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Parent Bingo

My 17-year-old will be in college next year, and right now he and I are deep in the process of applications and school visits and talks that spring up suddenly at dinner or in the car and begin with, “Maybe I should think about…?” or “Have you considered…?” It’s a process that feels very much how I once heard a writer describe the process of writing: Like feeling your way, a foot or two at a time, along a very long and very dark tunnel; you can’t fathom where it ends up.

Sometimes it’s my son who starts the conversation, and sometimes I do. But either way, it’s clear that this is less a new topic than it is a thread of a conversation we’ve been having for many months, and probably years. It’s the same conversation every parent has first with a spouse and then later with the child himself, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I know I’ll miss him next year, and I know that will feel right. My friend Andy has a son who is several years older than mine, and when his went off to college Andy told me that little boys evolve into teenage boys so that you are more than happy to help them pack when the time comes.

In fact, I missed my son when he was away for six weeks this past summer. (I didn’t realize quite how much I missed him until suddenly there he was, grinning at me in the kitchen, and as I wrapped my arms around him I thought of that line in the poem by Walter Dean Myers, “Love that boy, like a rabbit loves to run.”)

When I told people then how he was loving the long hours he spent in the school’s clay studio and how he went back after dinner, and when I tell them now how he wants to study Ceramics in college, people often nod in a vague way about how wonderful that is before they ask something along the lines of, “So how’s he going to make a living at that?”

I can’t blame them, really. It’s crossed my mind a few times, as well. And about 25 years ago, it crossed the minds of my own parents, too, which is why my mother said to me, when I announced then that I wanted to be writer, that I might want to have a backup plan.

She wasn’t trying to be cruel; in fact, she just wanted me to have what she lacked: independence, and self-reliance, and the ability, when the guy you marry turns out to be a shit in a few key ways, to not to have to take it. It’s true that money can’t buy happiness. Yet ironically, I’ve noticed — and my mother certainly knew — that the lack of it can bring plenty of misery.

A few weeks ago my friend Paul Williams created something he called the Killer Phrase BINGO. We’re all familiar with the game BINGO: Fill out the game card, trying for five in a row to win and shout, “BINGO!” “One key reason new and potentially innovative ideas don’t get implemented at companies is because skeptics and scaredy cats kill ideas when they’re first proposed,” Paul wrote. “They use killer phrases like: ‘We’ve tried that before’ and ‘Yeah, but….’”

And so it goes in parenting, too. How many of the phrases do we use, as parents, because our own parents said them to us (here’s where I’ll admit to “Don’t make me turn this car around!”) or because we can’t bear to see our kids in pain (“Don’t make the same mistakes I did…”)? How much of our own parents do we bring to our own roles in the job, all over again?

Once, when my mother and I were having an uncharacteristically frank discussion about sex, she said to me, “Your generation didn’t invent sex, you know.” But didn’t we? Isn’t sex something we were left to puzzle through? Isn’t it up to every teenager to figure out, mostly on his or her own?

In that way, too, every generation thinks it invents parenting. Or, maybe, it’s every person who is reinvented as a parent: Sometimes, we are inspired by our own upbringing, and sometimes we exorcise it. And sometimes, as is the case with me, it’s a little of both.

In any case, Paul created this BINGO card for parents strictly for fun. But then again, you could use it for awareness, too—a reminder, of sorts, that we didn’t invent parenting, but we certainly can guide its evolution.

Total Annarchy

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34 Responses to Parent Bingo

  1. Ann Sachs (@TheatreSmart) says:

    Great post – thank you.

    As a Boomer who dreamed of starring on Broadway and then did it, and as mother of a daughter who dreamed of starring in film and then did it – I say hell with the back-up plan. I wish more parents would do just that. My daughter and I are on our 2nd and 3rd careers (respectively) and still venturing into the unknown, making our dreams into our reality. And now there is a third generation in our mix…

    You ponder whether each generation, as they experience parenthood, is re-invented and thus re-invents parenting. I believe you've got it! I also believe that witnessing the growth and transitions of our daughters and sons as they become adults and then parents is the greatest gift we are given. It offers us the opportunity to un-learn and re-learn many layers of our families and ourselves, and it actually makes me understand why I was born.

    Your blog is terrific. Keep it up.

  2. theatresmart says:

    Great post – thank you.

    As a Boomer who dreamed of starring on Broadway and then did it, and as mother of a daughter who dreamed of starring in film and then did it – I say hell with the back-up plan. I wish more parents would do just that. My daughter and I are on our 2nd and 3rd careers (respectively) and still venturing into the unknown, making our dreams into our reality. And now there is a third generation in our mix…

    You ponder whether each generation, as they experience parenthood, is re-invented and thus re-invents parenting. I believe you've got it! I also believe that witnessing the growth and transitions of our daughters and sons as they become adults and then parents is the greatest gift we are given. It offers us the opportunity to un-learn and re-learn many layers of our families and ourselves, and it actually makes me understand why I was born.

    Your blog is terrific. Keep it up.

  3. “We'll See” – yeah, I think I've used that once or twice. And just about all the others too!

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  5. Jeff Rothe says:

    “Sometimes, we are inspired by our own upbringing, and sometimes we exorcise it.”

    Thanks for posting your thoughts, Ann.

    Early in our parenting “careers” my wife and I realized just how much your thought, quote above, determined what kind of parents we were destined to be. Up to that point we had assumed that we would definitely, or would never, do [something] when raising our daughters, based on how we were raised. It seems to be the way most new parents still approach the challenge of rearing offspring.

    What we learned was to try to erase the parenting experiences we learned as children, paint pictures of the kind of children we would like to raise, and let that color the kind of parents we would become.

    Twenty five years (and a full dose of Catholic schooling) later we consider those pictures to be priceless.

  6. Jeff Rothe says:

    “Sometimes, we are inspired by our own upbringing, and sometimes we exorcise it.”

    Thanks for posting your thoughts, Ann.

    Early in our parenting “careers” my wife and I realized just how much your thought, quote above, determined what kind of parents we were destined to be. Up to that point we had assumed that we would definitely, or would never, do [something] when raising our daughters, based on how we were raised. It seems to be the way most new parents still approach the challenge of rearing offspring.

    What we learned was to try to erase the parenting experiences we learned as children, paint pictures of the kind of children we would like to raise, and let that color the kind of parents we would become.

    Twenty five years (and a full dose of Catholic schooling) later we consider those pictures to be priceless.

  7. Amen Ann Sachs (first comment). As the daughter of parents who encouraged me to pursue a living more than my dream, I say “do what you love and the money will come” not the other way around. No one should put a monetary price on their dream.

    I too have an artistic child and make a conscious, intentional point to tell her as much as possible to just follow her bliss. She's only twelve, but wants to be a singer/marine biologist/famous chef and on any given day, one or two other things as well, none of which are “cubicle farmer” or “corporate executive”.

    I guess I am repeating a similar pattern – you always want for your kids what you didn't have for yourself. Although I do believe “follow your bliss” to be universally true and sound advice. And if you have to be hungry a bit along the way, well, nobody said following your bliss wouldn't come with some growth opportunities along the way, right?

    How will your son make a living? Thanks to the digital revolution you helped pioneer, there's etsy.com, and social media, and his Web site, and 1Shopping Cart and all the rest of the tools available for him to play as big as he'd like doing what he loves. Tell them that when they ask.

  8. susandench says:

    Amen, Ann and Karen – I was also pushed into something “practical” by my parents and I detested it. Now, at an, ahem, more advanced age, I am finally, finally doing what I have always wanted to do. Our daughter is studying graphic design, but at her university, the colleges also offer interior design, furniture design, ceramics, painting and the fine arts, etc – all of which she is open to – and we are thrilled that she has found and is studying her passion! I actually had to listen to one of her teachers tell her she would be foolish for going into some sort of creative/artistic endeavor over nursing, which she was contemplating, but we are so proud of her for following her heart and soul. I am a firm believer in “do what you love and the money will follow” – riches come in many forms.
    btw, your blog picture looks exactly like our eldest daughter – it is uncanny!!

  9. Mel66 says:

    Great article! Love Parent Bingo. You forgot one: “You'll get nothing and like it.” I use that all the time. :)

  10. annhandley says:

    Right! Good catch. Reminds me of “You get what you get and you don't get upset.”

  11. Michelle says:

    Great post as always, Ann.

    After reading the comments, I need to weigh in on the “follow your bliss” thread. I love this idea, but I think that sometimes we do not fully think through the complexity of what comprises bliss for each individual and, instead, project our own definition on others.

    For some, creative passions are the only meaningful component of bliss, but for many, there are also practical considerations that are essential components in an individual’s personal bliss. One is economic security. Some people can live with much less economic security and higher levels of uncertainty than others and be perfectly happy; for others, without a high likelihood of sustaining a certain threshold income, no amount of artistic joy will compensate for their economic misery. This is different for everyone. As Ann said, “It’s true that money can’t buy happiness. Yet…the lack of it can bring plenty of misery.” So, “the money will follow” means just too much uncertainty/misery for some. And it’s not just money—other factors may be personal effort required, altruism potential, working hours, flexibility, ability to move in/out of the workforce, geography, impact on relationships, etc.

    As a parent, I hope to encourage my children to design a highly individual blueprint for bliss in all its complexity. It would be just as big an error for me to NOT give my children the option of factoring the wisdom of my experiences into their decisions (e.g., it’s hard to understand what impact motherhood will have on your career expectations years before you’re ready to be a mother) as it was for my parents to force the wisdom of their experiences on me as my only option. When we’re young, we miss a great deal of the essential big picture in the blinding light of our dreams. When we’re older, the big picture sometimes overshadows the light of those dreams. My challenge as a parent is to remember all of this and help each of my children find the balance of light that will best guide them on their individual paths to personal bliss.

  12. Mindy says:

    With my daughter in college – a freshman – I had totally avoided being a “helicopter mom”, that dreaded hovering parent who monitors their child unmercifully and does everything in their power to hold on. Until yesterday… She wanted advice about classes to take in her second semester. And I gladly dove in, suggesting a full course load based on my diligent research of the options, the ratings of professors (“Ratemyprofessors.com) and even an email to a friend who teaches at my daughter's college. OY VAY! For awhile it was working (how do you define “working”…), and then I somehow realized, how the heck did that happen? With tail between my legs, I have retreated. But with a reminder that it can happen to even the most well-intentioned. I'll try not to beat myself up about it. And maybe notice a little sooner the next time it happens… Good luck, Ann, and may you negotiate the mine field of saying goodbye while holding on just enough.

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  15. Isn't it great when they figure out their niche in life, what they want to “be.” My daughter totally loves college and can't wait for more of her major classes… Art/Graphic Design. Today she texted me “Mom, I threw two pots.” It's taken her almost the whole semester to figure it out. I love that she gets to explore her talents to the fullest and in new ways.

  16. bDOT says:

    Ann,

    Funny about the back-up plan, I had a similar conversation, “you GOT to have a back-up plan!”. Glad I had one, I havn't needed to use it…..yet.

  17. James says:

    I started university in math and chemistry. I liked the courses and was doing well but was not stimulated at all by the people I met. I was also a musician and took an elective from the music department. At the end of first year I went to my parents and told them I wanted to change majors and get a music degree. I wasn't sure what to expect but it wasn't want I heard. My father, an engineer and the first in his family to graduate from college, said, “College teaches you how to learn so take the courses that interest you.”

    My daughter started college this Fall. She is in a very liberal, liberal arts program. In essence she designs her own degree. She loves it. She's working hard, excited about the courses she' s taking and seems to be in with a good crowd of kids. I'm not the least bit concerned about her future. She's learning how to learn.

  18. Ann, I had to laugh because all of those phrases bring back memories of my own parents. I have even uttered a few of those myself to nieces and nephews and then silently chuckled realizing I really had become my mother.

  19. I need to print out the card and give it to all the new parents I encounter.

    I use “It's not a democracy” in place of “It's not a debate.”

    And there's the classic “If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times….” (which I would use in place of the truly awful “I'll give you something to cry about”–why would a parent WANT to make his/her child cry?)

    @BarbChamberlain

  20. leighdurst says:

    Love it. Ours is on a missions trip in India right now. Today is her 19th Birthday and I miss her so much it hurts. Out there – discovering the world and new cultures — taking on the world.

    I can't believe she's actually turning into a grown up right before my eyes. I wish I had more years to gather her under my feathers and sit on her like a doting hen. But it's time for them to stretch their wings and legs, Annie.

    And I love that quote about the rabbit. Love that's swift, intense and free.

  21. chipcorrera says:

    True stuff. Funny how much time I spend thinking about Rachel's last year at home. And unfortunately, this time you can't just get through it and they'll be home again – except, of course, to do some laundry. On the other hand, I hope she makes it longer than she did a few years ago at camp.

    Personally, I've been pushing for a little off the beaten path approach – no luck yet.

  22. You forgot, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!” (c/o Bill Cosby).

    Wonderful, thought-provoking as always, Ann. Your son is lucky to have such a cool Mom! Merry Christmas!

  23. nike shox says:

    I read your profile today and it was so good to me.i feel you are the only one missing in my entire life so i decided to stop on and let you know that i am interested to be a friend first.When the fight begins within himself, a man's worth something

  24. Ann,
    What have I told you about writing about stuff that makes me think back to when I was a kid? Huh? HUH!

    Joel Libava

  25. Brenda Brown says:

    How do you play the Parent Bingo? Dose anyone have instruction on the game?

  26. Peg Mulligan says:

    If there's one thing I might share with my kids, when the time comes, is that there is often (not always, but often) a difference between making a living and making a life.

    Happiness is either finding a way to do both at the same time, or if that's not possible, of finding a balance between the two.

    Whatever path your son takes, it's great that so young, he has found his life's work. Here's a quotation from a sleeper book, MRS. DUNWOODY’S EXCELLENT INSTRUCTIONS FOR HOMEKEEPING (BY MIRIAM LUKEN, WARNER BOOKS, INC., 2003), on just that:

    Finding Your Life’s Work, p. 214:
    There is for each of us a place of perfect self-expression. It is a place in life that only we can fill, no one else will do, and we are happiest when we are in the center of it…Many of us have no idea what this perfect self-expression is, or we doubt that we are worthy of such a blessing. I believe that each person has some talent which is unfulfilled in some hidden area of his being—a talent waiting to be expressed or developed, even though many live their entire lives unaware of it. But it is there, for each of us, designed… to be our life’s work. This “life’s work” will be so completely absorbing and satisfying that it will seem more like play. Your soul will long for it.

  27. steve sheinkopf says:

    Just wanted to say how much I enjoy marketing profs. I was at the email summit for the second year and have attended webinars and other downloads.

    It has really helped me and my company.

    Sincerely,

    Steve Sheinkopf
    CEO
    Yale Appliance and Lighting

  28. Gayle says:

    If you're still reading comments — my brother majored in ceramics at RISD. Now he's an art director/partner for a pretty big ad agency. Happy, healthy, and father to some highly functional girls who are also happy, healthy, etc. Ceramics didn't seem to leave him lacking. Good luck.

  29. cgb says:

    Enjoy him before he goes the summer will run before your eyes quicker than that bunny. All the talents, passions and immersions into possible careers don't matter as much as finding your way and working hard to be true to self.
    I know a ceramics student who became owner of the nations largest glass tile company, a ceramics student who invented an application for dental use and never had to work again, and one who creates Raku fired pots and is very happy.

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