...yet still ask you just to come hang out with us instead:
Yesterday morning (late morning--Abe is still sleeping until 10 every day), we went down the street to our local coffee-joint mainly to let Abe watch people and hopefully play with some other kids. He gets squirrelly at home alone with me. There was only one other kid his age there and she was kind of shy, so while Abe was on the floor pushing aside every toy I tried to give him in order to get his hands on the dirty underside of the coffee-table, I was listening to the conversation of two women sitting near us. Yes, I was eaves-dropping. I am a horrible person.
But let me share with you what these two women talked about nonstop, for more than an hour: their babies. I kept hoping to hear something interesting, but it was all things like, "Oh, she eats more bananas than peaches" or "She's a good baby--not fussy at all," or "She likes two naps a day."
Zzzz, snort...still awake? Again, I'm a horrible person. I know this, okay? (Please don't leave hateful comments telling me this. It's a fact I'm well aware of). It's not that I don't like talking about Abe or that I'm bored by mother-hood. I'm not. I love being a mom, and I think Abe is a pretty interesting fella. But I also know that baby-talk gets boring after a while. If I get bored talking about Abe for more than a half hour or so, then you must certainly be bored listening, right? I was telling my friend Rusty the other day on the phone about this, and he agreed: it's just not that interesting when people say stuff like, "My baby started clapping this week. Let me tell to you how cute it is." As he explained, babies are wonderful, but a lot of that wonder falls in the realm of, "Guess you had to be there." It is cute to watch a baby clap for the first time (believe me, I know: Abe started that this week when I sing "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da" to him), but I certainly don't want to subject anyone to a descriptive narrative of how adorable this is. You can see for yourself when you're at our house or through the magic of youtube.
Anyway, all this has me thinking about parenthood and how different I think it is now than for my mom when she was raising me and my sister. I guess growing up I don't remember the world circling around me and my sister the way it seems to for kids these days. My parents always had their own interests, jobs, and hobbies, and this is what I remember them talking about. When I asked my mom today what the experience was like for her when my sister and I were babies, she said, "I just went to work and all our hippie friends at USM sat around watching your sister. She was kind of a novelty since we were so young." She has no memory of discussing the ins-and-outs of babyhood with her friends. She's sure she must have talked about it some, but they moved on pretty quickly to stuff about nursing school or their jobs or something.
My sister and I seemed to go along for the ride with whatever my parents were into, from stuff like camping and cooking out on Saturday nights while listening to Folk Alley and Highway 61 (what I liked to call "junkyard music" as a kid), to going with my mom to her job at an outpatient surgical clinic where after-hours my sister and I would push each other so wildly in the recovery-room wheelchairs that we'd crash into the walls (and my mom somehow kept getting promoted at this job in spite of her hooligan children).
I was reading in the Sunday newspaper a book review about how over-scheduled kids today are. (Gotta track down that review...) There was one grade-school age kid who needed a blackberry to keep up with his schedule. This is crazy to me. Absolutely insane. What compels parents to fill the days and weeks of their children so full with extra-curricular activities? I'm interested in reading this book as a way of having it explained to me.
When I was a kid, the only scheduled activity besides school I can remember were our weekly piano lessons on Friday afternoons that my grandmother took us to and a year or two of Girl Scouts. I never really took to either of these activities, preferring to get home so I could chow down on some Little Debbie snack treats and pink-packaged Tab before playing "devil in the ditch" with Katie and Timmy, my two best friends on our street. Looking back, my sister and I were pretty unsupervised too during our play time. I can remember a period where we'd climb onto the roof of our house and make pine-straw forts facing the street so we could call Timmy over to play, then bomb him with pine-cones when he got to the house. There was a pretty long concrete ditch that ran through our neighborhood, and we'd all go play in that for hours. I guess I fit the stereotype: a fat kid in Mississippi playing in a ditch. But we loved it. My mom would get us to come home by standing on the front porch, hands on hips, and calling our names at the top of her voice until we came running. We could hear her from pretty far away.
With all of this fun and play-time, not once did we have an official "play-date." Even if one's child is not one of the crazy, over-scheduled ones, this term has still managed to creep its way into our modern-day American lexicon, and I prefer not to let it into mine. I don't want the term "date" used anywhere in Abe's life until he's developed a crush and is pestering us to let him go out with the sweet thing he has his eye on.
It seems that a lot of people these days are viewing their parenthood not just as their profession (which honestly, it becomes that which is a good thing, at least for a while), but also their sole hobby and interest. Is this healthy? Won't kids grow up pretty self-centered when they see that the only thing their parents have any passion about is their presence in their parents' lives? My mom currently works in a pediatric clinic and told me that she sees this kind of mentality all the time, much more so than even ten years ago. She admitted that she also cringes at hearing "play-date" but is horrified by the wacky stuff parents have their kids doing, like one woman she works with who bought her 3-year-old competitive tumbler/cheerleader a thong for Christmas. A thong, people. Seriously?
Though I made fun of it by calling it "junkyard music," I loved my dad's passion for folk and blues and am mourning having to miss Merlefest this year. I love it now as an adult and watch Austin City Limits all on my own. And though it's a miracle that my mom never got canned for letting my sister and me play with the wheelchairs and hospital beds in the recovery-room at her job, my mom's love for nursing got passed on to my sister, who is now a nurse as well. And though she probably shouldn't have let me read Robin Cook and Stephen King novels when I was in the fifth grade, my mom's passion for reading got passed on to me, and our shelves are just as stocked as the ones I grew up with. And I know my childhood wasn't perfect: I probably shouldn't have been drinking all the saccharin-infused Tab and my dad really should have taken the ladder down a lot sooner when they found out we were playing on the roof(!). But Lordy if I'm not thankful that my parents didn't push me to earn more badges or sell more cookies in Girl Scouts. They just let me be. Somehow I think I managed to grow up to be a relatively decent human being, in spite of my lack of after-school lessons and preschool play-dates.
So what will Abe be passionate about? We'll certainly let him choose his way, but I also really hope that Abe will see what things Ted and I are passionate about and that some of these things just might hook him too, whether it's something important like theater, travel, and teaching or something as ridiculous as getting as good as his dad at making weird faces (and hey, who says there couldn't be a profession in that?). So as much as we love Abe, we don't want our entire world to center around our child(ren). It's a definite temptation when he gets more demanding by the day, but I think we can start by making sure he gets heavy doses of Allison Kraus and especially by limiting the term "play-dates" from his vocabulary.
And I promise to get him down from the roof the second I find out he's up there.