Tomorrow the kids go back to school. I knew we were coming to the end of our summer parental energy when we twisted our 11 year old’s arm into watching the new Amazon series “Jack Ryan” for Monday night family movie night. He said: “It’s going to be scary.” We said: “Nah, it’s sweet-faced John Krasinski from The Office!” Spoiler alert and alert to any other veteran parents thinking of bypassing their kid’s internal violence-o-meter: a weapon gets extracted from a cadaver in Episode 1. Ewwwwww.
I had to take him to bed and promise to stay with him until he feel asleep. My presence in the dark was enough for him to fell safe and rewind the gore of what he witnessed on screen. As we hugged, he nuzzled into me and said: “Mom, don’t you love it when you close your eyes and you see all those red and blue lights?” When I told him I only saw black/darkness when I closed my eyes he was genuinely perplexed: “Really? You don’t see all those coloured lights?! Wow. I thought everyone did.” I asked him about the purple lights and then to tell me more but soon he was fast asleep.
On the eve of Back to School, like all parents I’ve been thinking about what I can do to help my kids have a great year. Asking them regularly: “Tell Me More” is one thing I keep coming back to. Kids are still in the process of making up their minds about what is possible and what is not and discovering - sometimes gently and sometimes not — that not everyone experiences all the same things. “Tell Me More” gives them space to keep exploring at a time when they are perfectly wired for it.
The next morning my same son said he had a bad dream. When I asked him to “Tell Me More”, he said I had signed him up for swim team and told all the instructors he was an excellent swimmer. (This premise was not an initial cause for reflection as every member of my family is an unskilled swimmer who would lose to a camel in the water.) Anyway, because of what I said, the teachers kept moving him up into the more advanced groups and into deeper water. No one cared that he didn’t really know how to swim. (Oh. Scanning now for terrestrial applications…) When it came time for the first meet, not only was he last but he couldn’t finish the race. He was humiliated. I, he said, was surprised and disappointed. (Ouch.)
I’m glad he told me. It’s another thing I and all us parents can do for our kids to help them have a great year: be realistic with our expectations. “Tell Me More” might actually be a great tool for recalibrating what those expectations might be.
Tomorrow I am expecting my boys to set the alarm, put on a clean school uniform that fits, and pose for a photo. I know it’s not realistic for me to hope that the youngest will make his own lunch because I missed the window on that lesson — but I am expecting to be surprised by them in new ways this school year.