Parenthood is essentially a big gamble. You will put years of hard work, difficult decisions, and mileage on your car into raising a child, and you won't know, until years later, whether or not that effort has paid off.
All the different personalities of children, coupled with all the different parenting styles, leave us with too many combinations. To make matters worse, most of us are convinced that only one of these many combinations will do the trick: Turn that brand new, wrinkly, red-faced, drooling, cry-baby into a contributing member of society.
For many years, we will vacillate from being pretty sure our parenting skills are getting the job done, to knowing, without a doubt that our child will be a thumb-sucking, whiny, basket case, who will never learn math and whose sole purpose in life is to irritate you.
From time to time, we might get some clues as to how we are doing. Sometimes, the knowledge doesn't come until they are fully grown.
Our 24-year old used to be a jokester, always clowning around. He liked to be the center of attention. Now, I can honestly say that, although he still retains his fun-loving side, he is the most logical of my children with the most common sense. He reminds me of Abraham Lincoln. He sees both sides of an issue, and with animosity towards none, chooses the one that makes the most sense. Where did that come from?
Two years ago, when my then wimpy, whiny 13-year old boy, announced that he wanted to take a martial art, I was positive that this would be a short-lived expensive proposition. He said no, it wouldn't. He said the same thing about cub scouts (lasted one month), tennis (5 months) and drum lessons (2 years). Nobody could have blamed me if I had said "no." It was his reason that convinced me. He said, "I want to be a leader." This boy, the one who, when stubbing a toe, acted like he'd been shot, wanted to be a leader? Well, stranger things have happened, I thought.
He worked harder than I've ever seen him work at anything, with the exception of surfing YouTube, and now, at 15, he is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do; a leader and mentor to many other students. Go figure!
My daughter is more subtle. I have always known that she was on the right track.
For most of my life, I have scrupulously applied foundation, blush and mascara with the hope of showing the world the best face I could. I always told my daughter that I had to try a little harder to look as lovely as she does. One day, out of the blue, on a day when I wore no makeup at all, she looked at me and said, "Mommy, you're beautiful."
From my daughter I learned to be myself. She made me see that I really didn't have to try so hard to be someone else.
When my oldest son graduated from high school many years ago, he was a sullen, argumentative, moody 18-year old. Scholastically, he was doing great. But life isn't measured solely by scholastic ability.
He thought that the ideal life was a life of solitude. He just wanted to be left alone. My heart cried for this man-child who didn't fare well in a house full of young children. He was an intellectual who hated distractions, but I knew that a life of loneliness wasn't the answer. Not knowing how to get that message across, I made him a framed copy of the words to the song "I Hope You Dance." A strange graduation gift, some might say. I thought it might end up in a dumpster.
Ten years later, he chose that song as the one he and I would dance to on his wedding day. And yes, of course I cried.
Maybe I did do some things right.
Laura Snyder is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and speaker and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don't necessarily reflect the views of the T-R.