Parenting is a juggling act with no end

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

May 8, 2014

Parenting is a juggling act with no end

Having been a parent for 16 years and written this column for six, I’m often asked by new parents what it’s like. “How do you handle four kids?” is most often the question I’m asked in Kroger, at the bookstore or after reading the kids’ menu aloud at dinner out for my table and those nearby.

The answer varies depending on the day, my mood and the most recent outbursts from my children. It ranges from, “It’s really great, you should try it” to “Forward momentum, we just keep swimming, like sharks” to “Please, help me.”

In many ways, each of those answers rings true because being a parent is a lot like juggling. In the beginning, it’s an impressive feat and friends and family are in awe of your abilities. Then it becomes a circus. Eventually, you realize that if you stop, hesitate, take your eye off a single ball even for a second, it could all come crashing down.

And it’s not always a tennis ball or orange you’re juggling, either. There are chain saws up in the air, and kitchen knives, and a stick with fire on one end.

Keep it all moving. Don’t stop.

Last weekend, I stood in the shade on the back deck and watched as my 16-year-old son mowed the yard. There was a breeze and it was pleasant, it was nice not having to trudge back and forth in the sun pushing that machine.

That chore was an orange lofted into the air, making its arc and landing again in the waiting palm of my hand. “This is easy,” I thought to myself.

Later that day I put that same 16-year-old behind the wheel of the car and strapped myself in the passenger seat for a ride across town. We took some narrow side streets, winding and without sidewalks. We crossed others as wide as Mendenhall, Poplar and Perkins. All around us was Memphis traffic and the sound of horns. There was one perilously close call with a mailbox.

That ride was a chain saw, ripping and roaring, tumbling end over end in front of my face. I didn’t want to catch it, I prayed that it might fall to the ground. “There’s a mailbox!” I thought to myself.

We parents can’t let anything fall to the ground. We can’t pick and choose which incarnation of our children we want to parent, whether the 6th-grader with a nearly-flawless report card or the one who later sulks off to her room once again, talking back out of the side of her mouth.

The point is that we have to stay on our toes. We have to watch our toes because that point is sharp. They’re not all softballs, these childhood dilemmas.

As a parent and showman, it’s that big finish with a flourish that I look forward to, when my kids are grown and successful and, hopefully, happy. It will be then that I’m allowed to take only the briefest of bows, quick to right myself because another secret of juggling, new parents, is that it never ends, there will always be something floating up there in the air.

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