My family once lived in a house that had several overgrown lilac bushes running along its north side, bushes that had been there for probably a hundred or so years, their trunks grey and gnarled, their purple blossoms impossibly fragrant as they filled the summer night.
During the spring and summer, those lilac bushes became known as the “jungle” since to my son Joe’s young eyes, they were as green, overgrown and endless as any plot of land running along the Amazon might be.
My husband, Mark, and I enjoyed the jungle, too, especially since it was conveniently located next to the front steps, where we could sit, drink a cup of coffee and keep an eye on our little explorer.
Every so often, Mark ventured into the jungle along with Joe.
Joe was always thrilled when his father joined him. “Follow me,” he’d say, waving a dimpled hand as he led the way to the back of the jungle, where things really got exciting.
(He’d hidden a plastic bucket and shovel there.)
One day, Mark and Joe began to build a small, very primitive playhouse in the jungle. Mark let Joe do the planning while he took orders. The two of them rearranged twigs, branches and leaves until they were both satisfied. Sitting down on a log that doubled as a sofa, Joe stretched his legs out and sighed,
“Oh, Daddy. I so happy.”
The years passed and we moved away from the house with the conveniently located jungle and our intrepid explorer eventually entered high school, discovering new territories, along with a different kind of jungle or two every so often.
I’ve always thought that one of the hardest things about being a parent is no longer being able to elicit a statement like “I so happy” from my children, no matter how much I longed to.
Somewhere between baby teeth and adolescence the responsibility for finding happiness becomes something people have to do for themselves.
Parents can try to buy happiness for their children with purchases ranging from toys to video games to flat-screen television sets.
Parents can attempt to cheer their kids up, make them smile, even coerce a laugh or two. Sometimes they achieve their goal. Many times—especially as their kids get older—they don’t.
Throughout my journey as a mom, I occasionally wondered why parenthood seemed to become more difficult with each passing birthday.
Not worse, but definitely harder.
At first I wondered if any and all angst in our household might be due to the double whammy of hormones—my husband’s and mine on the decline and our kids’ on the increase.
But I slowly came to realize that wasn’t it.
I realized that if my children’s jungles stayed small, close to the house and easily navigated, they’d never learn how to use a compass on their own. And that’s the goal of most parents—to make sure their offspring can figure out how to get out of any jungle they might find themselves in someday.
So we parents force ourselves to sit back, bite our tongues and wait as our kids figure out the difference between north, south, east and west, as well as which direction they really want to go.
We try to be there to help our children up if they fall, and we clap more loudly than anyone else when our kids soar.
Most of all, we let our children know that we’re not going anywhere; that we will always be a touchstone and a home base for as long as we can possibly manage.
We can’t lead our kids through the jungle anymore, but we can always offer the use of our own machetes.
I now know that it’s never easy to watch a child struggle as he makes his way through the world. But it’s so very rewarding to watch when children reach a goal, when they get diplomas, ace an interview or even handle failures with grace.
Such times make any mom whisper,
“I so happy, too.”
Author: Nell Musolf
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Catherine Monkman