I was driving around town yesterday and I realized for the first time that I might not know how to adequately parent my suburban kids. Adequate parenting isn’t a new concern for me–that goes back to prenatal days, but raising teenagers in a big town on the outskirts of two large cities brings a whole lot of possibilities and challenges I never dealt with growing up.
I grew up in De Smet, a South Dakota town with a population of about 1200 when I lived there. De Smet started out as a railroad town (as chronicled in By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder,) and later was blessed by being at the crossroad of two state highways. That crossroad had the only traffic light in town, a flashing yellow on Hwy. 14, and a flashing red on Hwy. 25. A glorified stop sign, really, nothing like my driver-in-training needs to contend with, which is how this whole train of thought got underway. Teaching a kid to drive where I live now is so different than where I learned. Here there are more people, more traffic, higher speeds in tighter quarters, and infinitely more complicated intersections. In De Smet, back in the day, other drivers not only probably knew who you were, they often also knew something about your driving. If you were very new at it (or very old,) you were given a little more berth and a bit of wry courtesy as you took a few precious seconds to figure out what you were doing. A few months ago my son was screamed at by another driver for going too slow, 28 mph in a 30 mph zone as he was approaching a stop sign. The same thing could happen in De Smet, but talk would go around, and that driver would soon find herself with a reputation as a hothead and on the short end of the neighborly goodwill stick. Karma can work quickly in a small town.
Driving isn’t the only area of difference, naturally. My graduating class was small, even for De Smet, with 25 students. If you wanted to help with yearbook, be in track, participate in choir, the all-school musical and be on the prom committee, that was fine. You probably didn’t even need to be particularly talented to get a spot, and yet De Smet produced very competitive athletic, musical and theatrical teams. No matter what group you were in, you more or less had known everyone for years. In a suburban high school of over 2,000 kids it could be easy to look at the masses of other people and think, “Let them do it; there are probably one (two, three) hundred kids that have been training since third grade to do that activity and I don’t know any of them.” In De Smet you almost felt obligated to join, somebody’s got to do it, right? I tried a lot of things and found my niche in some. I am highly amused to this day that I was an officer in the Future Homemakers of America club. I had no intention at that time of becoming a homemaker, I was going to be a big deal in international business or with the United Nations. I was going to eat out and have my laundry done for me. But all my friends were in FHA, it was huge, and we had the best times. I don’t know how to translate those experiences to the world my sons live in today. They must find their own way. Maybe it is less about parenting and more about wanting to hold on and stay connected to my children’s lives. It seems I am reaching the end of “Do the best you can,” and am entering “and then let them go.” Terrifying. Sad. Amazing. Life.