Amy Deutsch is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program, Class XIX. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the week before my Wexner Graduate Fellowship interview, I took a cruise with my husband (then fiancé—we had just gotten engaged). We were about three days into the cruise when, in the middle of the night, the ship alarm went off. Before we knew it, we were being told to get our lifejackets, hats, and long-sleeved shirts and report to our muster stations—this was an emergency of the highest level. Smoke was coming into the room and it was clear that the boat was on fire. My husband, being the wonderful romantic man he is, turned to me and said, “No matter what happens, I love you.” I responded, “Turn around and get the hell out of here!” (The boat was on fire, but we were fine, and as it turns out, I made it home a few days in advance of my interview, giving me some extra time to prepare. Maybe that fire made all the difference…).
I tell this story to illustrate something about myself that I hadn’t realized until that minute. I’m good in a crisis. (I told my friends this story and they universally said that if they had to pick anyone to be with on a burning cruise ship, they’d pick me. Who knew?) I keep calm, I analyze the situation, and I work toward a solution. I’ve learned this even more now that I’m a parent. Because when you’re a parent, there’s a crisis happening almost all of the time.
Whether it’s a scraped knee, a missing stuffed animal, or the fact that suddenly your toddler hates strawberries with a passion so strong that she throws them across the room, life with a small child can quickly shift from everything being fine to tantrum (aka ship on fire) mode. When I sat down to think about my ability to stay calm while the ship is burning, I realized that a lot of it is due to my parents, who taught me to be independent and self-reliant. I think one of the best lessons I could teach my daughter is that same trait.
So when she screams that she needs help right this second with getting a puzzle piece to fit, of course I help her—but not immediately. I let her try a little bit longer on her own. I hope that eventually those extra attempts will result in success, and she’ll begin to realize that with effort and determination she can do it all by herself.
But not too soon, after all, it’s nice to still be needed sometimes.