Without a doubt, the phrase I use the most around my kids is “be careful”.
It annoys me (and my wife) every time I utter it, but I cannot help myself.
My kids are miniature tornadoes that tear through our house every day on a never-ending mission to invent new and ingenious ways to hurt themselves or each other and this, coupled with the fact that I love them more than life itself, means I simply cannot help myself.
I want more than anything to protect them from harm.
So I reflexively implore them to please, just be careful, every time they come anywhere close to experiencing the slightest hurt.
Wrestling with each other a touch too roughly. Jumping off the sofa and landing a smidgen too close the coffee table. Climbing the stairs. Grabbing a chefs knife from the dishwasher and throwing it across-okay sometimes my pleading with them is warranted.
But mostly I just helicopter over them.
This, despite the fact that I want them to grow into strong, independent humans. I know my overbearing protection is, most of the time, doing more harm than good, but I cannot help it. It crushes me to see them in pain.
Pain, in the moment sucks.
Recently, I found myself in a high school gym.
I was delivering pops to a school and on my way out, noticed the gym doors were open.
I poked my head in and was immediately overcome with a wave of nostalgia.
It was the smell that did it. (Isn’t that how it often is with powerful memories?) One waft of the polished floor, the sweat soaked wrestling mats piled high in one corner, and whatever else makes up the intricate eau de high school, and I felt as though I was standing in my own high school gym.
The memories came flooding back, a few more powerful than others.
I remembered crying my eyes out when I failed to make the 8th grade team. And again when I didn’t make the 9th grade team.
I finally made the team in 10th grade, but was stuck on JV the next two years-a rarity for a junior, and not in a good way. Finally, during my senior year,
playing riding the bench alongside my classmates, we won a whopping 4 games.
I was a skinny goofy-looking kid (still am really) that wasn’t quite athletic enough to stand out, living in a world where being athletic was all that mattered (or being able to play an electric guitar or smoke cigarettes, two things I was even worse at than basketball).
High school basketball-and high school in general at times-represented an immense amount of pain for my adolescent self (like it did for, you know, virtually every adolescent since the dawn of time).
And yet, the memories are mostly great ones.
I have my parents to thank for this.
I remember my dad driving me home from tryouts after I had been cut for the second time.
“It’s my fault,” he said. “Bad basketball genes.”
Then he kind of laughed and we never talked about it again.
I am sure it killed him to see me in pain, but he didn’t coddle me. And he certainly didn’t blame the coach or encourage me to do the same. He told me I’d get over it.
Which I did.
I just finished reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. One of my favorite passages was:
It’s unfortunate that this happened. No. It’s fortunate that this happened and I’ve remained unharmed.
Pain is a very normal part of life. It happens frequently and most of the time we are no worse for it. What pain does linger is usually self-inflicted.
Spending a lifetime trying to avoid pain would be incredibly dull, not to mention futile. So too is it foolish to always try and ameliorate it for others.
And yet. . .
It will never come naturally for me to let my children struggle or experience pain. I know my first instinct when an employee complains will be to try and solve the problem for them, rather than let them fail, hurt, and then grow.
And when I experience my own pain, I know that I will often dwell on it far too long.
Following that instinct is a disservice to others and to myself, so I will try to remember Aurelius’ words.
I will try to let the ones I love experience life as it comes to them-good and bad-and I will be there to pick them up and dust them off and tell them they will “get over it”.
After all, despite all of my attempts to keep my son from getting even the slightest scratch, this happened today:
And guess what?
He’s already over it.