Over the past year, since you were born, and even before that, I have spent a lot of time wondering about 18 years from now, what are the ways in which you will be angry at me, at us, your parents. In what ways you will consider that we screwed you up and screwed you over. Your papa and I sometimes even joke about it, starting a fund for shrink bills right away, that sort of thing.
Isn’t that just so nihilistic of me, son ? To think that right now?When you are still such a precious little toddler, an angel face little baby ? I do worry about that, I see seemingly nice and decent parents who have terrible relationships with their children, whose children hate them, or worse, no relationship at all. It terrifies me, son. It terrifies me that I would screw up so much that you would decide you wanted nothing to do with me at all. Or maybe not quite that dramatic, but maybe you will have regrets that I didn’t do something you wish I did, or did do something you wish I didn’t. That I focused on the wrong things, that you are incomplete and have difficulty functioning as an adult.
I suppose I say this because even if my relationship with my own parents is well enough, with the occasional squabble, but not too bad, I still feel anger towards them about some things that I wish I had been different. They range from serious issues regarding the aftermath of their divorce, feelings that they focused too much on themselves and were too quick to assume that I was « adjusting surprisingly well » only because they didn’t, or couldn’t, deal with the reality of my situation, to more petty things such as I wish that my mother had spoken to me in German, or had taught me to iron, and that my father had been less obsessed with his writing and more present to his family, or had actually sat down and helped me with my homework instead of just getting on my case to do my homework. Stuff like that.
The thing is, son, that even if I don’t want to deny my anger towards my parents for the petty and the serious, the thing is that I really do know and understand that they had good intentions. They were trying the best they could, they were doing the best they could with what they had. My mother didn’t want to speak another language to me because she was concerned about my confusing the two, and she didn’t teach me to iron because she was coming straight out of the women’s liberation movement who was shedding the shackles of menial women’s tasks, and didn’t want her daughter to be caught up in them. So I get that.
I think that I have also learned in the past year, that when you become a parent you have all these grand aspirations to be super involved and a terrific parent, and of course that doesn’t change. But what I have learned is, to a certain extent, parenting is such a tremendous undertaking that you have to take the time to take care of yourself, even, unfortunately, if that means scaling back on what you can give your children. I think that my parents could not have dealt with the guilt of knowing the turmoil I experienced when they divorced, and in order to keep their heads above water they had to focus on themselves. I both know and appreciate that and still feel very messed up and angry about it, and, well, it is what it is.
I think, and fear, son, that I will use this experience of parenting to exorcise the demons of my childhood. The things that I am angry about, regretful about, yearned for, I think that I am using them as a basis for how to parent you. And I worry that maybe I will take it to overkill. I feel like, I definitely want to send you to piano lessons because I regret not having learned a musical instrument, so I want you to have this (unless however, after giving it a fair shot it seems you really, really despise it, in which case I hope I will be enlightened enough to let you stop). I want to take you to the pool because I regret learning to swim so late in life. No matter that I did ballet from a young age and did, finally teach myself to swim in my late twenties, I still feel that I want you to have what I did not. I hope very much that you will be less shy than I was, and less afraid than I was to stand up for yourself and voice your opinion. I fear that I will either push you too far in that direction, or continue to exhibit that behavior that you will model. (Jeez, son, are you exhausted from my neuroses yet ?)
I hope that I will take more of an interest in your schooling than I feel my parents did for me (although once again, I did exorcise that demon by ending up at one of the most respected universities in the country, I just did it a few years later after having worked to get my grades up). My mother always used the excuse of having grown up in a different country, to say that she had no idea of how the american school system worked, rather than taking the time to learn about how it worked. Son, from where I sit right now, the French school system is a big foggy mystery, but I’m reading books and talking to people and darn it, I’m going to do my best to help you get through it, and take the best of it. I hope that the fact of being a bit uncomfortable in French will not hinder me from standing up for you and not turning into a meek little souris.
Then of course, there’s the bilingual thing, I am thrilled about the idea of you growing up with two languages, just thrilled son, and am doing my best to make it work, and educating myself about it, and hoping you won’t experience any long-term problems with it. Glitches along the way are maybe possible, but I hope they will be temporary and not matter in the grand scheme of things. Here again, I feel like I’m providing you with something that I didn’t have (of course at the age of 18 I spent a year in Germany to rectify not having learned it as a child and am now fluent, do you see a pattern here, son ?).
I feel confused as to whether it would be a good idea to send you to a private bilingual school in Paris, or to a public French school. I feel guilty at the thought of sending you to a public school when the bilingual school is not expensive at all, but would be an added monthly expense that could maybe be spent elsewhere, perhaps for long summer holidays in an English speaking country ? Oh, what to do, son, what to do. I just don’t know. I hope that whatever we decided to do, you are ok with it, and aren’t angry we didn’t do it another way. Please believe, son, that where I stand right now, I am researching and reflecting heavily to decide what the best path is.
Son, this very therapeutic post is perhaps, above all, an apology in advance. I think it’s safe to say that we are going to make some mistakes along the way. That I will regret not having done things differently. I haven’t even touched upon the emotional parts of our relationship, that’s perhaps another post. But I hope that you will see where I was coming from, that where I sit on this cold, gray day in early fall, 2010, in the middle of your second year on this earth, I have every intention of doing the very best I possibly can with the means that I have. That I only want the very, very best for you, in whatever form that is, and that I will do what I think that is. I hope that we will always have a strong and wonderful relationship, and that I won’t screw up too horribly.
You are my dear, dear little son.