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Parenting Imperfect

March 31, 2012

Oh, how the worries change as the children grow

Most days, we are all just trying to do our best under really challenging circumstances.

Of course, by "challenging circumstances," I mean "life."

When my kids were babies, I worried about things that seem so insignificant now. I worried that failing to have a natural birth, the sort where you labor and deliver at home in a tub, would lead to not truly bonding with my baby. I worried that bottle feeding would lead to a baby with an IQ equivalent to that of a turnip. I worried that day care would turn my beloved sweet child into a bad-tempered hooligan.

Yet my highly drugged birth didn't interfere with bonding. If the formula interfered with brain development, then we are blessed indeed because my bottle babies are smarter than I am and the IQ points the formula shaved off were worth losing. And quality day care was a blessing, one that helped my children blossom. All of the bits of parenting that I agonized over worked out in the end. Your mileage may vary, naturally.

When the kids were babies, I thought that all of the critical decisions would be made by the time they were 2. Then when they were 2, I thought we'd know what was right by the time they started kindergarten. Now I'm convinced that we'll have it all sorted by junior high _ even though I know I'm probably wrong.

In so many ways, school-age kids are easier to deal with. They know where the potty is and how to use it. They can dress and feed themselves. They can hang up their own damp towels and toss their dirty socks in the hamper.

Whether or not they choose to do this on any given day is open for debate _ but failure to act like school-age kids doesn't mean that they are incapable of doing so.

The problem is that when they are school age, then all of your worries revolve around school.

It's been easier with the Diva. I'm honestly not certain if that's because she is a girl or the first-born or less hyperactive. But while she has had her struggles (and will probably continue to do so), she's never caused much hand-wringing.

But the Boy. Oh, the Boy. School has been so very hard for him.

Here is where I have to tread carefully, knowing this is a small community and he could be harmed by his mother's tendency to publicly overshare. Until he is old enough to write his own column refuting mine, which he is welcome to do, I will do my best to do as little damage to his reputation as possible.

We spent the last few months of his kindergarten year convinced that we had done exactly the wrong thing by sending him when he turned 5. Academically, he was in good shape. Socially, however, was another kettle of crayons.

So many parents of boys wait until they are 6 before they send them, which made me worry that we should have done the same, that we were creating a budding sociopath by starting him in school at the same age my husband and I started.

His difficulties this year in first grade have bordered on epic. Book learning isn't the problem; learning to behave is. A few weeks back, I started to feel guilty about not homeschooling him, because that seems to be what so many women of my generation, education and income status have done when faced with a kid who isn't thriving in a traditional school.

I felt like a failure for not coming up with a plan to do this, one that would cater to my kid's needs rather than my own _ because homeschooling is pretty far down on the list of things that I want to do and would be the ideal candidate for.

Even though I do teach other people's kids for a living, I am really bad at teaching my own how to do much of anything. Homeschooling would end with one of us on the front lawn trying to hitch a ride to Kalamazoo.

So I did the next best thing, which was worry about the many ways I was failing the Boy, including but not limited to my deficiencies as a homeschooler and my inability to see the future when he was 5.

Like so many child-related worries, these were aimed at the wrong target. The Boy, thanks to a smart, resourceful teacher and a supportive elementary school staff, seems to be on a more even keel.

For how long his keel stays level, however, is anyone's guess. We _ from the teachers to the principal to us _ all seem to be working through it together right now.

Given that both kids go to Center Street, my concerns have only grown exponentially during the last few weeks. My hope is that these worries will seem insignificant in a few years. Right now, however, they are all consuming.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest." Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.

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