Training Wheels

My oldest daughter, more affectionately known as the woman-child, recently adopted a hamster—which is all well and good I suppose. She’s away at college so, theoretically speaking, the whiskered beast won’t add appreciably to the chaos that lives and breathes here. To date, we house a pampered dog, a self-absorbed cat and, ironically, five smelly hamsters—which is plenty, given that a number of children and house plants also reside here, making demands and a profusion of noise as a matter of course.

Well, not the plants so much.

At any rate, the aforementioned co-ed is a fairly responsible twenty-something who has waited a very long time to welcome a pet of her own—to feed and water said creature without fail, to scrub away stench and eradicate poo with glee, to know the horrors and complexities of cage assembly and the sheer panic of “misplacing” the dear rodent in question. But, in all fairness, she couldn’t be happier or more eager to embrace the notion that such a tiny (and admittedly adorable) being is now entirely dependent upon her ability to perform such tasks. There’s something to be said for delayed gratification, methinks.

However it has come to my attention that a certain couple of somebodies (namely Heckle and Jeckle) have a problem with their big sister’s new role as a bona fide pet owner. It seems that someone’s panties are officially in a bunch over the matter of obtaining (or not) parental consent for the purchase of the abovementioned hamster.

Once the news broke (i.e. the furry beast was deposited upon the coffee table for one and all to behold), the vociferous rant conversation unfolded thusly: “Does MOM know you got this!?” one of my soon-to-be-ten-year-olds shouted with indignation. “Yeah! You can’t just walk into a store and BUY A HAMSTER without Mom’s permission! She’ll freak! She’ll absolutely FREAK when she finds out!” my other soon-to-be-ten-year-old barked, visibly outraged by her sister’s alleged failure to follow family protocol.

“Hellooooo, I’m 22. Okay, almost twenty-THREE and Mom will be perfectly fine with this. You’ll see,” my oldest defended, almost comically.

Indeed, I was perfectly fine with it; but I was then faced with a thorny task—that of explaining to my fourth graders the

particulars that encompass perhaps the grayest of parenting areas: when, how and under what circumstances should we relinquish authority—great or small—to our children, especially to those on the cusp of adulthood. In doing so, I found myself wrestling with the intangible nature of age as it relates to maturity, struggling mightily to define the indefinable and ham-handedly muddling through the whys and wherefores that drive nearly every decision that ultimately leads to the conferral of independence.

Somehow (perhaps because the gods were smiling upon me that day) I managed to field the barrage of unanswerables to a satisfactory degree. That said, Heckle and Jeckle seemed reasonably content with the outcome of the Great Hamster Debate, and with my rudimentary manner of defining what constitutes the fringe of adulthood. Translation: They were slightly enthralled to learn that one day (albeit not particularly soon) they’ll likely be carrying iPhones and able to adopt a herd of llamas, with

or without my blessing.

However, this exercise in frustration got me thinking about the process itself, about the supreme challenge of knowing when and how much to surrender in the way of sovereignty, about what an inexact science it truly is—as if we, as parents, needed one more reason to second guess ourselves. It’s not enough that our grasp on the vestiges of control is tenuous at best; we must also deal with the uncertain nature of when to give it up. Naturally, the training wheels are the first to go, then it’s our presence they no longer require as they careen around the block, oblivious to the fear we routinely invite. Finally, it’s out into the world they rush, headlong, eager to make their own way and to cast aside the likes of training wheels.

Nevertheless, I’d like to think I’m on the right track, no matter how inordinately awkward I feel at times, doling out freedom in embarrassingly small chunks, gauging success one child and one liberating event at a time. It’s like loosening the reins or fishing in a sense; only the goal is not to reel in the prize, but to gradually—in fits and starts—release more line, enabling said prize to strengthen and to govern its own path in the waters of life. Inconceivably, we are then called upon to snip the line and watch in wonder from afar, which is perhaps the most difficult task of all.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the finite quality of childhood).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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