Checking homework. Making lunches. Shuttling to soccer practice, music lessons, doctor’s appointments. Finding money for soccer uniforms, musical instruments, out-of-pocket co-pays.
Much of what we do as parents, as much as 95 percent, is a largely thankless grind. We do it without thinking because if we actually thought about it, we’d never get out of bed in the morning.
But this is not a column complaining about the 95 percent of what we do that goes unnoticed, what the great Anna Quindlen calls “transcendent scut work.” I’m writing about the other 5 percent, and why that is the ultimate measure of parents. It is that 5 percent that makes all the difference.
This thought occurred to me while watching “Finding Nemo” on a big screen, in 3-D, with my 16-year-old twin sons. Christopher, who would dissect and analyze the merits of every Pixar movie ever made, had been talking about seeing “Nemo” in 3-D for months. But then I read Post colleague Jen Chaney’s cogent analysis:
“As lovely as ‘Finding Nemo 3D’ is, the current economy compels me to recommend that it’s probably best to save your money, watch it in the family room and let your children’s imaginations conjure thoughts of just how vast Nemo’s ocean must be.”
That made a lot of sense to me, and so I groaned internally when Christopher asked if we could go see it. A Saturday afternoon and $30 gone.
But as I sat in the theater seeing Nemo’s ocean ripple and sway and come to life for the first time on a big screen, I came to the realization that this was one of those 5 percent moments.
Could my kids live full, complete, successful lives without ever seeing “Finding Nemo” on anything bigger than a 27-inch screen? Absolutely.
But here’s the problem with that. Until you experience “Nemo” as director Andrew Stanton intended it to be viewed, you don’t know what you’re missing. There is less joy in your life, but you don’t even realize it. Your life is incrementally (say, by 5 percent) less beautiful, less realized, less fulfilling.
This 5 percent theory factored into our decision to adopt a new dog, just weeks after our beloved family pet passed away. We found that all the things that annoyed us about the dog when she was alive were the things we missed most acutely when she was gone. No one to beg for food at the table. No one to wake you at 5:30 a.m. No one to nuzzle into your leg or look into your face with such unconditional love.
We could have gotten used to a house without a dog. But that’s exactly what I didn’t want to happen. I didn’t want us to grow accustomed to there being 5 percent less laughter, 5 percent less love, 5 percent less joy in the house.
My son Andrew is taking an AP art history class this year. At back-to-school night his teacher conceded that this was not a course anybody needed to take to succeed in life. That’s precisely why she loves teaching it so much. It’s the class that makes the 5 percent difference. It’s hard, I know, after spending far too many waking hours doing the 95 percent to do even more. And what that 5 percent is will be different for every family, maybe for every child. Perhaps it’s a walk in the woods or a trip to see the painting of John Brown at the Portrait Gallery. Perhaps it’s ice cream for breakfast once in a while or staying in your pajamas all day long. Perhaps it’s reading aloud all seven Harry Potter books or seeing “Nemo” on the big screen.
You will discover what the 5 percent is for your family. It’s well worth the search. Tell us about your “5 percent” moments in the comments section.
Grant, the editor of KidsPost, writes about parenting issues every other week.