Tim Gunn, Kindergarten Hysteria, and the Secret to Good Parenting

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All too often, I find myself in situations that could be vastly improved by the presence and guidance of Tim Gunn. 


He’d talk me out of my pony-tail and baggy zip-up sweatshirt fashion rut. In fact, we’d be having that conversation at this very moment. When I realize that I’ve forgotten to defrost the chicken for dinner, he’d remind me that I have no choice but to “make it work.” And, under his watchful eye, I’d whip up something that manages to be both classic and fresh at the same time. With Tim Gunn at my side, I’d be non-stop fabulous. He’s one of my fantasy friends. We’re basically BFF.


Just recently, I came up with two new additions to my wish list of fantasy friends: Cornel West and his dad. In the spirit of full disclosure, I really don’t even know all that much about him except for a few casual internet searches and his appearance on the Today Show. He calls himself “Brother West,” and he called Matt Lauer “Brother Matt,” and he’s a wacky-but-brilliant Princeton professor with wacky-professor hair and a wacky-professor mustache and wacky-professor ideas about the power of love, kindness and acceptance. His help would have come in handy during last week’s kindergarten hysteria (Public or private? Private or public? Ahhhhh!) “Sister Casey,” he would have said, “is there really a bad choice in the bunch? Just do what feels right. All this hysteria does no one any good.” He probably would have given me a great big hug.


But, really, I chose him and his father as fantasy friends because of what his dad said in an interview a long time ago. Someone asked him, “What’s the secret to good parenting?” His answer was ridiculously simple and exceptionally profound: “Be there for them.” 


Notice he didn’t say “hover” or “obsess” or “micromanage” or “clean up their messes” or “teach them right and wrong” or “take them to church” or even “keep ‘em out of trouble.” 


Just be there. 


So, when your kid comes around for the twenty-fifth time on the carousel, waving just as excitedly as he did the first twenty-four times, be there to wave. When your kid gets into an argument with a good buddy, be there to listen. When your kid makes a big mistake or a home run, be there to experience it. Even if you’re just a decoration on the sidelines. Especially if you’re just a decoration on the sidelines. 


Being there might require silence or a whole lot of talking. 


Sometimes, being there requires more the promise of your presence than your actual presence. 


Someday, in some place, something will go wrong. And, your kid will say to himself, “She’ll come if I tell her I need her.”


And he’ll be right.

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