Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Perspective, they say, is everything...

Growing up is painful.
No fluffy adjectives or colorful metaphors required to expand upon that statement... truth is truth, it requires no flashing neon lights or mighty trumpet blasts to make it so.
I speak from many years of experience: both as a father who desperately wants to shield his children from the inevitable fallout of the trials and tribulations of modern-day life's ludicrous mock-rites of passage, and as one of many former children who has fought tooth and nail to retain some of the fleeting innocence and glorious wonder of my youth.
Innocence is not dead, but it is indeed moving slowly, taking shallow, painful breaths. Children are so much more worldly at a young age than ever before. They are exposed on a daily basis to information and ideas that were 'once upon a time' reserved for more mature minds... minds that have had enough life-experience to form a realistic and balanced opinion, and to make informed decisions based upon perspective, deduction, and rationalization. There is a vast distinction between maturity and worldliness. One does not automatically denote the other.
Sighing audibly...

I love to write, create and have adventures, but my children, as many of my readers will understand, are my life. I would kill or die for them without question - yet there is only so much that I can and should protect them from. There is so much in life that they must experience for themselves in order to become capable, well-rounded human beings, equipped to cope with an all too uncertain future. If we absorb the impact of life’s experiences too fully, or too frequently, then we inevitably do them a gross disservice, never allowing them to evolve, and eventually become grown-ups who can navigate, and master this world in our absence one day. That’s our job as parents after all, to prepare the next generation for their ultimate inheritance, the stewardship of this world. We must pass them a torch that burns hot enough and bright enough for them to one day pass onto the generation which follows after them... and so on, and so forth...
By the way; this particular blog comes courtesy of my nine year old daughter, Jordan, so I might as well get down to the brass tacks. She is currently experiencing something that my younger brother went through when we were very young men, but of course I was too wrapped up in my induction into the big bad world to notice... now, as a father, I have been blessed with a rare perspective, and an opportunity to make a profound difference in a unique situation in my children’s precious and fragile lives. As I said, Jordan is nine, and my son, Jakob, is thirteen. They have a four and a half year age difference between them, which is precisely the same age-gap that exists between my brother and me. Both of my kids have always been intelligent, and for that I am grateful. Intelligence can aid in (but does not guarantee) their quest for success as they make their individual ways through life. Intelligence is to me, the equivalent of starting on the track team with the very best shoes, or snowboarding with new and comfortable bindings, or even conducting research with a speedier internet connection... in other words, intelligence can help to grease the skids - to make their impending lessons and transitions more comfortable... but if the possessor of said intelligence is lazy, then no amount of smarts is going to help any more than lightning fast internet, tight new bindings, or shoes with good arches.
I'm not writing this to brag about my children's respective IQs. Yes I'm very proud of my kids for many, many reasons, as I know you understand if you are fortunate enough to be a parent yourself. I was actually addressing it simply because years of observation of my children have shown me an intense level of cognitive and situational awareness, and any of you who know them well enough understands that they are both intensely deep thinkers and feelers, and my recent conversation with Jordan is a clear indicator that her contemplative nature is beginning to get the best of her.
She was born to be a competitor; as a toddler she was constantly put off by the fact that her older brother was capable of so much more than she... from riding a bike, to swimming, to reading, she wanted to do everything that Jakob could do, and her young age would not hold her back, because in her mind, she and Jakob were the same... the age difference meant nothing to her. So by a sheer force of will, Jordan has always sought to compete with her brother in every way possible, but the result was not a classic sibling rivalry as one might anticipate, but a beautiful camaraderie... they have been best friends from the day she was born. Butch and Sundance, Bonnie and Clyde, Donnie and Marie... Jordan stole her brother's heart almost as completely as she stole mine.
But lately things have been changing between them... the dynamic has been shifting. Not in a horrible way, but a natural, yet undeniably painful way... much like the way a forest fire clears away old debris in preparation for new growth.
Jakob is a teenager now, and as a budding member of young America, he has a shiny new perspective on life. He has new friends, new goals, new interests, and a new tune to strut to. He has just started High School, and his little world and its range of possibilities has grown in its scope by leaps and bounds, and as a result, Jordan is beginning to feel left behind.
It broke my heart as she cried into my chest, sobbing and sorting through new and completely foreign emotions. In her eyes, her brother is stepping into a new and exciting life, (to her, he might as well be ascending to Mount Olympus as a God, to a land where she is forbidden to set foot, held back by a limitation that she had never before been forced to contemplate), to her, she's losing her best friend.
In Jakob's eyes; he's on an exciting new path, clutching the keys to the kingdom… the world is his proverbial oyster.
Perspective, they say, is everything.
Of course Jakob is doing nothing wrong. He's growing into an amazing young man, and when I privately shared the details of my conversation with Jordan, his first response was to go to her and hug her. No words were spoken; he just hugged her, and she hugged him back. It was one of those fabled 'perfect moments', where time stood still, and all was well in our little corner of the world.
Unbeknownst to me, my brother went through a similar bout of separation angst when I moved from San Jose to Los Angeles at age 19. I think that because of a lot of newly defining factors which are available to today's youth, (and perhaps the gender difference), we didn't go through the same issues when I entered High School. But regardless, I didn't realize just how deeply my move would affect him.
Our siblings are most often our first 'best friends', and it is my contention that our relationships with them provide a unique glimpse at just how we will conduct ourselves in our future personal relationships.
What I had never considered prior to Jordan's lamentations was that our first sense of relational loss can quite feasibly come at the hands of an otherwise well meaning sibling.
Everything that we do and say can potentially affect our children's perspective of the world and how they conduct themselves as they grow and navigate the vast and uncertain sea of life. They look to us for answers to questions which they do not know to ask, and to provide a solid foundation upon which they can build their futures. Little do they know, we don't have all of the answers. All we have is the perspective that we've gained thus far, and the love and (hopefully common sense), to guide them and teach them that which one cannot learn in school. This isn't the 'Lord of the Flies' after all, they shouldn't be left to learn life's lessons from their friends and adolescent social circle, who incidentally don't have any better answers than our own floundering children, and depending upon their foundation, might provide answers that we wouldn't want our children exposed to, or worse yet, to have our children asking new questions that we don't want them considering.
We act as a buffer, a filter… an emotional shock-absorber, between our children and the rest of the world and it's ideals. We can't protect them from everything, nor can we even hope to have all the right answers to their impending questions, but we can communicate with them, listen to them, be honest with them, really get to know them and anticipate their needs… be proactive instead of reactive (as so many of our parents were).
Proactive parenting… what a concept…
Communication (as with any relationship), is key, and raising a child who is not afraid to communicate, and is not above listening, will help to prepare them for the pain that inevitably accompanies growing up. A wise person once said, "it all begins in the home"… but for them to be willing to communicate with us, we must first prove to them that we value said communication… that they are not an imposition, nor a burden… but rather a cherished and fleeting blessing.
Growing up is painful, but when handled with love and attention, it can also be beautiful.