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Pondering the stages of parenting

By MIMI BECKER

Coffee with Mimi

Being a parent is a series of stages. I experienced the latest level this past week and I very nearly missed it.

When the wonderful day arrives and a child becomes part of your life, you are overwhelmed with sustaining the physical needs associated with feeding, cleaning and occupying the little being. The same applies to your own needs. Just getting from one event to the next was a feat akin to moving an army. So much stuff to organize and remember. There was a bag outfitted with every essential item which could possibly be required should the child be stranded on a deserted island for perhaps a week.

The maintenance of the baby clearly was more immediately necessary than the management of the parent(s)’ needs. I remember the first trip out of town with our first child. The occasion was a family event which required a somewhat public appearance. We had it all covered. Cute baby outfits, diapers, wipes, diapers, ointments, diapers, blankets…

Upon arrival and preparation for the big event, it was discovered the baby could be adorably decked out but the mother had left the carefully selected going out of the house dress hanging on the closet door 80 miles away.

Life with a baby is demanding, but generally a baby goes where the parent directs, and hauls. Parents are essential in all aspects of life.

As the children become more mobile, activities are introduced which encourage socialization, physical development and independence. A new stage. The schedule is ruled by a piece of paper handed out by a dedicated adult coach or instructor. You are in for a few years watching and cheering a bit to the side, but still critically needed for any participation.

We happily posted the papers on the refrigerator and gathered all the required equipment for the chosen activity. Our children were typical. They wanted to participate where their friends did. We played tee-ball, baseball, football and soccer. We were in choir and strings and did a year in cheerleading. Some experiences were more successful than others.

Our son discovered soccer when a kindergarten buddy spilled the beans. We were game. The season started early in the spring. Practice was minimal at this level so we arrived at the appointed field for the first contest of the season with very little idea of the sport.

We were the first game of the day, 8 a.m. I am convinced the league schedule is designed to weed out the faint of heart among parents. If you can’t cut it in the early years, you aren’t worthy to advance to the demands of the elite levels to which your child may aspire and will definitely need support.

On this, our first day as competitive parents, not knowing what was required such as chairs, snacks, knowledge, we got an education in what was to come should we accept the challenge. We were pleased with ourselves as we arrived on time and at the right field with all necessary uniform elements. We were truly unfamiliar with sport at this level. We got our education this first day in a snow shower. Retreating to the warm car was not an option.

As the years progressed, we learned what was expected and necessary. We served as volunteers, even coached at times, drove mighty distances, raised funds, attended many meetings.

The children grew and we watched and cheered as they expanded their horizons and found their niches in activities. We became less necessary as managers of equipment and transportation. It was our job to be there as witnesses to smooth the pain after losses and celebrate the victories, when they were ready to talk.

All our children are grown and gone. None of them has pursued any of the activities of childhood on a professional level. Each has followed a path which, while drawing on some lessons learned in those early activities, does not involve shooting goals, running across fields or swimming laps. Our parental days of watching our kids in action are over. They are grown up. We keep tabs in conversation. How’s work? It’s good. Good.

But, this past week, I did get to watch.

Both our girls live close and their work world crossed my path. I watched as the younger daughter interacted with her clients, a group of special needs adults. She had planned and executed the logistics of a day outing for them which included a festival and dinner with us. Our older daughter was a presenter at a large meeting to which I was invited on a professional level.

It was clear they were in complete control of their roles. My presence was not needed. It was a very busy week and I could quite easily, and understandably, have declined either of the opportunities to participate. But I did not.

They need us differently now. Neither girl needed overt reassurance of their value. Both have earned the respect of their peers. Now, I can sit on the sidelines and appreciate. They know they have my approval, I don’t need to cheer and clap out loud.