This morning I went to a school fair at a neighborhood recreation center. The event was designed and produced by parents who are looking for good schools for their children. “Packed” would be the right word for that small auditorium Curious mothers and fathers inched around the auditorium, snagging flyers, promotional material, and anything else they could carry home with them for subsequent deliberations. Parents came up to our school’s little table, carrying their two and three year-olds and wearing faces that spoke to anxiety about whether they would find what they needed in order to make the best choices.
Parents come up against this ‘best choice’ hurdle on a daily basis. Choices, modified by circumstance and chance encounters, shift quickly as all things tend to do. What appeared to be the perfect fit on Friday looks wrong by Sunday evening. What hides beneath an incessant search for the best choice is a hope that we can get clear of the nagging insecurities that accompany parenting.
As I observed parents pore over the prospect of paying tens of thousands of dollars for private pre-schools and elementary schools – and as I overheard them fretting over how to weigh the variables of class and race that public schools offer (too diverse? not diverse enough? safe? inclusive? rigorous?) I also felt them wishing for some deciding factor that would remove doubt and give them peace at last.
But it doesn’t go like that.
Doubt does not disappear. Impermanence does not solidify into stable predictability. Investing countless hours into research of the hundreds of options does not assure success. That distant shore toward which we direct our hopes and dreams does not draw closer even as we swim faster. Wishes and prayers, sincerity not withstanding, can’t alter the basic parameters within which all of us exist. Pema Chodron puts it well when she says: “Scrambling for security has never brought anything but momentary joy. We keep moving around seeking pleasure, seeking comfort, and the satisfaction that we get is very short lived.”
I won’t argue the point with restless parents who believe a better answer resides at a private school over the next hill. My own penchant for making things work right where you are is something of an acquired taste. Instead, I know we are hard-wired to imagine that something different will end our discomfort. I have stopped arguing the virtues of this choice over that choice with a mother or father hell-bent on finding the best. Accepting inherent flux, ambiguity, subjectivity and adaptability are, apparently, at the advanced graduate level of parenting. What I do say now is “good luck” and I do not say it in a snide way. I mean it. Really.
What is evolving for me is my heart’s ability to open to parents (and people) whose worries haunt and taunt them. Their suffering is real. Solutions continue to evade grasp. Success seems ever so fleeting. They want something honest: to offer their children the ultimate gift of a life devoid of what they may have had to endure. They are willing to sacrifice to the depth of their capacity to understand what sacrifice means.
I see nobility in the futile search for certainty. The quest is noteworthy because it reveals a good spine and steadfast love. How else could one endure the setbacks and frustrations? Might we one day give our young ones a world where they can confront uncertainty with equal measures of resilience and adaptability. At least then, they could fend for themselves with confidence.