Seems to me that being a parent is a bit like being engaged in a lifelong game of paintball. I’ve never played paintball. But I imagine it to involve a series of thudding blows to your person – that you try and dodge, but are basically going to get you at some point however hard you try to avoid them. My image of paintball is that no one strolls out of the game unscathed. Everyone’s been hit by an opponent at some point. I’m sure I’ve heard that getting got by a paint filled bullet can be a pretty painful affair – that it can leave a bruise.
I’ve taken a few parenting blows of late. None of them have been massive. Nothing catastrophic has befallen us – I’m happy to report. Nothing has happened beyond the realms of fairly typical school age kid experience – the likes of being unfairly mocked by friends, of not being invited to a party, of a slightly dispiriting parents consultation. But because they relate to my kids – because it’s happening to them, or about them – I am bruised. Not cut, shattered and bleeding – but absolutely bruised. Slightly battered even. Always a little bit wiser (eventually), but definitely bruised. And the more it happens, and the more I’m willing to acknowledge how tender and vulnerable an endeavour parenting is, my skin seems to get even thinner. Which sounds horrid (which it’s actually not), and potentially painful (which it absolutely is).
There is nothing less rational than a bruised parent. There is no one more naked and exposed than a parent who feels like their child has been wronged. There is no one who needs to breathe deeper than a parent faced with their own child’s vulnerability and pain. There is no one in the world who needs to press pause, breathe (again), and reach out to someone calm, trusted and rational to share their story with (however meagre the circumstances) than a bruised parent. No one who needs to get more still or more quiet.
It’s a painful old thing having them out there in the world. The older they get, the further from me they are more of the time, the more vulnerable I become. Because I’m less prepared most of the time. They’re out there in their worlds without me. Whenever I venture into a classroom to help out and I get a glimpse, and I get to listen, and I get to see their worlds – I realise I don’t know the half of it. I don’t even know a fraction of their busy, all consuming worlds of friendships, and playground politics, and teachers, and school rules, and songs – all I know is what they choose to share, the splurges that come at the most unpredictable moments, the sudden insights that come from information offered, usually at the most inopportune of moments.
All of which means I have no idea when there’s a paint filled bullet flying my way – ready to blindside me when I least expect it. I never know when the challenge is going to come. There’s no time to brace myself for what’s about to happen. And I get thwacked upside the head out of no where. And suddenly I’m there again, breathing, breathing and breathing some more. Absorbing. Processing like mad. Feeling the bruising spread beneath my skin. Usually presenting just fine on the surface (or so I think). In reality, I probably have that face my 4 year old gets if he falls down in the presence of strangers – when he wants to cry, but holds it back. A sort of stoic contortion in his face saying – all’s not well here, but I’m hanging on in there as best I can.
I think a more honest response would be to let the tears flow like my 4 year old does if there’s a parent about. To rub the place that hurts (in this case my heart). To hop around going “ouch ouch ouch ouch!”. It’d probably be over a whole lot quicker. I’d probably move on faster. I’d probably have to do a bit less breathing. I’m pretty sure the bruise would heal quicker too.