The Longest Game

It’s hard being The Good Kid in the family.


My oldest brother was the firstborn but, let’s be honest, I acted more like the textbook first-born kid. He had (and still does) charm in an unfair abundance, the knack of knowing exactly how to lighten the mood with a dry joke, and the good looks that made it all supremely impossible to compete with him. Except when it came to not getting in trouble. I gold-medaled in that category for all of our childhood, even when my youngest brother came along and tried to dethrone me. I’d give him a solid silver for effort, though.


Part of being the good kid meant calling my older brother (let’s call him Travis. Since it’s his name and all.) on his slip-ups. I was so annoying that I annoyed myself. However, there were random off days when I’d let things slide. One of my favorite memories of this was when we’d wait at the bus stop each morning and all of the other kids would be talking about the previous night’s episode of “The Cosby Show” (this was in the innocent days when we never knew what was really happening with Dr. Huxtable, so be gentle, people). Travis would “hmmm” and “oh yeah” along and nod and laugh with his friends’ comments, recalling the favorite moments of the sitcom, and inserting his opinions here and there. Then the bus would arrive, and we’d all swarm on in the mad race for the back seats.


There was only one problem: We didn’t own a TV.


I wasn’t about to call my brother on his bus stop performance because 1. I was impressed with his dramatic abilities even then and 2. I did not want the other kids to know how very, very deprived we were. I mean, no TV?!?! It was the 80s! Who would abuse their kids in such a way!


It wasn’t until my baby brother began walking and talking and asking questions that none of us knew the answers to (the kid was a certifiable genius) that my parents finally broke and bought a TV at a neighborhood garage sale. Finally, we could adjust the rabbit ear antenna and, if we squinted just right, could make out the shadows of the sitcom on the snowy, grainy screen. It was Utopia.


In the ridiculously long time it usually takes for these things to happen, it wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I appreciated my parents depriving us all those years. It forced us to be BORED, a word no one knows anymore. It forced us to read, all the time, so much so that my mom would make me put my book down and “just stop reading” for awhile. It forced us to conscript neighborhood kids into watching us put on elaborate dramatic backyard productions with props and sets and not really a working plot, and pyrotechnics (those lasted approximately .0003 seconds, until my dad put a stop to them). It forced us to think. To be still. To not have constant digital input. It was probably the best parenting decision they ever made.


For all of the times we (by we, I mean Travis, of course) argued with them about letting us have a TV LIKE EVERYONE ELSE DID, for all of the times we felt unlucky and peered through imaginary windows into other living rooms where other, cooler families gathered closely around glowing screens WITH COLOR IMAGES, my parents did not budge. It was like they could see something we couldn’t, something called an end game, and what it has taught me is this:


Parenting is the longest game.


We make choices for our kids sometimes based upon research and reflection and sometimes based solely upon our gut instincts. Trust those choices.


We sacrifice the good feeling of our kids liking us all the time. We sacrifice an hour of their fuming or being disappointed for the hope that their characters will eventually be the better for it. Trust those sacrifices.


We stand up to their sass and we stand up FOR their protection. We stand with them when they’re hurt and we stand up and draw a hard line when it needs to be drawn. Trust those stands.


We give our hearts, we give our advice, we give Yeses and we give Nos. Trust what you give.


We do all of these things never knowing how it will turn out. Will they eventually leave home and never look back? Will we have prepared them enough? Will they ever understand how much we love them and why we made those choices? We don’t know, and we may have to wait decades for those answers.


If you’re in the midst of the Longest Game today, and your heart is breaking for a kid who struggles with depression, a kid whose choices completely baffle and worry you, a kid whose words pierce your tender feelings over and over again, or a toddler who just plain wears you out, don’t quit. Find others, those ahead in the journey and those behind, those without kids, and talk to them. Ask them questions. Tell them what’s really going on with your kids, not the overly-filtered Instagram story you want them to see. You’ll probably discover that it’s true for them, too. Even if none of you have the answers, you have each other. Don’t sit alone in your hurt, because loneliness multiplies pain.


I’m lucky enough to still have my parents around. If you are, too, call them and thank them for being so mean to you when you were a kid. Thank them for never quitting on The Longest Game, even when they wanted to, even when they put up with all of our mistakes: The silly, immature ones, and the big, painful ones that cost them hours of sleep and gave them more pain than we ever understood until now.


It’s so much pressure to parent, to “get it right.” We haven’t, and we won’t, not any of us. Let’s trust the love and gut instinct we have for our kids and know that, with others on our team, we can stay in the game, strong and renewed.


But I’d highly recommend a TV along the way.