There is a woman I like who has three kids. I like her because she’s a good listener, she has a nice smile, and she recently used the word “cantankerous” and made it sound sweet. I’m getting excited because I will probably ask the other two members of our book club if she can join.
I overheard someone we work with telling someone else we work with that her children are misbehaved and she doesn’t say “no” like she means it. The co-worker said that her kids shouldn’t be allowed to play in the gym’s kid area. This upset me because I have one, two-part criterion for the category “good mother”—love your kids and show it, and she is, without a doubt, a good mother. It seems that if you love your kids and they know you love them, then if not a) they shouldn’t misbehave, then b) no one should ever say anything derogatory about your parenting skills.
Meanwhile, Clara is at the playground saying “uh” and pointing at, in other words playing with, a little girl who has a thick layer of green snot caked on her nose, mouth and chin. She has all the physical indications of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, but she can’t stop smiling. Her fingers are cold, she’s gobbling cedar chips, there’s not a parent to be found, and she’s coughing incessantly, but she is content and not misbehaved.
This makes me wonder, does parenting even matter? Does my assiduous tending to my own daughter’s fingernails and runny nose mean she won’t get pregnant in high school? Does the fact that I put whole wheat pastry flour and wheat germ in the brownies mean she’ll avoid activities that involve sniffing?
I think I turned out alright because I read Danielle Steel in middle school, and Aaron is in good shape because he listened to Metallica in fifth grade. Although protected by the love of exceptionally loving parents, we both had a healthy dark side. But I think we knew it was dark because we were surrounded by light, and we knew it was a side because it didn’t make us whole.
I think there are a bajillion right ways to raise a child so long as you love her. I used to be confused about love, but I think it’s as simple as “let there be light” with the understanding, of course, that the definition of light depends on the existence of dark.