Back To School: A (semi) Profound Insight


Recently I realized something of stunning profundity and wisdom.  It’s the sort of once in a generation insight that can instantly prove to be the gateway to a fuller, happier and saner life. Ready? Here goes.

Every two years I used to be idiot.

I know, it may not sound life changing, but trust me on this. It’s huge.

It was the start of the school year that made it clear to me. In looking at my mostly school related fears concerning my kids, a pattern became clear. Consider the following:

My three year old child was in pre-school and could not keep to a nap schedule. Other parents seemed to be able to get their kids to rest during the day at regular intervals.

Fear: I was clearly a terrible parent. My child’s physical and emotional growth would forever be stunted. He’d probably stay well under three feet tall for the rest of his life.

Two years later: My child now in kindergarten, I realized that worrying about nap schedules was silly. Besides, I had much bigger concerns. My child was now five and unlike all the other young geniuses in his class, he could not read. Naps were for toddlers. Reading however, really was important. And my son could not do it.

Fear: My child was feeble minded. He would be dependent upon me for the duration of his life. Naturally, I arranged a parent teacher conference to discuss my child’s frightening inability to read at grade level and was very dismayed to be told by my son’s teacher that my child would read when he was ready and that I should try not to worry so much. I was also told that I should not arrange further parent teacher conferences.  (Bonus fear: My child was clearly with the wrong teacher.)

Two years later: My child was reading. I could see now that panicking over the reading thing had been silly. Besides, I had bigger concerns. My child was seven and had tragically inherited all of my athletic prowess. He had trouble hitting a baseball and was in clear danger of being laughed at during gym and recess.

Fear: Disaster. My child would be mocked and teased. Drug abuse would follow shortly after. By twenty, he would be able to read and nap, but would be doing so in prison following his arrest for using meth.

Two years later: Hey, some kids figure out how to play sports! My kid is pretty good. No one teases him during P.E. But of course, I had far more pressing concerns. Clay’s math grades were low. Disaster on the SAT’s, were clearly only a few years away. And so on…

Pretty silly maybe, but I’ve found that my, ‘every two years I used to be an idiot’ rule holds true even when the stakes are higher. When we adopted our then five year old son from Ethiopia, Nati spoke no English, was a different race than his new family and a total stranger to how things were done in this country. I had some real fears when he started school. Consider:

Nati is five. Scheduled to start Kindergarten, he knows no English and can’t even say to his new teacher, ‘I need to go to the bathroom.’

Fear: Nati would be damaged by his sense of isolation. Unable to communicate with peers or teachers, he’d develop emotional issues. Also, he’d become the first person to ever flunk out of Kindergarten. I’d be called to the school to pick up my child who’s kidneys would explode just before I was able to tell any of the adults at the school that ‘shent’ means ‘pee’ in Amharic and that he needed to ‘shent’ really, really badly.

Two years later: My son picked up English in no time. He found the bathrooms. His teachers figured out what ‘shent’ meant. Other kids thought he was really cool, fun and interesting. Stuff worked out. Though now I had bigger concerns.  Nati was seven and much closer to his brother and I, than he was to his sister and my wife.

My fear: I worried both that his early childhood experiences had left him unable to emotionally connect to women and that my daughter would internalize his behavior and expect the men in her life to be guarded and distant. Nati would struggle over the course of his life to relate to women and my daughter would grow up dating emotionally unavailable men.

Two years later: Yeah. That was stupid. Kids go through stages. Pretty obvious in hindsight. Of course, I had more pressing concerns. You see there was this teacher in Grace’s art class…

See? Every two years, without fail, I used to be an idiot. What seems huge today becomes laughable in a fairly short amount of time. And honestly, for me at least, that has been the key to a much saner way of living. In the last month, I’ve worried that my college aged son won’t be able to find out where to buy his textbooks, that my daughter is a few weeks behind in her SAT prep work and that our youngest child inability to remember to bring his permit with him when he drives with me, will result in his eventual imprisonment for stealing a car he owns (don’t ask. My mind can get pretty complicated when my kids are learning to drive.) All of those fears seem entirely reasonable to me today, just like the fears I had about napping, reading and the rest. But then, I remember that every two years I used to be an idiot. And when I remember that I’m just two years away from rolling my eyes about the stuff I’m worrying about now, I manage to take a deep breath and stop believing everything I’m worrying about a little ahead of schedule.

Knowing that I used to worry about stuff that now seems silly to me is actually pretty comforting. Come to think of it, it sort of worries me that no one ever thinks to teach that sort of thing to my kids in school. Just one more thing to worry about.