Connie Matthiessen, Associate Editor
It was one of those mornings. Everyone was running late and rain was pounding outside. My older son refused to wear a raincoat or take an umbrella (way uncool) but was incensed when I said I couldn't couldn't drive him to school. My daughter was in a huff because she couldn't find her soccer bag and unaccountably blamed me ("What did you do with it?" she demanded). My younger son, who isn't a morning person, was more cantankerous than usual, and got out the door late for his carpool. As I walked my daughter to school we squabbled about something trivial, I don't remember what — she just turned 14 and finds my existence exasperating much of the time. "I don't believe you!" she said as she stalked into the school building without saying goodbye.
As I headed for the subway to catch a train, the slam of the school door still clanging in my ears, I had a sudden, vivid fantasy about running away. I'd spent much of the weekend working on college applications with my older son and high school applications with my daughter; it wasn't even 9 in the morning and I was already exhausted. I was worn out by the schlepping and the complaining and the logistical details that create a constant blizzard in my head, and it all caught up with me that morning. I imagined a powdery white Hawaiian beach, a big stack of books, solitude. Feeling martyr-ish and sorry for myself, I told myself that perhaps my job here was done.
Off the rails
Then, on the train, I ran into a friend I hadn't seen for a while. He told me about a kid we both know, I'll call him Jesse; a bright, gentle boy who grew up in a dodgy part of town and doesn't have much parental supervision. When Jesse graduated from high school a few years ago, he was accepted at a college that offered him a scholarship, but he didn't submit the paperwork on time so he couldn't go. Now most of his friends are off at college and he isn't working or going to school. One of his relatives was shot recently, and my friend thinks Jesse is depressed. "I'm afraid he's just going to keep doing nothing, or he's going to get into trouble," he said.
After my friend got off the train, I thought about how fragile kids are and how lives can so easily be derailed. Later that day, my son texted to let me know he'd received a high grade on a difficult test. It occurred to me that even as an adult, my parents are among the first people I call when I receive good news, and they're always there for me. It put my role as a parent back into sudden focus. Just showing up isn't enough, of course, but it's an essential part of being a parent, and you have to it do over and over — even on the most trying of days.