Each Tuesday, the Yahoos and I drive to the metropolis of Salt Lake City for piano lessons. Their teachers live in an area called Millcreek. Millcreek is on the bench.
The Salt Lake Valley is made into a giant bowl by it's surrounding mountains. The Wasatch mountains border the east and the Oquirrhs create a smaller wall to the west. The gradual incline of these mountains allow for neighborhoods and whatnot to establish themselves in a stadium-like fashion. When one refers to the benches of this valley, they're talking about the stuff that climbs the base of the mountains. Millcreek is on the east and sits 500 or so feet above the valley floor.
Millcreek is on the bench.
(Incidentally, if I were a Salt Lake liver, I'd choose the Millcreek area for my liver spot. It's near a canyon, has a terrific view, is close to Park City, and near perfect. Near. It's still a little too populated for my liking.)
Whenever we make our way to the Millcreek bench for lessons, I always look down at the Salt Lake Valley and smile. When I'm able to take a step back from Salt Lake, or any city, whether it's on a bench or an airplane, I always smile. I smile at cities. I see thousands (or millions) of people working together in some way. I see organization. I see progress. I see manners. I see beauty. I see art. I see a civilization made from many decades of cooperation and hard work. This is what I see when I'm on the bench.
When I'm not on the bench, or, in other words, when I'm not able to step back from a city, I see icky politics. I see litter. I see buildings that are either too small or too big. I see dick-head driving. I see overcrowded schools. I see hunger. I see a government that spends too much money, and in the wrong places. I see construction that won't end. I see drugs and violence. I see people who have no place to sleep. Basically, when I'm not on the bench, I see what needs improvement; I see a too-much-to-do-and-no-one's-making-progress dimple of doom.
Being a parent is similar. When you're smack-dab in the middle of the chaos, and not on the bench, all you see is a giant cluster. This needs work; that needs attention; this needs more love; that needs more discipline; this needs more push; that needs some pull–but only a little bit of pull–oh wait, that was too much pull! The parental adjustments are never-ending.
I have this – uh-hem – "friend." She's a real piece of work, I tell you, a mess because she won't let things be a mess. This "friend" just cannot get up on the bench. She's always in the middle with a fiddle. Criticizing how she did this and worrying about how she did that. She even uses that "F" word – "failure" in conjunction with, "I'm a." Like, often. Sometimes I feel like pulling that girl aside and screaming a Beatle-esque "Let it be...! Bitch...!" (Or maybe an "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey....! Bitch...!")
For example, this – uh-hem – "friend" really enjoys music, comes from a family of musicians (although she herself is not a musician,) and has a couple of boys who play the piano. This "friend" unearthed the country-side in a frenzied search for the perfect teachers; left few stones unturned. When at last the perfect teachers were found, she spent countless hours practicing with her two boys – correcting and adjusting, fidgiting and criticizing.
The perfect teachers need a perfect practice. This will lead to the perfect lesson. That was her thinking.
As you can imagine, because, like, duh – you're out there on the bench – things got frustrating for all parties involved. Practice-makes-perfect was making everyone pissy. It all came to a head when my "friend" was in the Millcreek area last week at her boys' lesson. (And isn't it weird how this friend and I both go to piano lesson on the Millcreek bench?! Crazy weird!)
At lessons this last Tuesday (yeah, this "friend" also has lessons on Tuesdays, crazy weird again!) my "friend" was forced to get on the bench. The coach even said so, "YOU! Friend of Rabid! On the bench!"
See, all this correcting and criticizing, and the making of things perfect wasn't helping; it was enabling. Those boys were relying on their mom to correct every last mistake and had therefore lost their own ability to course-correct. Someone was always there to do their thinking for them. In some ways their progress was going backwards.
Parenting requires that we walk a fine line – a line that separates guiding and encouraging from enabling. We all try to guide and help and provide resources. We all try to make sure that our kids do everything "right." One day, we might discover that we aren't guiding anymore and that we are doing it all for them. It happens slowly and maybe we won't see it happen. Hopefully, before it's not too late, we might discover the enablement and make some adjustments.
This discovery of guidance-gone-awry happened to my "friend." She sat there in lessons, right in the middle, and not on the bench, thinking she was working hard and working smart, only to discover that her efforts were hindering, not helping.
So what does this "friend" do? After she discovers that she's right in the middle enabling, and needs to get on the bench? She jumps back in the middle again, and facilitates the ritual of adjusting and worrying. This is wrong, that is bad, this needs help, blah, blah, blah, in ad nauseum.
If only this "friend" could step back and put herself on the bench, she would see progress. And organization. And manners. And hard work. Basically, she'd see that everything is just fine.
So get on the bench...! And let it be...! Bitch...!