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A proud, tired parent

My daughter called me one day and lamented, "Parenting is hard, and some days I think I'm really screwing it up."

"Of course, you are," I replied. "That's what parents do."

We raised two children, Laney and Ric. Laney was a good student, a compliant child and she didn't get enough attention, because raising Ric wasn't like raising Laney. He wasn't a problem, but he had problems. He hated school, didn't do well in school, and was bullied mercilessly. He was suicidal more than once, so I stuck close and did everything in my power to help him. When I was attending to him, Laney suffered.

Ric wasn't a typical boy. He was like Ferdinand the bull. He is a tall person, very athletic, but would rather arrange flowers than sink baskets. He gets his love of flowers from his father's side of the family. They were all florists, right down to Howard's grandfather, who was as rough as a cob but could out-design anyone. When Laney got married, Ric and Howard did most of her flowers.

I have come to believe God gives you just enough children to laugh about it. If you've had one and that one is easy, you're bound to have two — or maybe three — just for his enjoyment. I used to look at Ric and think: this child is never going to grow up, get a job, be independent or find a wife. I dreamed about putting him on a street corner with a sign: "Male project, free to brave woman."

Ric didn't think like other people. One day he came home from first grade, mad. I asked him what was wrong. He told me he did an assignment in school that required him to end up with a certain pattern on the paper if it was done correctly. He didn't like the pattern, so he rearranged it and made the pattern the way he liked it. He was scolded and given a failing grade.

I said, "Did you know you were going to fail?"

"Yes."

"But you didn't care?"

"No."

"OK, so here's the deal. You can do what you want, but you can't be mad when what you do brings you unwanted consequences. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

Ric's been in charge of his patterns ever since, and I have a lot of gray hair.

When he was 26, he got married, bought a house and started a floral design business. He went to the top of the heap in his field within one year. Since then he and his wife have moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he's started his own interior design business and people are lined up at his door. He's making in excess of $150 an hour. What did I know? I'm just his mother.

We live in a society that's linear. Follow the path drawn for you and you'll be a good little human — carve out your own path, and you'll have to battle your way through rows and rows of ducks. There were times when I wanted to implore Ric to conform — not for his sake so much, but for mine. His life defies labels, and that isn't acceptable to our Western culture. He is brilliant in ways that defy standardized testing.

While I was watching Ric's back, Laney found her talent as an artist. This happened when her grandmother committed suicide. I took my kids to a little art class in Winston to try to give them something to think about other than the sadness surrounding us. Laney picked up a paintbrush and has been painting ever since. I tried to paint, but Laney had to constantly fix my painting. When I realized I had no future as an artist, I quit the class, while Laney went on to take a few more. Her paintings are beautiful enough that Ric has incorporated them in his website.

So, one day I woke up and realized that somehow we'd made it through the parenting swamp with both kids. I don't know how we did it; I guess we just put one foot in front of the other and here we are. Ric's been married 12 years, Laney has been married 16 years. We have three grandchildren who march to their own drums.

So when Laney calls me and bemoans the perils of parenting, I can say with all confidence, "Hang in there, baby. Some day you'll wake up, and they'll all be on their own, and you will be a proud, tired parent."

Susan Kay lives in Douglas County and has a website at www.anxiety-master.com