So tomorrow’s the big day: the day the oldest kid moves out and finishes “The Story of My Childhood.” Every morning this week, on my way downstairs, I’ve listened in the dark by his door so that I can hear him breathing, something I haven’t done since he was a baby. I’m checking to make sure he’s still there. This all feels so surreal.
And I wake up worrying: did I do everything right? Everything I was supposed to do? Of course I didn’t. But I really hope he leaves with mostly good memories and doesn’t become a member of “I hate my parent’s because______” club. Will he grow up to blame his dad and me when things go wrong or will he take responsibility and try to shape his own life? Like every mom and dad, I tried my best. I hope he forgives me my faults (even if I did just give him one final beating–in chess, that is).
It goes fast. Really fast. The time with our kids. And when our part is done, our children will have a handful of salient memories that will stick in their minds like chewing gum in their hair. We have no control over which ones stick and which ones melt away, and we have no idea when we are in the midst of making an important moment. But these memories will help define who they are and how we did as parents. Which injuries did we not see? Did we cause any of their big hurts? Will they remember few the times we lost our tempers or all the times we sat down and read stories to them or helped them build Lego creations or chased them around the yard? Will they remember their childhood as happy and peaceful or as sad and tumultuous?
And there’s another thing that you and I have to worry about, having raised our kids without religion. They may feel intensely alone when they move away. While their roommates will be able to crawl under their sheets at night and pray for solace and guidance, our kids will be without that sort of security blanket. They’ll live among peers who think that things happen because it was meant to be or because it was fate or because it was God’s will while our kids will live with the realization that life is one long series of accidents, coincidences and serendipity.
They’ll live with those who think that their religion makes them better than those who have none. For my kid, I just hope that he will remember being godless is good enough. It’s the state he was born into, his natural state. His goal isn’t to prove that others are wrong or that he’s right about god, only to prove that religion makes no difference in how successful or how kind or how happy he is.
Our kids don’t have to be traveling in the same vehicle as their peers, or even on the same road, to arrive at the same destination: honor, integrity, love, happiness, peace, wisdom. These are goals and attributes we all seek, regardless of belief.
To those parents who have a kid or two (like Theresa) who left for college recently, I’m sending a hug your way. And to those moms and dads who are still writing the story of childhood with their kids, I hope you create many beautiful memories.
PS I wanted to share this essay that CNN is running today. It’s things I want my college-bound kid to remember: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/28/living/parents-irpt-mitchell-letter-college/index.html