There is this ongoing thing on Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin’s Back to Work podcast where one of the hosts (usually Merlin) explains how the listeners hate it when they talk about their kids and then they proceed to talk about their kids for forty-five minutes. It is one of the endearing things I love about the show and, as a parent myself, I always find these talks interesting.

As parents we are always wondering about our children. In this case by “wondering”, I really mean “worrying”. My oldest daughter, Samantha, can drive now. I sometimes watch her little purple dot on Find my Friends and wonder/worry that someone driving near her is drunk or texting and about to crash into her. I also watch my daughters make new friends and wonder/worry about what kind of people they are. When the bullets are flying, will they fiercely defend my daughters or will they stab them in the back? There is just so much I can’t control.

There is also another kind of worry/wonder that is more guilt-inducing. Did I spend enough time with them growing up? Did I spend too much time hovering? Did I give them enough freedom? Did I teach them enough self control? There are an infinite number of ways to screw up my kids and I’m sure that over the years I’ve blown it plenty. This wonder/worry feels to me a bit self-indulgent though. We all make mistakes and I truly believe that if I keep instilling confidence and compassion in my children, they’ll even survive my parental incompetence.

In this context, Merlin started talking about marbles in Back to Work Episode 126. Merlin mournfully equated Saturdays with his daughter Eleanor before she heads off to Kindergarten to a jar of marbles. For Merlin, that jar is rapidly approaching empty. Once your kid starts Kindergarten, milestones start dropping like flies. Trust me. I know.


I’ve been fretting over something similar lately with Samantha, who is about to start her senior year of high school and after that college and after that the world at large. How did this happen? It feels like yesterday…Yesterday!… that I had her strapped to my back while working in the back yard. Now she is a creative, smart, driven woman.

I’ve been wrestling with this problem for several months and Merlin’s dive into marbles really helped sort me out. It occurs to me that our angst on this issue is misplaced. When it comes to your kids, there isn’t an arbitrary number of marbles representing how long you’ll have before they move on and leave you to get old and drool on yourself.

The bucket refills.

Maybe Merlin and Eleanor’s toddler marble jar will empty soon but then the elementary school jar fills up to the top. Their relationship will evolve and they’ll face new challenges together. I repeat. Together. And then as Eleanor moves on to Junior High School one day, he’ll get another pile of marbles and he and Eleanor will share another rich relationship together.

For my Samantha, I can already see the bottom of her childhood jar and on a certain level that is terrifying for me. (Not her.) However, in our evolving relationship, I can also see the approaching bag of our adult relationship marbles and you know what? They look pretty good to me.

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