I love my job. I really do. Like real, true love. Working in a school, I think, has to be the best gig going. (Sorry to anyone who might ever be angling to replace me, but they’re going to bury me in my chair if I have my way.)
I love what I do for the obvious reasons, like the people and the kids and the fact that whenever I get to sing God Bless America there’s never any expectation that I’m going to be on key. But even more than that, I love it because, as a writer, it’s given me an unlimited amount of material to write about. Every day is something completely different, even in spite of the fact that most days have that Groundhog-Day quality.
It’s the topics that present themselves in clusters that I pay attention to the most. The patterns and common denominators that everyone seems to be struggling with at the moment. Those are the things that usually end up here. I guess I kind of think of my column as the Island of Misfit Toys, where all of peoples’ quirky problems and situations can go to get sorted out and redistributed in ways that people will ultimately accept them.
Because when they end up here, it usually proves, in a pretty clear-cut, two-dimensional way, that what you’re dealing with is not unique. It’s stuff that we all deal with in one way or another. And people can draw strength from that. I know I do. Because nothing helps calm you more than hearing that everyone around you is dealing with the same ridiculousness that you are every day.
Take last week, as an example. Over the course of just one day, 15 different, but equally exasperated, parents showed up at my reception window and told me different (but similar) stories of how their kids flipped a nutty all over the living room floor because they were overwhelmed and frazzled. Ten year olds, overwhelmed and frazzled. Something’s radically wrong here. At that age, our kids should be worrying, at most, about lattice multiplication and times tables and maybe being able to buy a pair of those new Nike Elite basketball socks. Not much else, in my opinion.
But so many kids today are having daily meltdowns and they don’t even understand why they’re sobbing in puddles of their own tears and snot. Many of them can’t even express to their parents why they’re so stressed or what they’re even wound up about. And that’s just because they can’t. Cause they’re like 10.
Think about it, how many times have you, grown up that you are, just wanted to drop to the floor in the small appliances aisle at Target and sob because you had to be in eight different places at once, had no time to get anywhere, and hadn’t even thought about what you’re making for dinner and it’s already 6:15.
When you think about how wound so many of us are with all our commitments, just imagine what must be going on in these tiny little bodies who so desperately want to do everything that everyone around them is doing. And, sadly, they’re over committing to the point where they can barely function. And that’s not good. It’s not good for anyone, let alone a young child. Because when you think about it, a 25-pound barbell is heavy for most people. But when it’s put in the hand of a kid, it’s almost impossible to lift. And I think that’s what a lot of our kids are going through. They don’t want to miss anything, so they’re driven to over commit, but because they’re only kids, they’re not capable of seeing the long-term picture of what their commitments mean. Because when you deconstruct the pre-teen years, it ends up looking like a perfect storm of hormones, puberty, over scheduling, peer pressure and stress, all mixed into tiny little pre-teen bodies.
I’ve got parents streaming in like a salmon run telling me they’re begging for mercy on a regular basis because their kids are falling apart at the seams. It seems that there’s a whole population of kids out there who are carrying around a whole lot of adult-sized stress about stuff like playing on select sports teams or not being part of someone’s Bar Mitzvah collage on Instagram. (You know, the really important stuff.) They’re buckling under the pressure of what should be fun kid’s stuff. And it’s barely October. So I felt compelled to intervene and maybe throw a spotlight on what seems to be a bit of an epidemic and, oh, I don’t know, maybe try to fix it.
Unfortunately, though, as much as I’d love to be able to give you some stellar, brilliant piece of advice that fixes everything, I can’t. What I can do is remind you that as the parents we have the right and the obligation to intervene when our kids reach their breaking point. It’s up to us to put on the breaks and set limits and just say ‘no’ to playing three sports in the fall or to doing four extra-curricular activities just because they don’t want to miss out. It’s our job. It’s our responsibility. And even though they’ll hate our guts for it on the outside, they love us for it on the inside. They’ll just never show it.
Because kids need limits. And they look to us to set them. And while I know that we’re all desperate to be our kids’ friends, we just have to accept that that comes later. And it will. I guarantee it. Just not now. It can’t. There’s a time and a place for everything, right? And right now, it’s more important that you be your kids’ parent than their friend.
Because remember, you’re never going to be viewed as the hero or the good guy or a buddy while they’re young. No matter what you do or how well you do it. It’s just a fact that we all have to accept. It sucks, but that’s just the way it is. Right now you’re the nasty !@^%##! who tells them they can’t do what they think they want to do.
So what, my friends, do we do? How do we deal with these little stress balls melting down all over the kitchen floor every morning before school or every night before bed? How can we explain to them that what they’re feeling inside is called anxiety? And that they don’t need to put so much pressure on themselves to do everything that everyone else is doing? And how can we do it when they think that everything that comes out of our mouths is a load of crap? Interesting pickle we’re in, isn’t it?
Well, to be honest, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And that’s the bottom line. It’s not a pretty line, but it’s all I’ve got. You need to reconcile that you just can’t win, no matter what you do. But you must never stop. You can’t. Because in reality, we’re not supposed to win. We’re just supposed to survive.
Remember, you’re not allowed to tap out on this. We need to think of raising our kids like a steel cage match where no one gets out until the bell dings, which, in our case, is a good 18 years (or longer, sorry). But what you’re experiencing now is not what you’ll be dealing with later. Remember that. Today’s hell is tomorrow’s vague memory (usually replaced with another, more complicated hell). But it does improve. They do get it. They do evolve. They do figure it out. And, believe it or not, they will thank you. And then, somewhere down the line, you can come thank me.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn OR follow her blog at https://itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com.