There are very few times when I am talking about raising my kids that you will hear me say, “You know what? I did that really well. I may have actually done it a little too well.”
But there is one thing.
When I took a Deaf Culture class years ago (as part of Vista—now Berkeley City College’s—American Sign Language program. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), one of the topics we covered was child rearing. In Deaf culture, the point of raising children is to carry on cultural norms and values, with the expectation that the children would a) see themselves primarily as members of the community and b) remain connected to these norms and values as they themselves became adults. In Hearing culture—as the Deaf community calls the rest of us—the goal of child raising it to emphasize independence and individuality, with the thought that as an adult the child will a) step out from the existing community values and norms and b) forge his or her own path. Although obviously the child’s “own path” might include a healthy dose of earlier generational norms—and although most of the Deaf people I’ve met over the years have quite distinct, individual personalities—the basic premise remains: Deaf adults primarily see Deaf children as carriers of existing culture, while Hearing adults push their children to explore and create their own independent experience.
In case anyone is wondering, I am not Deaf.
I’ve been fostering (no pun intended) independence pretty much since the day the kids crossed the doorway “officially” for the first time. As I’ve mentioned earlier, from the beginning they had to clean their own rooms and make their own breakfasts and lunches. Not long after, they began cooking dinner once in a while, as I will describe elsewhere. (There was also a period where they cleaned the the bathrooms, on the theory that 95% of the crud came from them. Until I realized that it was faster for me to clean the actual crud than to do a second pass on the boys’ attempts. Despite their best efforts, Hazel they are not. And if you get that reference, you are old enough to have teenaged—or older—kids yourself.)
Perhaps the most obvious marker of the kids’ independence is how they have long traveled from place to place by themselves. I did drive them to their elementary school, even though both we and the school are a block or two from BART stations. Mostly because I wasn’t convinced they would consistently get on the right train. And because I could see lots of arguments when one was sure it was the red line, and the other was sure it was the yellow line, and then I would be getting calls from the BART police. (“Mr. Sadusky? It’s …” “I know. Say no more, I’ll be right there.”)
I usually drove them to their first middle school as well, because there’s no easy way to get there by train or bus. But from that point on—say around age 13—they’ve been more or less doing it on their own. School, practices, lessons, meets, social engagements—even when I “could” drive them, more and more we made it a habit for them to get there and back on their own. To the point where now, even if I offer to drive, they often will prefer to hop the bus or train. Which I am sure they are doing just to be nice, because clearly they would rather be in the passenger seat with Dad and his jazz or weirdo hip-hop CDs.
This independent transport reached a new level when Daveon, and later Mark, began driving. This cuts me out entirely as the middle-man, even when a car is required. At one point, Daveon actually offered to drive Mark to his twice-weekly 6AM skating sessions, which was noteworthy to the point of being a bit alarming. This did not stop me from taking him up on the offer, of course.
So if your goal in raising your kids is to get them to the point where they don’t need you, like I say, I think I may be a bit of an overachiever in this department. Or maybe the kids are just doing me a favor and getting me gradually acclimated to the point where I will be an empty-nester, so it won’t be too much of a shock. They’re thoughtful like that.