Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Parental Pride

(News-Herald, October 2002) I had the pleasure of visiting with young Keegan Hoover last weekend (I believe that his parents were in the vicinity as well). Keegan is one of those rare babies who’s actually as cute as his parents believe him to be. Walking him around the yard until he fell asleep in my arms reminded me of how much I liked the whole baby part of parenting.
I still have fond memories of the days when my non-mobile daughter could sleep in an open suitcase. I have equally fond memories of having my son fall asleep lying on my chest. I remain, to this day, a sucker for babies.
I also liked the toddler stage, the stage at which they were so free and open and just a big bundle of raw, exposed heart. At this age everyone can dance; I videotaped my children dancing decorum-free to their two favorite tunes of the time (“Walk the Dinosaur” by Was (Not Was) and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”). The only people who will enjoy that sight as much as I do will be my future grandchildren-- the invention of the home video camera brought a quantum leap in the art of embarrassing your children.
I have always said that as much as I miss the previous stage, and call it my favorite so far, the next stage is always even more fun. In the last six months, I have discovered my children entering a new and even more remarkable stage. You experienced parents may recognize it; those of you trundling along behind me can look forward to it.
This stage involves a change in a dynamic that has existed since birth. That dynamic is simple. Let’s face it; only one baby in a hundred is actually cute. Most newborns range in appearance from “hairless ape” to “mildly alarming” to “cute as a sharpe that’s been squeezed through a garden hose.” But that’s just the objective view, and no one who’s related to the baby takes it. My two children were the most beautiful babies that I have ever seen, and nothing will ever change that.
Parents of small infants don’t need cable because they can sit and watch their progeny’s face for hours. Every expression is exciting, moving, hilarious, touching. Refrigerator art is an unending source of joy because you are seeing the expression, the creation, of your own flesh and blood.
You remember how this small person in front of you once fit between your palm and the crook of your elbow, and pretty much anything they do is astonishing. You are proud of every achievement because that is your child who has done it. Some parents become stuck at that stage and become insufferable (“Junior was the best looking person in the police line-up!”) though I would rather see that parent than one who simply ceases to feel any pride at all.
Beyond that level of pride lies an even better one.
You notice it first when other people begin to compliment your child. It takes a while to sink in—at first you mistake it for politeness, an effort to praise your child as a kindness to you. But then you realize that these people are praising your child’s achievements for reasons completely unrelated to you. It has become all about your child’s achievement.
So you look at your own children and realize that they are capable, able, admirable human beings in their own right, completely apart from any connection to you.
We should not be slow to feel pride for our children—not the kind of pride that reflects back on us, but which spotlights them. I think it’s a mistake to view young people as threatening creatures that need to be kept off the streets night and day. I have been proud of many people’s children over the years: the ones who traveled abroad to learn about the suffering in other cultures, the ones who learned how to run a successful business, the ones who stumbled and fell and found their way, the ones who grew up strong and good. I am not proud of them because they are somehow mine (they never were) or because I somehow made them better people (they found that in themselves) but because I feel a sort of humble awed pride in seeing what great people they have become.
It has been a great revelation to feel that while looking at my own children, to discover they have grown to be fine people. They have grown into people I would be proud to know if I had just met them today. It is the best stage of parenting so far. May all other parents be so fortunate.

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