Lessons from a decade of parenting (I’ve learned nothing)

It has been [zero] days since the last accident at the pretend mine. Featuring Henry, George and Douglas during a recent visit to the Hull Rust Mine Overlook in Hibbing. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

It has been [zero] days since the last accident at the pretend mine. Featuring Henry, George and Douglas during a recent visit to the Hull Rust Mine Overlook in Hibbing. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

“What size shirt does George wear?” my mom asked a few days before my son’s birthday.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Kinda big. He’s bigger than Doug (his twin brother). But not taller. Doug is taller. They’re both kinda tall. They wear shirts. Sometimes I pay for the shirts, but not always. I don’t know where the shirts come from.”

I’ve now been a parent for more than a decade and while this experience has taught me a lot, it’s mostly taught me that everything changes. All the hard-won lessons from raising children become outdated just as soon as you master them.

You learn how to change diapers like a NASCAR pit crew, but then the boys start baptizing the walls close enough to the toilet to make you wonder whether or not it was an accident. You learn to spell certain words to your spouse to subvert little eavesdroppers, but then they learn to spell those same words and use guilt as a weapon. You start to think that one of your children might be a compassionate genius, but then he makes a fart noise and cold-cocks his brother.

This week our twin sons Doug and George turned 8. Our oldest son Henry turned 10 just over a month ago. We’re halfway through our parenting adventure and, yet, it feels like the next 10 years are just as uncertain as the last.

To me, the most remarkable thing about raising a child is watching them become their own person. You have a role in shaping them — their values, their knowledge — but so much of it is simply who they are, something endowed. It’s like dropping those “grow a dinosaur” tablets in a a bowl of water. Just because it’s blue does not mean it’s a triceratops, no matter what’s on the box.

Henry is our woodsman — an archer, fisherman, birder, and easily our hardest worker (though with a bit of a temper). George is our sweetest boy, kind to everyone, whip smart and a good hand in the kitchen (if you can pry him from his video games). Douglas reads college-level history books and draws at least one original cartoon every day. He is already of the most creative people I know (which brings with it all the classic anxieties of an artistic personality).

Did Christina and I have a role in this? Yes, of course. But, then again, not entirely.

One thing I really have learned is the idea behind what the Greek philosopher Heraclitus meant when he said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Children are supposed to grow and change, but so too do their parents. No one stays the same because the very act of living demands we constantly change.

The little babies we met at the hospital — store-bought hams with eyes — have become strong, smart boys with opinions and constantly-fluctuating career plans. They make us happy, proud, angry and, depending on what was served for dinner, sometimes disgusted. But they now feel the same about us. We support, love, embarrass, pry, disappoint and reassure them.

A few days back, Henry and I took the old tent out of a box in the garage and set it up in our back yard. Doug and George were at a sleepover, so we thought we’d try out camping. It was the first time this tent had seen daylight since Christina and I went camping for the first and only time in our relationship — some 11 years prior. I was thinking about that time, years before we even had children, and that world seemed both familiar and foreign. Our friends from that trip are now scattered about the country. Things aren’t the same and neither am I.

Yes, it was a different man and a new man sleeping in this tent now. The owls hooted, the frogs sang, the sun rose. My son was up before me, off to fish with grandpa next door at dawn. We’re not the same, he and I. We each have our own sense of purpose. How wonderful that parents and children change each other. No matter the age, we all grow out of our old clothes and must put on new ones. Thank goodness.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, July 5, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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