This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on May 1, 2009.
Parents, untrained and unprepared to raise children, do their best in spite of the incredible odds that are stacked against them. In the darkness of a winter night, or in
the dappled shade of a picnic ground, sperm meets egg and a whole bunch of DNA gets mixed together to produce a brand new human being.
Even the cold, sterile environment that is the average delivery room cannot dampen the rapturous joy that heralds the arrival of a newborn child. The doctor catches the newborn babe, nurses scurry around to weigh and clean and tidy up. New moms and dads shed tears of joy as they gaze at the tiny miracle. It goes downhill from there.
If you look up “mistake” in the dictionary, buried deep in the definition you’ll find “well meaning but inexperienced parents.” We parents make huge mistakes as we try our very best not to. Sometimes we do it right but we don’t know it at the time.
One of the things I got right was Mommy-and-Ben Time. When I came up with the idea my son was just seven years old and had been subjected to upheaval that I had visited on him and another upheaval that life cruelly bestowed upon him. I tried to cushion the blows.
Ben’s father and I divorced when Ben was just four-years-old. I remarried two years later and we moved with my new husband to another state. Ben left behind life as he knew it, along with his best buddy, Matty. The week before we moved, I watched my broken hearted six-year-old son put his feet up against the wall in his bedroom and wail, “I’m going to miss this wall.” It went downhill from there.
Ben started first grade in his new school. As children must do, he adapted to his new environment and found a new best buddy.The cruel part came when Ben’s new best buddy, who had a heart condition, died on the playground after running too hard and too long with his little friends. Ben was bereft.
It broke my heart to see my young son cope with so much loss. I wanted to give him extra time and attention, so I invented Mommy-and-Ben Time. Every Saturday morning we got up and decided where we wanted to go – just the two of us. We went to the magic store, the zoo, hiking, the mall. We always went to a fast food restaurant for lunch, capping off our morning together with curly fries. I didn’t know then that our time together had a deep impact on my young son.
When Ben was twenty-five he married a lovely young woman. It was my daughter-in-law who told me that my invention worked.
“Ben and I are so busy all week, we hardly have time to see each other,” she said. “He
told me about Mommy-and-Ben time, and he invented Ben- and-Claire Friday. At the end of the week, we have our time together, just the two of us.”
All these years later, I was filled with joy at the thought of my young son who was coping with so much disruption and loss, got strength from his time together with me, his mom.
The best insurance against parental failure is time. Mommy-and-Ben timetaught my son that spending time with loved ones is the best antidote to a cold and often cruel world. As he raises his own children, he will also make the inevitable mistakes parents make, but he’ll also give them all the time and love they need.
Kathleen Vallee Stein