Parenting is skinning your knees a thousand times a day. Before it even stops throbbing the wound is ripped open again, ragged flesh meeting unforgiving pavement. It’s not a superficial wound, however, more an infection down to the bone racking the body with fever and fear. There is no antibiotic for an illness that is at once muscle aching joy and rib wracking sobs. Most days, I feel barely able to care properly for myself. I catch myself instead holding back my self-involved doubt by tacking shoestrings onto drywall. Fake it till you make it. Even in the preschool line I witness these parents and can’t even imagine myself as them. Peter Pan’s shadow sneaks behind my steps in the afternoon sun, ready to tempt me back in.
There’s a reason that you only have to add one letter to Mother to get SMother. Every day I play the resistance game–how long can I hold onto this laissez-faire attitude? Because my deepest desire is for my child to feel capable. Every second my heart pounds and my breath catches and I want to jump in front of him snatch him out of the way before the speeding bullet train called life runs him down. It’s how those skinned knees start, catching myself while he takes his sometimes tentative sometimes skipping, mostly running full speed ahead hoping he gets across the tracks leaps without me.
The option to choose a kindergarten is a privileged one. One I don’t take lightly, but, somehow this act pulled me inside out until all my bruises and organs and most vulnerable parts were exposed. Making that choice made me feel like someone was disassembling me like a lego set, separating my anger and fear and trauma and letting in hang out half built on the ground to be stepped on. All my jagged edges were there surrounding an obvious and gaping wound.
Couple that choice with learning my child is not neurotypical, that he won’t learn by the standard. His struggles are not a phase but have a name and a purpose. Sometimes ADHD flowers; purples, blues and reds, saturated pinks and neon oranges in combinations not even previously discovered it can rainbow into an impressive garden. Other times it’s a wild weed choking the flowers, taking over, climbing the trees too fast to even prune and running in a hundred directions. I am afraid of that weed, I am afraid that others will look at the softly snoring boy who crawls into my bed at 5am and puts his feet in my ribs (almost the same way he did when curled in the womb) and see dark and angry weeds. They won’t be willing to cut through, to even help him prune and tuck. Or they will see those wild neon flowers and be disgusted, frustrated that this garden looks different than the rest. They will slice in deep until there is nothing left of it but dirt and sorrow.
And the guilt piles in, bee stings until I’m too swollen to move. Sobbing in my pillow and whispering sorry to no one because I know what it is to be the garden, and the weed, and the empty dry dirt.
I therapize it, ramble aloud for 35 minutes to a calm and neat woman with great shoes, a low lit office, and an uncanny ability to know exactly when to stop me before I spiral into my own unweeded and uncared for plot that is mostly tangled weeds of self-doubt. The one I’ve ignored while I fight with insurance and coordinate doctor’s offices and care providers and phone anxiety. She reminds me that I haven’t decided the rest of his life, and simultaneously that I can’t curate the world for him. I can fight to make it better, I can advocate on his behalf, but I am unable no matter what I do to create an Eden for him.
And even if I did, the pesky fruit tree is there. He will still have to make the decisions on his own. He will still learn and grow without me there.
There is no good answer, no clear line, no way to even know all the variables. My knees will be skinned, but so will his. He will land on wobbly feet sometimes or miss the platform entirely. When he aches, I will too, and I will desire more than anything to take it away, suck the pain out like snake venom. I will mess up between holding tight and letting go. I will do the wrong thing.
I will have to say sorry sometimes.
My temper will get the better of me.
But in August he will go to Kindergarten across the street in an old red building with a garden out front, where they plant vegetables and flowers, where bees gather to pollinate the tall pink flowers, and where it gets the best sunlight.