My eldest son turns 18 this week. As I look back over the course of his life, I chuckle and cry at where we have been as mother and son, and where I hope we will end up. I became pregnant with Jack when I learned that my late-husband’s cancer diagnosis was likely terminal. People do crazy things in crisis in an attempt to manage the unmanageable. My solution to my impending devastation was to ensure that a piece of John would stay with me forever. My 24-year-old selfishness was a blessing and a curse; while I am grateful that John was able to know the joy of fatherhood before he passed, my feelings of guilt associated with having a child I knew would not know his father have yet to wane. And of course it is these feelings that inspire most of my really bad parenting decisions.
I started planning Jack’s future before he was even born as though he would over achieve in every regard. Looking back, I realize how dim-witted my plan was. Jack was enrolled in sports at age 4. Then there was the music classes that he loved for about six weeks. Then came the Spanish tutor. Jack tolerated those classes for about two weeks before refusing further involvement. And summer camp in Glacier National Park – Jack was bored out of his mind. The problem was, I was so stuck on “perfect parenting” that I failed to recognize that Jack was an outdoorsman by the age of 5, and knew more about survivalist endeavors by age 6 than I will ever know in my lifetime.
Looking back, I should have let Jack just be who he is. He is the kid I found at age 6 shooting his bow in in our garage at 4:30 a.m. He is the kid I busted at age 8 shooting birds out of the neighbor’s tree at 6 a.m. before school. He is the kid who chooses to live in our back yard during summer, and kill gophers for food instead of pulling a steak out of our freezer that’s literally 200 yards away. He’s the kid who contracted Giardia from drinking from the ponds on our property (from a cup filled with pine needles as “filtration”) instead of walking inside to drink potable water from the sink. The only 100% Jack ever received was in his hunter education class. No, Jack has not been a perfect child, but he has taught me that sometimes removing structure helps a child grow into their perfect form. Most importantly, I learned it’s not John I can’t live without. When one door closed, another opened, and Jack walked through. And I couldn’t be more grateful for the gift.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.