You will always be a bad parent.

Unless, of course, you throw your head back and delight in the minty fresh scent of toothpaste smeared on your gear shifter.

Thanks Subaru, way to make me feel like a neurotic slacker parent who didn’t savor the exact moment my seven year old hosed down the interior dashboard and shorted out the CD player.  Thanks for making me feel like I should have high-fived my kids as the soapy water dripped through the sun roof, soaking the floor mats and giving the electrically heated leather seats a bubble bath.  Oh Subaru, you wanted to get mad, but you didn’t.  You were able to cherish those precious moment with your kids, even as they trashed your stuff.  We get it, you know.  We understand that our children, these endearing little miniatures of us will always be our biggest challenge and also our greatest joy.  You don’t have to remind us, Subaru.

While you’re busy receiving Car and Driver’s 10 Best Award, we’re busy playing the role of a one-eyed, bedraggled, sleep-deprived zombie, regretfully removing ourselves from warm winter beds before sunrise to make breakfast, pack lunch and drag sleepy children to greet the day.  We spend our 6:00am’s squinting in the dim kitchen light, coffee mug pressed against our lips and pen in hand, filling out school health forms, signing book order checks and double checking homework.  We’re the ones making sure seatbelts are buckled and everybody gets to school not only on time, but with enough time to visit with friends.  We’re the ones yelling “I love you!  Have a good day!  I’ll be here at 3:00; text me if you have practice!” without receiving so much as a returned glance, a small gesture of recognition that we’re their parents, the ones who love them more than anybody else in the world.  We’re the tired, hopeful people looking at the clock, doubting there’s enough time to swing by the Tim Horton’s drive-thru and still make it to work on time, but willing to take that chance because, at this point, it’s a matter of life and death.

We’re the ones who set our ring tones to alert just in case the school calls, even if it’s during that important meeting, the one where we cross our fingers we’ll get recognized.  We keep our phones on, should they need us.  Even when we punch the clock our lights never blink off duty, never so far away that our kids can’t reach us, should they need to.

Dear Subaru, shame on you.   That doesn’t mean I’m going to be happy with them as they power wash the interior of my Forester.  And shame on you for making me feel as though, in addition to losing sleep over their problems with bullying, school projects, broken hearts and growing pains, that I should somehow find the emotional wherewithal to not care that the car (that I’m still paying for) is essentially floating down my driveway in a tsunami.  How lucky that I also live in Northern Maine, where snow removal is my biggest concern, and flood insurance hasn’t yet crossed my mind.  Until now.

Parents are under a lot of pressure, pressure to always be patient, understanding and compassionate to the current plight of childhood, yet unyielding when setting guidelines because kids need structure.  But they also need wide open spaces to spread their wings and fly away.  But also you need to teach them right from wrong.  But don’t you dare force them to conform.  Set them free.  Teach them manners.  Let them explore.  Build a strong foundation for them.  Don’t stifle their creative genius.

“Back in my day, I didn’t have video games; I played with sticks and I was thankful.  Press Like if you agree.”

Well, that’s partly true.  I did play with sticks when I was a child.  I was also naïve and didn’t have these same opportunities my kids have to put new information into their heads.  I was also okay with home perms, Flashdance off-the-shoulder sweatshirts and mullets, so there you go. I’m not saying sticks aren’t cool, it’s just that us parents shoulder a lot of pressure to give this generation every chance we can to build themselves a good life and also, we’d like it if they could undo some of this ugly mess we’ve created.  I feel like they’re going to need more than sticks to do that?

So, here we are at the end of our day, winding down, homework is nearing completion and we’ve worked hard to pay the bills today, to keep the house and to put supper on the table.  We didn’t appreciate every moment as it was given to us, although we intended to.  We want to grab each moment by the hand and hold it tightly; we see them growing so fast, driving us mad and filling our hearts to bursting all at once.

Catching a moment on the couch with my husband, if nothing else than to say Hello before saying Good Night.  Finally wearing the comfiest pant I’ve been dreaming about all day and my favorite show starting in ten minutes.  If only my eyes will stay open that long.

And then the Subaru commercial comes on.  You watch it, torn between yelling at your kids for ruining your car and wanting to toss caution to the wind and be with them, really with them.  You want to hurl the sponge into the air with abandon, spray their faces while letting go of the car payment.  You want to.  But it’s not always that easy.  Sometimes you’re so snuggly fitted into the role of responsible adult that the moments pass you by, all the while your inner voice tells you to snatch them up or else.  Grab hold of them and kiss their cheeks.  Get a little messy.  Don’t worry about switching the load from the washer to the dryer.

But you’re jolted back to reality by that incredibly stupid thing your teenager did and you want to pull your hair out, piece by piece, except that would really hurt so setting it on fire seems like a better idea.  Except also you just paid your hairdresser a lot of money for this particular shade of mahogany so you’ve decided to leave your hair completely out of it and just drink Fin Du Monde instead.  And suddenly you remember your teenager as your fat little dumpling, six months old and drooling on your face, letting you know that you’d fallen in love forever after.  You miss those moments.

The Subaru commercial reminds you of those moments.  Maybe you watch it, feeling like a horrible parent, vowing to do better tomorrow, reminding yourself to stay present in the moments, even if those moments involve your stuff getting ruined.  Or maybe you tell Subaru to take a hike.  You’re doing the best you can with what you have and it’s hard enough to raise children in 2013 without them making you feel like you could be doing it better.

Or maybe you just feel like a giant pig because it looks like several garbage bombs exploded inside your car and you’d give anything for free child labor to get it clean at this point.

Whatever it is, despite our greatest efforts, we’re all slacking, not measuring up, not quite keeping up with the Joneses.  Yet somehow, this generation of kids is getting smarter than us, making better choices than we did and lifting their chins slightly higher, sending their gaze further along the horizon than ours went.

I think they’re going to be okay, even if we freak out on them.

And as I watch my two beautiful teenagers teeter dangerously close to the edge of adulthood, I hope they can forgive me for falling short of perfection, trusting they will do it better than I.

Also I’m going to need them to change my diapers in 50 years and it would be nice if they knew what they were doing.

Renée Chalou

About Renée Chalou

Renée Chalou lives and raises her family in Presque Isle, where she owns a fitness center, LiveWell United. Her oldest son is in his second year at UMO, her daughter plans to attend UMPI in the spring and her youngest son is an active, happy 11 year old in 6th grade. From her life experiences as a homeschooling parent, blending a family, and transforming herself from an overweight, side-line mother to a competitive athlete mother and fitness leader in her community, she writes about what she knows: living life well even when it's not perfect. She writes about finding and clinging to the good even when it would be easy to focus on the bad, no matter what challenges life brings. Life in Northern Maine is wonderful, full of adventures and sub-zero temperatures. It's not for everybody and nobody claims it's easy. But it's a good life, it's hers and she'd like to share some of it with you.