It took a little more than 17 years, but I finally figured out what is required of me as a parent.
A box of pencils.
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I'll explain, but first you need to know something about those first 17 years, years when I had no idea I wanted to be any kind of a parent but a good one — to raise curious, engaged children into adults who could make a good life doing what made them happy. Along the way, I wanted them to know they were loved no matter what. But somewhere between the good intentions and what I thought passed for unconditional love, I got a little bit lost. Along the way I sometimes found myself acting like the parents I had promised myself early on I'd never be, the ones who get overly involved in their children's lives. You know, that parent. The one who micromanages everything from playdates to piano lessons to play practice. The one who can't seem to separate her own wishes (or herself) from her children, and who won't settle for good enough.
I didn't learn the term "attachment parenting" until both of my boys were well into toddlerhood, but I would have denied it anyway. Or I would have pointed out that my first son's colic and needy nature practically demanded near constant holding to avoid screaming, and my second one's refreshingly opposite ease invited unusual closeness. But attached is what we were. My husband even teased me (and later my sons, when they were old enough to get the joke), "Where's that cord? Are you two still attached?"
As my boys grew, I never noticed that I bordered on becoming that other parent, the one for whom the term "helicopter parent" was coined. "That's not me," I thought. I'm just engaged, concerned and responsible. But my kids knew better.
"Mom, it's my school, I can walk in like I always do," one of my sons would say when I insisted on escorting him, at age 9, into basketball practice on a Saturday morning. It took me weeks to agree to suspend the daily morning texts from the 9th grader, assuring me he'd made it into his new high school after traveling the 18 miles by train, even though he did so with a train car of other students who all walked the three city blocks together from train to school door.
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I wasn't a helicopter parent, I told myself, just a mother who is close to her sons. A mom for whom rose-colored glasses never existed, who wanted her sons to be safe, always.
And just this past winter, when so many mothers I know were enjoying dismissing the Tiger Mother as a ridiculous, overbearing taskmaster whose harsh methods to mold her daughters into high achievers bordered on insanity, I was busy, well, coming close to sprouting stripes and fur myself, though I would have growled in denial had anyone suggested such a thing.