We are driving. Actually, I am in the passenger seat. Avery is driving. But it’s been a symbiotic process for so long that I think of it as the two of us driving. Me giving directions, suggestions and warnings. Him being the receptacle of my driving wisdom. An avatar of my knowledge of roads and signs and traffic movements. He is less a driver than a puppet with very short strings attached to a wheel and a pedal and my mind. This is how it works when we drive. But this doesn’t work anymore. This dynamic is failing all across the spectrum with him. It’s unhealthy and stultifying and limiting to his growth as a driver and a human being. So, now I am trying to give Avery less directions, less suggestions and fewer reminders. I am trying to do less. And it is hardest thing I’ve ever done.
In the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the surfing instructor gives inscrutable directions to the novice about how to pop up on the surfboard to catch a wave. “You’re doing too much. Do less,” he tells him. He repeats the zen-like instruction “Do Less” so often the novice eventually just lies still on the surfboard in an effort to comply. “Not that much less,” the instructor says. The plight of the surfing student sort of explains how counterintuitive it feels to me to not be giving Avery so much oversight. I know it’s the right thing to do less. I know I should do a lot less until I am almost doing nothing at all in the way that training wheels eventually come off bicycles and parents guiding hands on steering wheels gradually release and the parent eventually is left behind in the distance as the small cyclist pedals madly away. But I can’t quite manage to make myself do enough less.
When we leave the house for a few days Avery manages to arise at a given hour and walk the dog and get to school and back and feed himself. He seems to exist as a fully realized independent person. Then I come back, and I remind him to do everything he did when I wasn’t there and I have to remind him several times. So, I can tell that I am the problem. In the vacuum of my absence, he asserts his independence and shows responsibility. In the presence of my parenting he regresses into a reluctant participant in life who must be prodded forward like a very old mule who wants to wade in a stream when you need it to go up a steep mountain. Absent any instruction from me, he sleeps until noon. Doesn’t shower. Lies still in the bed dreaming or props himself up into a half slouch just enough to watch videos on his computer.
The problem is vexing. I homeschooled him through high school. But now he’s enrolled in a community college and just received his own drivers license. He’s got to walk into his own walls the way we all do. He has to have the freedom to make his own mistakes and suffer and learn from them. If I can just get out of his way. I know all that. But I’m having trouble subtracting myself from the equation. Doing less is harder than doing more. I’m going to have to try harder to do less. And keep on doing less until I barely do anything.
It’s pretty scary.