One of the things that we learn first as parents is that in order to keep our children safe we need to exert some control. When they're babies and toddlers, we control their environment. Block off staircases, put locks on cabinet doors, things of that nature.
As they get older we try to control their environment through scheduling their days and working to keep them occupied.
But the truth of the matter is, that from the day they are born to the day they leave the nest, control is an illusion. Hard fought and hard maintained, but an illusion nonetheless.
It's been almost a year since I left behind the ranks of the stay-at-home parents to start writing full time for the Danville Weekly and I am constantly reminded how little control I have anymore and how it dwindles away each day.
When I stayed at home, I knew every one of my kids' friends, knew what they were doing all day long and could occasionally direct them towards an activity that might be a bit more productive than what they might choose for themselves. Cleaning their rooms, for instance, or kicking them outside on a gorgeous summer day.
Now I maintain that fragile illusion of control through phone calls, e-mails and text messages. Honestly, I don't feel like it's enough. I feel less connected to Trina, Maddy, Harry and Emma than I used to. Less a part of their world. That bothers and frightens me as my kids transition to new chapters in their lives.
Much like Dolores, I too have a daughter getting married. Trina is 22 and lives in Illinois. Being so far away makes it hard to be part of the wedding plans other than by remote viewing. I won't get a sneak peek at the wedding gown or be able to give fatherly advice about the venue she's chosen.
Maddy is starting high school, a big transition if ever there was one. She's started liking boys despite all of our best efforts and she's less inclined to go see a movie with us if she can go with her friends.
The same can be said of Emma and Harry. Now the only members of their respective families in elementary and middle school, they are inclined to chart their own courses, with less input from me or from my wife Cindi.
Of course they need help and guidance, but they rely less on us and tend more to doing things on their own. It's strange, that feeling of being a part of things but not being as necessary. As integral to the mix, as it were.
It's a natural progression, I know. They're growing up, becoming individuals and that's all part of the process. But not being there as much makes me try to hold on that much tighter. Which, of course, means they'll try that much harder to squirm away.
What put me on this thought train was something Ron Harmon said when I interviewed him and his wife Karen Williams last week for our cover story on the loss of their son.
Ron told me that the most dangerous time of the day for kids is between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. because that's when the parents are off at work. "There's nobody there watching the fort," he told me. There's truth there, and a scary truth at that.
So what to do about it? My main plan of buying a Lotto ticket every time the jackpot climbs over $100 million hasn't paid off so far so I stick with the back up plan. Talking.
Whether it's during a car ride or a meal or just sitting on the bed and chatting, I try to keep in contact with them. Let them know that even though I'm not here as much as I used to be, I'm still here. And I'm transitioning too. Instead of being a shepherd telling the flock where to go, I'm a guide. I know I can't control the paths they take, but I can advise. Point out potential pitfalls along the road. Give wisdom in the form of goofy anecdotes about the myriad miscues I made in my life.
The old saw about "quality time" is true. Working parent, at-home parent, it's the same. It's not about being with them all the time. It's about being there when it matters.
When they're sad or joyful or confused. Listening, talking (sometimes) and guiding. Being there.
-Geoff Gillette can be e-mailed at ggillette@DanvilleWeekly.com.