Oh I love this story. And not just because the way the parents handle the potentially awkward situation is so thoughtful (it really is), but because of the image at the end — with the kids’ beloved obsessions laying discarded on the floor while they move on to the next thing. It makes me think of parents (myself included) who are all, “My kid is CRAZY about pirates!!!” Like the kid went to the store and paid for the pirate comforter and pirate Legos and t-shirt and shoes and eyepatch all by himself. Arghh, matey, who’s really the pirate crazy one? So many times when my kids are going through a phase I don’t really understand, I obsess about it, and then when I get it figured out, they’re on to the next thing. The next thing that I don’t understand. So I try to tell myself that it’s not worth investing too much. But how do I know that for sure? How do I know what’s going to be a discarded Buzz Lightyear toy and what’s going to have an actual impact on their lives? And I guess you just don’t. You don’t really know if your baby banging on a plastic keyboard means they have musical talent, or if your toddler’s knack for a fart joke means they have a gift for comedy.

Which is kind of terrifying, and liberating.

A few years ago, after I’d had my son, I went to lunch with a senior partner at my (old!) firm. He had three grown kids and was a devoted dad. And his sage parenting advice to me? I quote, “Raising kids is a total crapshoot and all you can do is keep them safe and hope you get lucky.” Um. Here was a guy who’d made a career out of manipulating juries and controlling legal battles, telling me that raising kids was out of my hands and mainly about getting lucky.

At the time it sounded totally fatalistic to me, but now I think it’s kind of a beautiful (and liberating) idea: that it’s not up to you to determine who your kids are, what they like, how they feel about something. That you just keep them safe and cross your fingers.

Which reminds me of the best parenting advice I’ve ever gotten. Not from my mom or my best friend or a neighbor, but from a total stranger (who may have been wearing a lime green sweatshirt with a large gray scotty dog made out of fuzzy yarn jumping across her boobs). She sat down next to me at Costco and stared at my son while I was giving him some pizza, and right before I was about to get up and move because she was skeeving me out, she said with this faraway look in her eye, “I wish I’d sat with my kids more and just watched them, instead of trying to get them to do what I wanted to so much.”

I think about that lime green fuzzy dog sweatshirt woman all the time, and not just because I have nightmares about her shirt. Or because she was buying a whole flatbed cart of cashews in bulk. (Seriously. What do you DO with that many cashews? Where does she store them? Does she have a cashew closet in her house? Does she make cashew butter? Does she work at a zoo?) Some of my favorite memories of my kids are from watching them when they don’t know I’m there – like hearing my son console his sister when she can’t find her favorite doll, or hearing my daughter tell her big brother that she loves him “so so so much” after he tells her a ridiculous joke (about poop, of course). If I’d been shuffling them out the door to their next activity, or up in their grills trying to entertain them, I might have missed that altogether.

And that poop joke was too good to miss.

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