things, that cause you to notice. Kids get up on time by themselves. Slam-dunk-certain freakouts don’t happen. And you’re told about that puddle of pee right away.
And it surprises the hell out of you.