There are 8,760 hours in a year. Twenty-two years of parenting translates into 192,730 hours. That number reflects only the hours logged since nurse Lonny handed me our first child, Leo, without compounding the hours from the three additional kids we added to the mix during the same time period.
My combined parenting hours accrued, thus far, for our twenty-two, sixteen, and twin fourteen-year-olds totals 578,170.
Now, I realize that I was not actively parenting each and every one of those hours, but as all parents know, once you take the job you’re never really off duty.
Herein lies the rub. Unlike most endeavors, my ten-thousand-and-then-some hours of parenting have not earned me a higher rank or a corner office. Most of my adult life has focused on raising children from birth to young adulthood and yet I do not feel like an expert or master of anything.
The teenagers currently under my care remind me that I’m actually growing exponentially more embarrassing, stupid, and irrelevant everyday.
On the other hand, my oldest son, who has flown the coop into the wide open space of adulthood, texts me often with kind words of praise. We have long since negotiated a path to a mature, mutual respect and friendship.
These, and the many conflicting data points I’ve collected during my time in the field, have led me to characterize my parenting style as that of an ill-equipped but optimistic shepherd.
The kind of shepherd who goes out to pasture on a stormy day without a raincoat because of a hopeful certainty that the sun will come out and the skies will turn blue.
Soon realizing the disconnect between years on the job and parenting expertise, I patched together four everyday directives that form the guiding cardinal points on my shepherding compass.
- Listen to the Universe.
- Be solution-focused.
- If truly lost, stand still.
- Listen to the Universe.
It’s not a mistake. Listening to the Universe is such an critical part to finding my way that it’s both the North and South poles on my compass.
There have been plenty of times as a parent that I have not walked the talk but I’m always steady in my preaching of these cardinal points. I regularly quiz the kids, call and response gospel-style, on the four most important lessons that I’ve taught them.
As Leo gets older, he plays along and replies in half-hearted agreement. Eli, our most analytical child, thinks it’s all bullshit and is certain that we do not exist in a talking Universe and questions my mental health. The girls roll their eyes in disgust and beg me to never mention the Universe in public or in front of their friends.
That being said, there are moments when I see the glimmer of indoctrination.
Last week I picked up my daughter from school to drive her to dance practice. In my ever-increasing ineptitude, I brought her the wrong, apparently see-through, leggings. It was too late to go back home and get her to the studio on time. It was a trivial problem but the situation soon veered off into a moment of teenage drama.
I was about to launched into the #4 combo on my standard parenting lecture menu, Get a Reality Check with a side of shame. Instead, I listened to the Universe and stopped myself.
The car was quiet. My daughter huffed, sighed and scrounged around at the bottom of her dance bag and pulled out a dark colored pair of tights.
By this time, we’d arrived at the studio. Without looking at me, she announced that she would wear the tights underneath the see-through leggings and got out of the car.
She took a few steps and then turned and walked back toward me, but this time with a sly smile on her face. I rolled down the car window as my daughter uttered just two words, solution-focused, and then gracefully spun around and walked away.
Can I hear an Amen!
I took the picture at Milton Reimer’s Ranch Park, Dripping Springs, TX.