One of the things I like the most about parenting teens and tweens is that I remember being their age. As such, I feel like I have a better sense of the needs, desires and anguish of their lives. At least to the degree that I can offer a sensitive, listening ear once in a while, and a hug when they’ll allow it.
One of the things I like the least about parenting, however, is the relentless chaos of it all.
Last week, all of this came together. Witness my day:
6:00 am: woke teen up for his final exam in biology. Based on the pace of his movements, decided that I couldn’t afford the ½ hour out of the house to work out.
6:15 am: woke teen again.
6:30 am: woke tween up for her finals in Band and English.
6:45 am: determined that tween was sick and kept her home until her final later in the day
7:00 am: donned rubber gloves and scrubbed the master bath, the only room to have escaped my cleaning frenzy three days earlier
7:25 am: threw in first laundry load of the day
7:30 am: began checking work emails
8:00 am: woke up 10 year old, made lunch and had breakfast together
8:30 am: shipped 10 year old to bus-stop – reminded him of clarinet lesson, Hebrew school and basketball practice
9:00 am: second laundry load
9:30 am: picked up teen from finals
10:00 – 11:30 am: worked from home
11:30 am: took tween to school
11:45 am – 1:00 pm: more work from home
1:00 pm: ran to consignment store for uniform for 10 year old’s band concert on Thursday
3:30 pm: took tween to bat mitzvah training
6:00 pm: on drive back from bat mitzvah training, listened as tween described the fact that her hamster had seemed chilled this morning; discussed options for taking care of him
6:30 pm: arrived home to find hamster no longer of this earth
6:31 pm: consoled hysterical tween
6:40 pm: tween picked up by best friends for basketball practice and comforted
6:45 pm: determined that 10 year old’s tummy hurt too much to attend basketball practice
6:50 pm: realized that dinner was still to be determined
7:00 pm: reheated soup for dinner
7:15 pm: remembered that there was still damp laundry to put in dryer
The evening consisted of additional work, conversation with spouse and younger son, and realization that teen had fallen asleep sometime in the late afternoon, and probably wouldn’t wake until morning. And laundry.
That was an easy day.
Except for the hamster.
I am so often in a rush-rush-rush mode, trying to make sure I get through my to-do list. This is true of work as well as home, and I sometimes think I am not giving anyone or anything their due as a result.
So that night last week, as I was racing in the door, trying to make sure my family got fed before they had to run back out to basketball practice, I had to stop in my tracks when my daughter came running down the stairs in tears.
I knew immediately what had happened, even though I had already forgotten our conversation 10 minutes earlier in the car about the hamster and how to take care of him. I knew he was gone, and this, while a small loss, was at this moment, a tragedy of epic proportions for my 12 year old.
So I put down the mail, turned off the oven, turned over my phone so I wouldn’t be tempted to pick it up, and turned all my attention to her. And I hugged her.
I think that’s all she needed, for she almost hugged me back.
In between sniffles, I asked her if she still wanted to go to basketball (yes.) Did she want me to call her friends and let them know so they could take care of her when she arrived (yes.) Did she want me to get a box to put the hamster in to hold him until we could bury him the next day (yes.) Did she want to eat dinner (no.)
And then she was gone, off with her carpool and friends and sports.
This hamster episode (for we’ve had several – hamsters don’t last long in this cruel world) made me stop and think about parenting and attention and multi-tasking.
I always knew there would be certain parenting things I would be able to do well. Helping a sick child feel better. Reading to my children. Comforting them when life knocked them down. I knew that these would be my areas of strength. And I think they are, although what one learns quickly in the business of parenting is that there are so many more areas that need your attention than you’ll ever have the time, capacity and ability to take on that it’s a losing battle from the beginning.
But I knew that when my daughter was mourning a lost pet, I could find the right words and right tone and offer her the help and support she needed. The only challenge was to be able to put everything else aside in order to rise to the occasion. In today’s tethered world, when we are never more than a foot away from our gadgets that allow us to be in touch with our bosses and our friends and our PTA listserves 24-7, it’s hard to remember that sometimes, we need to put them down so that we can focus on the real drama unfolding in front of us.
With dinner and basketball swirling in my head, I had to make a very conscious and deliberate decision to shut them all off and allow us to be just mom and daughter, mourning a little fur ball of a guy for a few minutes.
And I did.
By the time my daughter came back from basketball she was happy again, and hungry because she had skipped dinner. As she ate dinner we made plans to bury the hamster the next day after school, and she planned to invite her friends over for the service. She went to bed with a kiss and a dream and slept fine through the night. I sent a little blessing into the ether for her even-tempered personality and her good friends, who earlier in the evening knew how to make her sadness turn back into happiness.
I had done my job. At least for that day. And so the next day began. The service for the hamster went on the next afternoon without a hitch. I was amazed by my daughter’s willingness to pick him up and hold him and stroke him as she laid him in the earth. He even has a brick with his name inscribed on it in our backyard.
We never know what life will throw at us, especially when we are also responsible for the heads and hearts of those young people we are raising. It is a relentless task, to raise children, especially in a world that never sleeps. But it is good to remember that from time to time, we need to stop, look up, and say a little prayer for a good hamster.
Photo by turquoise field via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/turquoisefield/4947965724/