Kids Raising Parents

The truth is we would not have done this without the kids. We know people do. We’ve run across young couples, older couples, solo adventurers on bikes. We just met Uli, who is cycling from Fairbanks, AK to Florida with her dog. Seriously. But never any groups cycling across country with kids. I can’t envision this trip without our children, and neither can Hobbit and Erich.

There was an urgency in doing this with the kids, a timeliness. The window is small. Somewhere between about 16 and 18 years old, they are old enough to physically do just about anything, and also young enough to be willing, or susceptible to suggestion. If we had waited, even another year, they would have told us to go jump in a lake. They would have told us hell no, we’re not doing this.

We embarked on this trip to give ourselves and the kids an opportunity to learn things about themselves that we couldn’t teach directly. We can set up the circumstances and the environment, but there are things we need to learn for ourselves. Patience, for example. We can say “Be patient”, but until you have to be patient, you don’t really learn patience.

Or tenacity. We can tell our kids to be tenacious, but until they have to grind through a fifteen mile climb up 6000 feet, or slog through ten miles of headwinds, they might not know what tenacious means, or at least what it means to them. It doesn’t take a bike trip to encounter these adversities, but it’s a useful, and interesting, way to learn.

When we spend six to eight hours a day on a bike together, we get a chance to wander throughout the group and have independent little conversations with different people, in private small moments in the middle of the day, particularly if the road is quiet. Yesterday Hobbit, Erich and I started a discussion about what the kids are teaching us.

I posed the question, “What are you learning from your kids?” to Erich, and he had very clear answers. His life has been about punctuality, about rigor. He and his wife split up when the boys were very young, and he was determined to be a successful parent, but it took discipline. He would awake a little after 5am, make breakfast, and lunches, for his kids, drop them off promptly at 7:15am, and head to work. He had precisely 45-50 minutes in the afternoon for exercise before he picked them up again at 5:15pm.

His life revolved around reliability, punctuality, and being dependable. So now, on this trip, his boys want to screw off, sleep in, linger at every rest stop, and generally resist his instinct to march through every day. So he’s relaxing, he’s letting go. Erich is slowly allowing the trip to unfold how it chooses to unfold, even if that means sitting idly by while his boys bicker with each other, or drift through portions of the day.

Hobbit had a different kind of answer. Hobbit is an easy-going good natured person, but he admits he can get irritable. He can gnash his teeth at the traffic, or grumble at the wind. Hobbits like good fun and adventure, but they don’t care for annoyances. He says his daughter Annie is teaching him to relax about it, to not take the little things so seriously.

Annie has a trick she uses to make Hobbit think about circumstances differently. She’ll say, “Just pretend it’s a movie, pretend it’s a play, and all of these people are actors playing roles. Imagine the backstory of the waitress, or that couple over there. Imagine how their morning went before they arrived here.” Hobbit says it helps him find context, think of broader stories, and stop getting frustrated about the small things that don’t fall quite the way he wants them to.

Parenting makes you want to be the person your dog thinks you are. Kids make you want to be a better version of yourself, with more integrity, more stature. But the truth is, what do we know? We’re just winging it too.

It seems to us the way to develop a stronger relationship with our kids is not to instruct, but simply model the way. I’m trying to let go of being right, having all the answers. I’m trying to let go of telling him how to pack his bags, how to ride intelligently, what he should be eating to stay healthy on this trip. I’m trying to give trust that he’s a smart kid who will make good decisions.

It’s not always easy, of course. I still bark at Charlie if it looks like he’s doing something stupid, or unsafe, on a busy road, or treating his bike in a way that it might break, because breaking bike means an inconvenience for all of us. But for the most part we’re trying to give trust. If I want him to treat me with respect, it seems the only way to do that is to give him the respect of his own decisions.

This trip has become small moments of letting go, of giving trust.

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