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Sometimes you just can’t…until you can.

First off…kudos to my Moon for capturing so many feelings in this wonderful sketch she did. As much as she may struggle with other things, she has a gift for gracefully plucking sensations from the air, capturing them, and confining them to paper or canvas.

It is hard to watch your kids struggle. But, oh what a pleasant feeling the moment that proverbial light bulb suddenly illuminates in their eyes! It’s that instant when I know that mine have conquered something that has been dogging them…not just gotten through it, but mastered it so that I can check it off of my private little list of things that I need to see them ok with before I am comfortable “setting them loose” in the world (like I really have a choice in the end). The harder the struggle, the bigger the satisfaction (and the harder it is not to breech that line between helping to teach…and doing it for them).

A certain offspring in particular has me thinking about this a lot recently (and trying to keep my normally low blood pressure from skyrocketing), as well as pondering about how all three of my children are so different one from the other in their struggles: from what they struggle with and how they deal with it, to the time it has taken each to master the skills they now possess. What may be relatively easy to one, might seem insurmountable to another.

Regardless of the task or its complexity, I find that singular moment when things come together to be absolutely magical. On one side of it they just can’t…and then they are on the other side. Despite all the attempts, all the tweaking, and all the practicing, as long as it may take…there is a moment. It may be sparked by something somebody says that all at once makes them understand what has, until then, remained unclear. It may be that something they see gives them that flicker of inspiration that has been thus far lacking. Or, perhaps, after buckets of sweat and tears the moment is due to something wholly intangible and unknown: it just happens.

Nowadays, as an adult, there are moments and whole spans of time when I feel like I just can’t. There may not even be a particular activity or task tied to the feeling: I just can’t.  My heart is heavy and I feel it in my bones and to the very depths of my soul: I really just can’t…until I can. Again…it may be a smile, a hug, a comment, a phone call, a perfect cup of coffee…  that fills my tank just enough to spur me forward…or I may not even know what line has been crossed to turn things around so that I can.

Try to imagine the inner workings of such a transition. That is what I am struggling to do with my kids: I often need to remind myself that there is, in fact, an inner process and that I may not always be able to see their progress from the outside. How can I know exactly what will positively affect their ability to conquer a task and how it will affect them, when I often don’t even know what will push me forward? How am I supposed to know how long things are “supposed to” take, when every child…every person is so different? Sure, I do my best to pepper them with my own knowledge and experiences (often sparring against rolling eyes and crossed arms) and with opportunities to learn (not just from successes…but from failures, as well), but I am not even certain which things are getting through and which might have a lasting effect.

It does not help that we are living in a society ever more geared toward instant gratification. We want to see results NOW…or better, YESTERDAY! We throw up deadlines and ticking clocks for our children that do not truly exist in nature. Society tries to rush them forward to benchmarks that will naturally come at a variety of times for a variety of children. Not every kid learns to walk at the same age. Not every kid learns to talk at the same age. Wouldn’t it follow that they might learn the rest of their skills at different paces, in different ways and to different degrees?

To make matters worse, as we push them toward these goals, tell them the clock is ticking, time is running out, and throw a myriad of standardized tests at them, we like to dangle stories of people who are/were anything but standard like Einstein, Thomas Edison, Charles Schulz,…people who struggled when they were younger or were told that they were not worth a damn and, despite it all, became amazing… in front of them. Well…which is it? they must be frantically asking themselves on the inside. Am I ruining my chances at life if I cannot pass this class now or do I have the time to naturally develop into the best person I can be? Is it really such a horrible thing to be a late bloomer…if the flower that you eventually become is so breathtaking? What if you bloom into a completely different flower than anyone thought? How about if you don’t become a flower at all? The world needs other plants, too. Wouldn’t that be just as wonderful?

In reality, things do not always run on a schedule. A little caterpillar told me so.

Actually, he happened to be a hornworm named Grandpa, and we didn’t exactly start out on good terms. We found him in our tiny backyard garden munching upon one of my otherwise beautiful tomatoes early in the fall about five years ago. After silently cursing him out and removing him, I caved to the pleas of the children, let his indiscretion slide, and put him in our butterfly keeper with a bowl of dirt and some food. He promptly burrowed into the soil and retired into his cocoon. Ah ha! I thought, what a perfect little science lesson about the stages of a moth’s life. We had read that it would take about three weeks for Grandpa to make his grand debut as a moth. So, about two and a half weeks later we began to check his living quarters every day. Three weeks passed…then four…then five…then six. We were certain that something must have gone wrong and that he had died. So, we gently brushed the dirt aside and reached down to retrieve the cocoon…and it moved! We quickly covered it back up and headed to the computer to try to figure out what was going on. That is when we learned that when a hornworm goes into pupa stage too late in the season…it will wait until the next spring to come out. So… Grandpa wintered with us and even moved down the street with us to our new house that spring. Again…we started the cycle of checking his home each day to see if he was ready to make his appearance. Again…weeks went by. Finally, in late May, when we had just about given up all hope, out he came! And…as far as moths go…he was quite a magnificent fellow!

So, though I let Grandpa into our lives strictly for reasons of science, he also ended up teaching us an important life lesson… one that I will be able to reiterate when Jeremiah, the swallowtail butterfly, who is currently wintering with us, finally decides to emerge from his chrysalis this spring. Any time I see the kids checking on him and mumbling impatiently, I remind them of Grandpa. We may not be able to see the progress Jeremiah is making, but we have given him the best of conditions, and he will come out when the time is right…and if the pictures on the internet are any indication…he, too, will be breathtaking.

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