I love airports. The inevitable lines, layovers, and delays rarely bother me because I’m just so damn happy to be there. I sit and watch the people go by; I check out their luggage choices and eavesdrop on their conversations and wonder why anyone would travel in 4” heels. When I’m done doing that, I wander up and down the terminals, occasionally stopping for a cup of coffee, a package of peanut M&M’s, or a magazine I would never buy at home. It doesn’t actually matter what I do because it’s not about the doing; it’s just about being there.
Airports have been one of my happy places since I was a little girl. As the child of divorced parents who lived two states away from each other, I was flying unaccompanied (with my older sister) at an age when most kids are still learning to read. The airport was a respite, an easy, relaxed space that allowed me to transition between two very different homes and families. I’m sure my parents thought that sending their young daughters off to fly alone was less than ideal (to say the least); little did they know that all of those hours I spent in airports when I was young would serve me so well later in life.
I was thinking about this yesterday as I finished reading Captain Underpants with the girls. At the end of the book, the author, Dav Pilkey, shares the story of how he invented his half-naked hero. Perhaps not surprisingly, it all started when he was eight years old and getting in trouble in school. Dav was, apparently, “disruptive and behaviorally challenged” and Captain Underpants was born out of the boredom of detention.
Now, I know absolutely nothing about his parents, but I would be willing to bet you a first class plane ticket that they weren’t so happy about little Dav’s behavior back then. I feel pretty comfortable guessing that they did not console themselves with the thought that their troublesome son would grow up to be a bestselling author and illustrator with a sweet movie deal.
The point here isn’t that every less-than-ideal parenting challenge is going to land your kid a movie contract; of course not. (I’m still waiting for my starring role in the sequel to The Terminal. I’m sure the phone call will come any day now.). The point is that you just don’t know.
There is no way to know.
You may feel like a failure for putting your super-distracted 4th grader on Ritalin but what do you know? Those little pills that cause you so much angst may be the reason he graduates from medical school one day. Or maybe you’re a single mother whose pot-smoking high schooler would prefer to live with her grandparents; it probably hasn’t occurred to you that she could grow up to be the President of the United States, but hey, it’s happened before.
On the flip side, you may sink hundreds of dollars into swim lessons only to end up with a kid who refuses to take a bath, much less a swim, for the majority of his adult life. Or perhaps if you had given into voice lessons instead of insisting on piano, your daughter might have grown up to be the next Idina Menzel.
I’m not trying to scare you; quite the opposite. My point here is that you can stop worrying about it all so much. (I know, I know, you won’t, because we parents are programmed to worry, but if you do find yourself with a choice, choose Not Worry. It’s a lot more fun that way.) No matter how many research studies or parenting books you read, or how many of your friends are doing things differently or how ashamed you feel about getting divorced or laid-off, there is just no way to predict how things are going to turn out for your kiddo, or for you.
You just don’t know.
Besides, no matter what you do, statistically speaking, chances are that little Sammy or Sadie won’t grow up to be the leader of the free world or the creator of the next big animated superhero. (And if it does happen, well, that’s cool.) And you may never even know about how your daughter’s chaotic childhood left her with a slightly bizarre love of airports (unless she grows up to be a chronic oversharer and blogs about it one day, of course). The most likely outcome is that things will turn out to be mostly good enough, except for those rare moments when they’re totally awesome, and those hopefully even rarer moments when they suck completely. That’s life, for most of us, most of the time.
So hang in there, and try to let go of the feeling that you need to pave the perfect path for your kid’s future. It ain’t gonna happen. You just aren’t that powerful, and life is just too unpredictable. Instead, do the best you can with the resources and information you have, be sure to pat yourself on the back when everything comes together beautifully, and try not to stress when it all goes to shit anyway (which it will, from time to time). Most importantly, do whatever you can to take care of yourself along the way, because the one thing you can know for sure is that this parenting gig is going to be a hell of a ride, whether or not you’re flying first class.