Carlos rides on my hip across the parking lot and through the car rider line. As soon as we’re inside his school, I set him down and we begin the slooooooow walk to his classroom. We creep along the corridors, playing “I Spy” with the bookbags and jackets that hang neatly outside each door.
“Optimus and Bumble Bee…” he whispers and points with his tiny finger.
“I spy Doc McStuffins.” He searches the row then breaks into a grin when he sees her too.
At each Ninja Turtle backpack, we pause for a moment of reverence. We name each Turtle then move on.
Seriously, this walk would take me about 45 seconds if I were carrying him, but it takes a good three minutes when he’s walking on his own. At each intersection of hallways, I stop and ask him, “Now which way do we go?” He leads me along a path I certainly know by now.
When we get to his classroom, it’s time to hang his little yellow coat and blue backpack on his hook. Each hook is labeled with the child’s name, written in that perfect schoolteacher script. Carlos finds his then points to each letter with that tiny finger as he recites “C-A-R-L-O-S, Carlos!”
The blue mesh handle of his backpack slides easily over the wooden knob beneath his name. I stand there patiently while he slips out of his yellow coat. Two hooks over, William’s dad is doing the same–waiting. Not doing it for his son, but standing patiently by.
The yellow coat’s loop inside the collar is just about the exact size of the wooden knob, so Carlos has some trouble with it. He makes an attempt and gets it mostly on there, but the weight of the coat pulls it off the knob and onto the floor. My instinct is to swoop over and right this situation, grab the coat and hand it dextrously on the knob, but I wait. I wait for Carlos to try again. William’s dad says, “Good job, buddy. How about your hat now?” then he waits.
Finally, Carlos manages to get his coat hung up and I let my held breath go. The waiting really is the hardest part.
The scene reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with my wise friend, Robin. She was one of the few people who knew the truth–that Fartbuster had had an affair and our marriage was crumbling. One day at lunchtime, I ran into Robin at the salad bar in our cafeteria and as we moved around the circle making our salads, she asked me how things were going. I told her that I wanted to wring his neck. I wanted to make a list of what he should do. I whispered that he was going to a therapist but I really wanted to know what they were talking about and if it was doing any good. I was having a teensy bit of trouble…waiting.
Robin stopped with the salad and looked me straight in the eye. “Here’s what I’ve learned from raising my boys. The worst thing you can do for someone you love is something that they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. You gotta let them struggle with it.”
Other people stepped around us to get to the dressing and the croutons. I whispered to Robin, “But this is my life, too. I have to sit back and wait to see what was going to happen with MY LIFE?”
“You have to let HIM fix it. Or not fix it. If you keep fixing things every time a man messes up, it just cuts his balls right off him.”
Damn if she wasn’t RIGHT. Man, woman, child, whatever–how can we ever learn if someone else is always swooping in to hang the coat or find the path or claim our mistakes? I think of this conversation so much now that I’m a parent. I have lots of time for thinking, when I’m doing all that waiting.