Like every parent of my generation I read with great anticipation 'What to Expect When Expecting'. More than a guide, more than an almanac, practically the Bible on prenatal parenting and postnatal expectations you can imagine my shock when I got to the subject heading, 'Explosive Bowel Movements'. I laughed at the funny joke the writers put in the book until I watched my 18mo old blow up a carseat and very nearly require the replacement of an SUV. Shartastic!
As my children grew older I turned to another book called 'Yardsticks' by Chip Wood. From pre-schoolers to middle schoolers this book provides a narrative description of each age and specific behaviors to be expected physically, socio-emotionally, linguistically, cognitively and educationally. Unlike many of the educators I have encountered, Chip seems to have a good feel for what it means to be 4, 8, 10. When our school gave our 10 year old a Day-Timer to fill out every day I laughed. He can hardly remember to wear pants to school, often forgets his lunch, and rarely returns with the coat he was wearing when he left and you want him to track 11 (yes - eleven) subjects in a 'planner'. Ten year olds are not planners by nature. Cramming advanced curriculum down on lower grades doesn't yield smarter kids but it does induce fatigue, expedite burnout and squash development of other skills. I never felt my 12/13 year old was made better by studying Romeo & Juliet but he sure learned a lot from that fight on the playground.
Reading these books and many others was my way of compensating for the total lack of knowledge and experience I had going into the most important and difficult task I had ever undertaken - parenting. My daughter turns 18 today and I had to confess to her that I've been faking it the whole time so I'm unclear on how she became the truly wonderful woman she is today. The books alleviate anxiety, normalize your insecurities, assuage your guilt and excuse your regrets but they can't truly prepare you because the test is not standardized.
Here is my guide on what to expect when expecting- for the next 18-25 years you are going to want to get parenting right so bad that you are going to push yourself into making dumb mistakes. You are going to want your 9 month old to walk, your 4 year old to read, your ten year old to fill out his planner just so you feel validated that you are meeting your high expectations of being a parent. You will regret yelling. You will regret not yelling. You will question the food you fed them, the gifts you gave them, the school you chose for them. Parenting sounds like a recipe for happiness doesn't it? If I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I'd probably be easier on the first, gentler on the second and more tolerant of the third because my expectations - not of them but of me as a parent - would be lower.
The book I'd like to read now would be called Milestones. It would be a guide that lowered your expectations, described your development as a parent and navigated you through the milestones of parenthood. Chapter 1 - Be A Memory Maker. Chapter 2 -Your first Father's Day. Chapter 9 - Your Oldest Turns 10, Chapter 13 - Your Youngest Just Turned 13, Chapter 20 - Moving Your Child Into College and of course the final chapter, The Empty Nest. I think that book has been written and was originally called The Shining.
The enemy of good is not bad, it is better. We make parenting so hard because we want to do it better than our parents and our neighbors and our friends. We make education so hard because we want our school to be thought of as better than the best. We make sports so hard because we want our team to be better than the best. Stop it. Enjoy being just a good parent, with a good kid, at a good school on a good team. That in itself would be better - even best. Maybe then we wouldn't feel like we are faking it. Maybe then we would have the confidence to tell the schools 'no' to Shakespeare at 12. Maybe then we could enjoy each milestone rather than racing by them. Maybe time would move just a little slower.