10-Minute Meditations: Summer of Anxious Parenting


First week in August. That means here in Fickle-Spacetime-land we’re fast approaching deep summer, where the days get shorter and the hum of the nighttime insects gets heavy and thick. There’s a sense that the wildlife has settled in. Life in general is operating smoothly: leaves have their chlorophyll, mosquitoes their flesh to feed on. Nothing to do now but wait for that awful slide into cold, gray, sludgy autumn, and then start looking over your shoulder for the snow and ice to set in.

God, I hate winter.

I don’t know if that’s going to be different this year. We’ve kind of had a packed summer, you see. Lots of visiting and vacationing and camp, camp, camp. You’d think that summer would be a relaxing, fun time for kids and parents alike. This year, though, it seems like I can’t keep my head on straight for all the new scheduling I have to do. Instead of wandering down the block to the bus stop, I have to pick up Little Fickle at his camp a whole hour and a half earlier than he gets home from school. Then, what to do with Little Fickle (a chatty seven-year-old) in all that extra time? Stick him in front of the computer for two hours? No, can’t have that. He’s on the spectrum, so too much unstructured screen time isn’t good for him. The Parenting Police would haul me away. Or else I’d suffer the sort of existential paralysis that happens because we twenty-first-century parents feel like we need to interfere with and coordinate every waking minute of our children’s lives, or else Something Bad Will Happen at some future date.

That’s what it feels like to me, at least, even though I try to stay away from parenting manuals and other mom-advice literature (because it all makes me even more anxious). Or maybe I’m just reacting to a parenting culture I don’t understand. Around here, there are a lot of nannies, a lot of part-time dads, and many, many people who seem baffled by (what seems to me, at least) relatively easy stuff.

Here’s an example: Little Fickle and I went to get some ice cream the other day. We came out of the store, frozen treats in hand, only to find a group of kids and parents already sitting on the sidewalk steps. Not a big deal, until everyone leaped up and pressed themselves against the storefront. I heard the buzz of a cicada nearby, and the father of two elementary-school girls said something like, “I think that big guy’s done for.”

“It’s so big! Is it a wasp?” one of the girls said.

I wandered over. “It’s a cicada,” I told her. Because it clearly was. A big, fat cicada on its back, flailing around like it was desperately treading water.

Even after I told them what it was, no one in the group moved. A knot of people–two adults and three kids–with frozen treats melting in their hands, stood and stared at an insect (albeit a big, loud one) and did nothing but watch it struggle. The older boy in the crowd didn’t even offer to step on it.

I suppose I was the only one there who knew what a cicada was, and that it wasn’t dangerous or lethal. That’s the only explanation I can come up with as to why they let me walk down the steps and start trying to nudge it with my sandal into some mulch. They all stood, silent and unmoving, when soon after I bent over and tried to scoop it up with a napkin, so I could get it away from the seating area and it could do its frantic death dance in peace. (At one point, it was spinning so fast it made a perfect pinwheel.)

I must have inadvertently set it on its feet, because after a few seconds of me and my fumbling napkin, the cicada stopped whirling and took off. “Bye!” I said, not knowing what else to say to an insect that I’d been told was dying but apparently wasn’t. The group of people I’d saved from a harmless creature never said thank you. They meandered to another spot on the sidewalk and left the steps to my son and me. Maybe that was what we got in return for intervening. The little girl who was afraid of wasps asked me what cicadas do. “I think they hang out in trees and buzz,” I said, which wasn’t a particularly useful response, either. Her dad, meanwhile, had started checking his iphone, while the mother and the older boy had disappeared into the store.

This isn’t much of a story, I know, and it seems designed to make me look like the hero of the story, the Knight in Shining White Armor or the civilized woman in the land of ungrateful brutes, which I kind of feel like I was. I really can’t shade this one in any socially palatable way. The kids’ fears I understand, but the fact that the other adults on the scene made no effort to do anything other than let me clean things up, like I was the babysitter, makes me wonder if they can deal with snot or shit or vomit without help. Has the whole country become so infantile? Should I start teaching my son survival skills, so that he’ll know how to cope when civilization crumbles around him?

Oy. Truthfully, I try not to dwell on apocalyptic slippery slopes most of the time. That’s a symptom of my anxiety disorder, one of the many medical issues I shepherd around with me on a day-to-day basis. For Little Fickle, we’ve instituted a nice little routine after camp. He comes home, goes to the bathroom, tells me three things about his day to jot down in a notebook (otherwise he forgets what he’s done), then we have Mommy-Little Fickle time, where we take turns picking activities to do together. Many times the activity involves watching TV, but I don’t care. Most days, I figure parenting is probably much simpler than I make it out to be. Plus I know what a cicada is. And so does my son.

Okay, way past time to stop for today. Self-righteous net-rant over. Bye for now, Fickle Readers!