On the yoga mat, I am neither a beginner nor an expert, but rather a perpetual student; I still feel the same twinge in my left hamstring and I still dread doing the half locust pose. But every once in a while, something happens. I feel the four corners of my right foot more firmly on the ground. I lift first one leg, then the other, while in bridge pose. I realize I am getting stronger.
As parents, we get very little affirmation about the ways in which we are getting stronger. As soon as we discern the appropriate response to our child’s current struggle, he or she is on to the next one. We must continuously pay deep attention — to interaction after interaction — or risk becoming irrelevant in our children’s lives. They, and we, are works in progress: they grow; I grow. They grow; I grow. It is their growth that initiates my growth as a parent. As long as they keep growing, I do, as well.
This past year afforded me an unusual front row seat to my eldest son’s emerging character. A large malignant tumor had grown deep in his thigh muscle, undetected until it had reached “stage three.” Immediately, we were plunged into an alternate reality of chemotherapy, hospitalizations, fevers, side effects, drugs for the side effects, and more side effects from those drugs. With each cycle, these effects intensified and he weakened; he lost 25 pounds, along with his hair. An accomplished student once bursting with intellectual vigor became a quieter, shadowlike version of himself, spending long hours on the couch. This fight that had come unbidden was requiring of him a level of compliance and surrender previously unknown.
To make sense of this senseless ordeal, I tried blogging. Soon, a portrait of my son emerged as an agreeable, appreciative, and mature young man. He faced adversity with a flash of humor and a shrug. He hunkered down and did what he had to do.
Admiring his attitude, I, too, did what I had to do. I traveled often between Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and our home in Philadelphia, where my 10 year old awaited my return. The oldest was suddenly infantilized after years of being on his own. The youngest rose above his years and his autism to stoically keep it together during the long year of my frequent absence.
My son finished treatment at the end of July and joyfully returned to school this fall. He will have full-body scans every three months to confirm his remission. I, however, find that it is taking me quite a bit longer to unwind from this year. I can never return to what was before. I have changed too much, and learned startling things about myself as a parent. I learned that I would gladly expend time, money, energy, and my own health to carry a child through the dark night. I would question the authority of the doctors in order to delay surgery and lower the chemotherapy dosage. I would patiently help a 21 year old put on his shoes because he couldn’t, and patiently insist that a 10 year old do it himself because he could.
To be in service to our children, without being their servant, is the most humbling of pursuits. Willingly following the lead of my three children when they know less than I know, I watch each son blossom exponentially until he clearly has competency in areas I will never master: maybe it’s world politics, or chemistry, or climbing a course of ropes slung across tall trees.
Perhaps I am still a trusted guide because my children sense my wholehearted commitment to their success. Perhaps that is because I continue to wonder about and refine my sense of self as a parent. Perhaps it is because I try to see life from their point of view. Essential to my parenting are qualities, middot, such as compassion and empathy, discernment and kindness.
In the Torah, there is no beginning and no end; such is also the case in parenting. I just travel along the spiral of time with these amazing creatures that are of me and yet are so much more than me. Being willing to be a work in progress, I, too, am becoming so much more than I could have planned.email print