I’ve taken to watering my plants when I am worried about my children. I listen carefully to the instructions when buying the plants. I nod with every intention of cooperating as the guy at the nursery says, “Not more than twice a week.” And then I go home, I see my kids sprawled out on the couch in front of their screens in the midst of an under-programmed summer, and I take the hose to the backyard to water my anxieties away.
In July alone, I have drowned one lily, one hydrangea, and one watermelon plant. Remember Audrey? Even she did not survive the deluge. Last week, my pepper plant tossed a note over the fence begging the neighbors for help. The ivy has started growing in the direction of the hose in an attempt to cut off my water supply. My family has staged multiple interventions. And yet I persist.
I understand the value of downtime. I heartily accept that boredom can lead to creativity. My kids are old enough to occupy themselves — sometimes they take busses into town with their friends, they have water fights, and they ride their bikes to the ice cream store, but oh how they love to soak up the YouTube. And in return, I soak the poor perennials, in the hopes that at least someone will grow and thrive this summer.
My oldest son had the opportunity to travel to America. On his way to being a camp counselor, he spent a week with friends touring NYC, and then a few days in Pittsburgh with his grandparents and cousins. En route to Pittsburgh, he whatsapped me from LaGuardia Airport at 11 p.m. Israel time to tell me that his flight was delayed.
“Are you okay? Do you have food?” I whatsapped back. He is 17 and flying alone for the first time.
“I’m fine, I’ve got a whole bunch of Oreos, go to bed, don’t worry,” he replied.
But I didn’t go to bed. I stayed on the couch in the living room as the one-hour delay turned into a two- and then a three-hour delay. At 2 a.m. Israel-time, he messaged:
“The flight is cancelled and rescheduled for tomorrow morning. I’m in line to see if they’ll get me a hotel room.”
At 2:30 a.m., he sent: “When it was finally my turn, the gate attendant started to cry — she said she didn’t think she could get a hotel room for a minor, and that she didn’t know what to do. She ran away from the counter saying that only horribly irresponsible parents would let a child travel alone.” (For those of you who are skeptical, this story is entirely true. The only aspect I have fabricated is that my son uses punctuation in his texts).
As I frantically texted him back asking if there was anyone else that could help him, I began to take offense at this stranger who had the audacity to criticize my parenting from thousands of miles away. You don’t know me, lady!
Just then the front door opened and my 14-year-old son tiptoed into the house.
“Where have you been? I thought you were upstairs sleeping!”
“I was watching the soccer finals with my friends. I told you I would be out late, remember?”
I did not remember. I had a vague recollection of him saying words while I was reading up on the latest in the Britney Spears’ conservatorship saga. In my defense, this is a riveting story and I can’t possibly be expected to know where all of my children are all of the time.
And with that, I began to entertain the possibility that the oversensitive gate attendant might not be entirely wrong in her assessment of my parenting. Perhaps she knows me better than I thought…
My phone buzzed again with a victorious message from son #1.
“The crying lady came back with her supervisor. They got me a hotel room and a cab voucher!”
And finally at 3 a.m., “I’m at the hotel, I’ve got a boat-load of Oreos left and the NBA finals game is about to start!”
Confident that he was living his best life, I gave the plants a late night spritz and went to sleep.
I want my kids to spend the summer learning new skills and frolicking in the sunshine. I want them to have unlimited unique experiences and endless opportunities for growth. I worry that the couch and the screens will entice them into a life of poor decision-making, thus requiring a conservator, and I simply do not have the legal knowledge to arrange for that.
As I try to stay awake at dinner the following night, the conversation bounces back and forth between one child talking about a book he is reading about brain mapping in monkeys, another describing the water football game he played in a neighbor’s pool, and my daughter talking about the sleepover she is planning with her friend where they will make sushi and straighten their hair. I tell them about their brother’s adventure and we eat Oreos in his honor. And I have a tired revelation that perhaps the growth and the frolicking is happening right alongside the youtubing.
After dinner, I contemplate watering the plants. My husband gently encourages me to back away from the hose, and this time I listen. Because the kids are okay. They may be wildly successful this summer, or they may simply get through it with screens, but also with milkshakes and trips to the beach, occasional picnics, and stops at the nursery to replace the waterboarded plants.
The gate attendant is right — I am often an irresponsible parent, I don’t always listen to my kids when they are talking or realize that they have left the house. But my parenting thus far has been good enough to produce a kid that stays calm in an unpredictable airport situation, and that’s more than I can say for that gate attendant’s mother (oh yes I did!!).
And I am learning. I now know that plants need some water and kids need lots of Oreos, but all living things do better when they are given space to make their own decisions and plans. I’m going to hold off on signing those papers for the conservator. I need to muster all my legal resources to fight the restraining order that just arrived from my geraniums.