The Building Blocks of Parenting

If I ran a contest to see who could guess how many itty, bitty Legos fit in a sizable toy chest in my basement, the person who came the closest would win several hundred dollars worth of these highly prized plastic squares. I have amassed this small treasure over the course of 25 years and four children later.  The kids have long since outgrown their fascination with piecing together various multi-colored objects – from mundane earthly items to complex celestial gadgets.

Recently, I had an opportunity to sell the entire chest full at a county-wide garage sale.  The Legos drew considerable interest – until I was asked for the instruction booklets for all the various sets mixed together under one lid.  I had a thousand Legos, but not one instruction booklet. My little playroom architects followed the instructions the first time out, built their structures faithful to the manual, and proudly admired their accomplishments after snapping in the final piece in its proper place. Then, just like that, they enthusiastically tore it all down.  When the demolition was completed, they would immediately begin building something entirely new and according to their whim. The instruction booklet was never to be seen again.

Not being able to provide any of the instruction booklets at the sale became a deal breaker.  Time and again I was asked, “How will my child know how to put anything together without the instructions?”  I responded that their child’s imagination would guide them in building whatever they wanted.  (Luckily, I do not make a living in Sales because no one bought my pitch.) Suffice it to say, the Lego-stuffed toy chest remains in my basement to this day.

This particular toy, designed for building and re-building, has however expanded my own imagination as a mother.  I read several books written by parenting experts when my first child was born and faithfully adhered to much of their advice.  Following an ‘expert’ list of do’s and don’ts, along with my own maternal instincts, I nurtured a growing family.  But just when I thought I had molded my children with all the ‘right’ pieces in place, they reconstructed themselves according to their own internal designs.  No instruction booklet could have fully prepared me for the various transformations children experience as they crawl their way into young adulthood.  Some of the changes in my children were so unrecognizable that I found myself at times asking, “Who is this child?”  So I learned to re-imagine my children not as the “little people” that I had once shaped, but more so as the individuals that they were destined, and determined, to become.

Now that my children (ranging in ages from 15 to 25) are well on their way to “grownup-hood,” I find myself re-designing the life I had constructed around their world.  I still wear the various hats of mother, wife, and career woman, but in what seems a “just like that” moment, I tore down a misguided notion of martyrdom mothering I once felt so obligated to adhere. No instruction booklets needed.  Now it is my children’s turn to re-imagine their mother as an individual guided by new horizons and interests.   But just like the toy chest filled with Legos and memories that remains stoically in our basement, my new endeavors will never take me far from home.  Happy Mother’s Day.

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