Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day #17: The Push and Pull of Parenting

Today's topic is:  "If you parent, what is the best part of parenting?  If you don't parent, what is the best part of not having kids?"

Well, I guess the second part doesn't apply to me.  But--in hindsight--the best part of not having kids was being able to go to a movie on a whim!  David and I both miss that terribly.  When we first met, and even into the early years of our marriage, it wasn't unusual for us to go to the movies every weekend, or even twice a week.  Now we have to decide "Well, is it worth the $60 it's going to cost to see this trending indie with the shaky, hand-held camera and the sepia flashbacks, or should we just wait for Netflix?"  It just goes to show, you gotta appreciate the little things.

The best part of parenting?  Hmmm.  That's a tough one.  Off the top of my head, I think it might be something similar to what David always said he was looking forward to (and which I then made fun of) and that's "teaching them things."  Not in an academic, didactic way.  More like how they have questions about every little detail of life that they need answered every day, and they think you are definitely the person with the answers.  It gives me an opportunity, every time I have one of these moments, to really think about my reality, my perspective, my values, even how I use language to create meaning.  All of that is so important, because they really hold on to those first few words, and they really, really tune out all the ones that come after.  I always figure I have about four sentences of pure, sweet attention before the young one's mind inevitably strays to the wonder of fruit leather and my chance is gone.

I love how complicated the questions have become.  (So of course now I'm blanking on examples.)  Well, she was really interested in WHY Michael Jackson died, and that was a challenge.  I really don't want to lie about anything, or sugarcoat things, but on the other hand, I don't want to be spewing a lot of US-Weekly-like sensationalism, either.  Hence, I'm trying to sound all nonchalant and off-the cuff while behind the scenes, the little brain elves are running around, shouting orders and searching files.  I love that.

I love, too, the absolute faith that we DO have the answers.  As a teacher, I've had years of experience saying "I don't know.  Good question!" and I have no shame about it.  But it doesn't quite work with Jarrah because she'll furrow her brow and just ask again, and continue asking, as if it doesn't quite compute that I might not know everything.  Which is why when I wrote my stand-up act, I opened with "I'm a mom.  My daughter is six, which means I still know everything.  To her, I'm Google."

This is kind of weird, but another thing I like about parenting is the ability to genuinely make my kid feel better.  Even she has started to notice how competent I am in this area.  A few months ago, I got a call that she had thrown up in her classroom, and I picked her up in the office.  I gave her a big hug, said a lot of soothing things, gave her a warm bath, some tea and got her settled in bed with a little bell in case she needed me.  She gave me a sweet little smile before her nap and said "Wow, Mom.  You're really good at taking care of sick people."  I was all a-glow.  It might sound sort of strange, but when she's sick, she really needs her mommy and can see that I'm there for her.  The rest of the time, she's so independent, she doesn't want me smoochin' on her or helping her do anything.  When she's sick, I get the opportunity to demonstrate that I've learned a thing or two about taking care of a small, helpless person.  Mind you, it wasn't instinctive.  I had to learn on the job, by trial and error, but six years in, I'd say that I have some credentials.

But maybe the best part of parenting is the part I'd have said--a few years ago--is also the worst.  Learning to meet the needs of a demanding little developing id is the biggest boundary-pusher on the planet.  Every possible deal-breaker I've ever had with other people and situations in my life, has been foisted on me and usually at the most inconvenient times possible.  And while I'm sometimes simply aghast that I'm having a screaming fight in a toy store while I'm getting a parking ticket outside, or the same stuffed animal I just lovingly purchased is being thrown at my head, or I'm having to negotiate a complicated argument about vampires vs. zombies while trying not to die in rush hour traffic, or missing an important event because my kid has a fever, or trying to quell a few choice words during a conference with her teacher, or cringing in embarrassment because she's acting like a friend's baby is poisonous, or on my hands and knees scrubbing up some sort of effluvia that previously would not have been there...whew!  I find it's really made me a more flexible person.

And since I was really, really NOT flexible before this whole parenting gig, this can only be considered a good thing.  Last summer in Australia, making plans with a friend who's known me 25 years, I hadn't noticed how much I'd been saying "That's fine!" or "Whatever works best for you!" or "You can just text us when you're ready and we'll find you!" until she fixed me with a slight, sardonic smile and said "What the hell happened to you?  When did you get so flexible?"  And without even knowing I would, I heard myself say "I guess when I became a mom."

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