By Cory Armstrong-Hoss / Herald Forum
We see how hard you’re working.
You’re registering them for Boys & Girls Club flag football, Village Theatre’s KidsStage, and Taekwondo Way. You’re signing them up for guitar lessons, Scouts, after-school Spanish club and Rock Climbing 101, after scoring that tepid “I guess…” when you bring up yet another thing after dinner.
You feel your pulse quicken when you speed them to their coach, instructor or sensei on time at that field, music store or dojo with their itchy shin-guards, Wal-Mart guitar or never-worn karate uniform-that-you-got-at-registration, and they won’t budge from your side. You morph into a parent you don’t recognize: bribing them with Dairy Queen, threatening to take away the Xbox. You’re grasping for something that might get them to jump in and just … try. This might be the thing!
You’re raising your voice, angry, wondering why it’s so damn hard to get your kid to do something all these other kids are in to.
You’re texting parents of classmates on Friday nights, trying to organize a playdate for the weekend. You’re waking up on Saturday mornings, checking your phone, keeping it near you all morning in case someone just didn’t see the text, and finally cleared their schedule. Hoping to not get ignored, or worse: to get a pity text on Sunday night: “Sorry! Didn’t see this till now. Our weekend was PACKED.”
Some of you live in my neighborhood. Some of your kids go to my kids’ schools.
We are you. So we know: it’s not really about the thing.
Yes, we want our kids to sweat, scream those team cheers, score a goal in overtime, ace that recital, master that kata to earn an orange belt, fill their childhood with all those Facebook-photo-worthy moments. We want them dig down to push through adversity: defend against athletes who are bigger and stronger; practice those tedious chords for 30 minutes before playing Roblox; lose themselves in their craft. You want to turn to your wife on a Sunday morning and ask “Where is he?” and have her say, “Oh, he decided on his own to run the hills in our neighborhood. Said he wanted to build up endurance for games.”
But that fear in our throats, that slight nausea. That wish we have for them. It’s not about these things.
It’s really about this: We want them to find their people.
Those people who understand them. Who are excited by the same things, laugh at the same jokes, care about the same YouTubers, book series, or board games. Who respond to their texts with funny GIFs. Those people who give them something we as parents can’t: a sense that they belong in this big world.
So that they are not alone at lunch. Alone at recess or on the bus. Or alone a few years later, when kids are asking each other to Tolo or Homecoming or checking to see if their friends are going to the bonfire at Lighthouse Park. You don’t want your kid to wonder what world those kids are in, and why he’s in a different one.
But maybe that gym or stage or dojo or arranged playdate is not where your kid is going to find his people. He never asked for those things anyway, and he doesn’t seem to mind reading on the couch or working on the treehouse or watching “Bob’s Burgers” with you on the weekends.
Maybe he doesn’t find his people when he’s a child, or even a teenager. Maybe it takes longer, and he finds them in places you can never go.
We hope you give yourself grace. We hope you take those deep breaths until that sick feeling passes, and stop texting those parents who rarely respond. Those aren’t your people.
It is enough to show him, over and over again, that you will always be his people. Even if he didn’t choose you.
It is enough that you will always choose him.
Cory Armstrong-Hoss is a nonprofit guy, community volunteer and father of three. He dedicates this essay to his wife, who’s driving around with a little-used karate uniform in the back of her minivan, and keeps forgetting to drop it off at Goodwill.