Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Follow your instincts

I've been thinking a lot lately about when, exactly, I developed the confidence to follow my instincts. Or in which ways I have.

I was talking to a new parent a few weeks ago who was clearly feeling shaky, new baby in arms, sleep a distant memory, questioning every hiccup and twitch. I couldn't remember whether I felt that way. I must have, but I had the benefit of a pediatrician father (mine, I mean) and experienced mamas all around offering advice. I was lucky and had babies who were easily soothed, so I equated whatever I was doing - instinct - with success, and thus my confidence grew.

When W got really, really sick in the spring just after he turned two, it was instinct that told me: This time is different. This is not okay. Danger, danger, danger. I took him to the hospital once, twice, three times in three days. In the end, it was clear to everyone he needed to stay, and he did. Only the strongest of drugs dripped into his little veins for weeks on end cleared the infection. But it took several days for the doctors, and even W's dad, to catch up with what I already knew and would not release: danger, danger, danger.

As E and W get older, I feel my confidence slipping. The issues are different. The problems confuse me, cause conflict within and without. How do I know whether enforcing bedtime for an 11-year-old is right or wrong? How do I know whether the benefits of consistency, in which I believe strongly as a parenting maxim, are undercut, wiped out, bye-bye, by one lazy night, or two, or a dozen? I have instincts, still, but they seem watery, wavy, translucent instead of solid. My husband points out my inconsistencies, and I'm glad. My kids point them out, too, and I wonder whether to stand my ground or admit my waffle.

On Yom Kippur this year, I was in one of those states of consummate confusion. I heard my mother's voice in my head: It's the holiest day of the year! You can't go shopping! No playdates! No TV! But now, in my house and my life and my family, we are thoughtful but unobservant - aware of our heritage, yet careless of custom. To my children, it's another day. Why can't they watch TV? Why can't they have a playdate? We're not in temple, we're not religious, we've talked about the meaning of the day. For them, that's enough.

But I was all conflict. When they asked if they could watch TV, I couldn't say no, and I couldn't say yes. When W asked to play with his friend around the corner, I couldn't say no, and I couldn't say yes. Wisely, I think, I finally said to my husband: Nothing is working properly in my head right now. I cannot make logical decisions. You need to be in charge of the kid decisions today. I'm not capable. And so he took over, and there was TV, and there were playdates, and I continued to feel guilty and conflicted. Whatever instincts I had about that day, they were off. Soured. Dissonant. Ineffective.

I'm hoping my instincts will right themselves sometime soon. But I'm not sure how to help that happen. I say "help" instead of "make" because one thing I know for certain: I can't make much happen these days. Things happen. The best case scenario is that, as they do, I will be strong enough to listen to my gut to deal with whatever comes along.