For me, one of the hardest things to remember in parenting is how much I'll forget. Even after only 2 years, I can review emails to friends and have no actual memory of the child event that spurred the comments. I blame a lack of sleep for eroding my memory, but it may also be that new actions supplant the charming memories of the previous week.
So here, I am going to try to write down a few memories I will, no doubt, forget even if I do tell someone else.
Last week Q was wandering in and out of Grandma's house as the adults cleaned up dinner. Since there were three of us, no one of us was paying close attention, until Grandma looked up and saw that he had climbed into the grand piano. She pulled me over to check it out, and I could only stand there in amazement. There was no way he could have gotten in unless he climbed onto the piano bench, over the elaborately carved music stand, and then onto all the strings, and then, to top it off, the kid had turned around. Grandma and I stood there, heads tilted, puzzling it over as Q continued to investigate how the strings on a piano work. His father, however, took one look and calmly removed the child. Duh.
At the end of an adventure exploring New London this week, Q asked for a souvenir. His father tried many other possibilities, but that's the only word that seemed to match. They bought some postcards, and Q was thrilled to carry them back to the car in a bag.
We've noticed a new language development: filler. Q knows that we string together the basic parts of sentences with smaller words, but isn't clear on what those words should be. So sometimes we will hear a sentence strung together like this: "Daddy sha sha sha sha goto sha sha bank?" Sadly, it's sometimes hard to pay attention through the shashashasha bits long enough to hear the question or request being placed until the intonation kicks in on the last word.
Q has chosen one of my friends as a default, out of love or assumption, I'm not sure which. When the phone rings he asks, "Cygknit?" He's playing with a basket and declares it belongs to Cygknit. I ask him if he remembers who is coming over (real answer: Grandma) and he replies, "Cygknit?" Her self esteem is definitely responding.
When reading lately, on a tip from his Granmary, we've started pausing to give him a chance to fill in the words. This is almost unnerving. I had no idea how much he could remember of each of his books. Branching off of this activity is another fun activity, reciting. We've been reading Where the Wild Things Are and as we were leaving him for a nap the other day, he sweetly said, "Oh pease doan go! I eat yu up I ov yu so!"
From the age of five, I lived in a house with no television. Technically there was a broken television in the basement that we'd bring up for presidential elections, wrap with coathangers, and squint at. But even in the seventies, that didn't really count.
This does not mean I have never seen an episode of Gilligan's Island or Bugs Bunny. What this meant for my elementary school years is that I would wake up painfully early on Saturdays and begin scouring the neighborhood looking for a child who was awake so I could watch cartoons with them. I'd stand below their window calling their name until either they woke up, or their mother stuck a head out and explained that they had been sent to Australia.
Much like living in a house without running water, after a while, I developed a perverse pride in the adversities of childhood. I read everything available, whether I understood it or not, dictionaries be damned. (It took me years to comprehend concepts introduced in The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh. I've finally comprehended the menstrual cycle, but I'm still fuzzy on how all these families spent their summers in cabins without their fathers.) I learned to rollerskate and read at the same time, in circles, in the basement. This is particularly exciting in retrospect since my mother also witnessed me walk into a mailbox while reading during that stage. Books were friends who never mocked ugly clothes, or cared that you were socially inept.
The affair all started so innocently. A television with a VCR, my boyfriend promised, would mean we'd spend less on entertainment. Since we couldn't get any stations without cable, it's not like we'd actually watch programs, just movies. Then my now husband laid the groundwork for undermining my perversity. He explained how frustrating it was to watch sports when you can't differentiate between the team colors. (He did not explain the solution when you can't remember which team is which color or which one I was supposed to root for.) Then, when I was pregnant, we visited with his mother, and he got me hooked on all the baby programs: A Baby Story, An Adoption Story, Special Delivery.
The kid was the final blow. Books were too hard. I didn't have the ability to read a sentence and comprehend it on the first try. Or the second. Holding a book and nursing at the same time was really hard. Not that I tried more than once. Most painful, I had to be awake in the most horrible early morning hours, and books simply put me right back to sleep.
That's when my husband ordered, not just cable, but cable with dvr, the ability to see shows long after they've aired. (Cue the ominous music.) I made a new best friend.
My new best friend is awake any time I want company- even better than my friend in Germany, whose time difference should have allowed for good companionship. But to hold a conversation with her, I would have had to think, and thinking is really not something I'm capable of when I haven't had 5 consecutive hours of sleep in weeks.
My new best friend repeats without complaining. The home shows (or home porn, as I've heard them called) are really good at this. They cut away to a commercial, and when they come back, they summarize everything that happened before the break. Perfect for anyone with short term memory loss, and anyone whose left ear was screamed into the first half of the show.
My new best friend was perfect in every way I could want, except it didn't cook meals or clean diapers. But we overlook these flaws in our friends.
Like any slightly inappropriate roommate, now I have to determine what relationship the toddler is allowed to have with the television. Already one of his most beloved friends is Maisy. Maisy is a lovely friend, and was an excellent babysitter when my husband helped unload 20 new windows from a delivery truck that came with insufficient muscle. Maisy comes in short segments so you can interrupt viewing after an appropriately short time frame to go exciting places like the bank and the hardware store. Maisy even has an amusing friend Charlie who appears to be high on marijuana at all times. Exposure to Charlie might be good for broadening the toddler's mind, much like travel in Europe.
But I have a secret weapon to battle his burgeoning addiction. His Granmary just got him a new book, "Things An Go," and it looks like true love.
Official Title: Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, by Richard Scarry
Since having a kid, I have come to realize that there's a weird side effect to parenthood. You bond easily with other parents, especially ones with kids of similar ages to your own. You compare sleeplessness, strategies for behavioral issues, worries over your kids. It's reassuring and a relief to know you aren't alone in a world that is suddenly dictated by a totally unreasonable and uncompromising infant. You've joined a cult without even sending in the pledge card.
Then there's the dark side: no one's parenting decisions are private or justified if they are different from your own.
For example: I am perhaps one of few in my generation in the U.S. to have been nursed as an infant. I feel pretty strongly that breastmilk is the best nutrition for infants. I also struggled quite a bit with getting my baby to gain weight. At one point I recall getting up in the early morning, aching with the desire for sleep, day after day, before the baby woke up to pump breastmilk, in an attempt to increase my milk supply. I was persuaded that I was an abusive mother if I gave my baby formula at all. Ever. Now, with a little perspective and time, I look back and see that for what it was. Craziness.
That was self inflicted punishment. But it doesn't come from nowhere. Despite these problems, my child managed to survive and nursed until he was 18 months. Not exclusively, but typically twice a day. And when I mentioned that to another mom in the midst of conversation, I felt a definite apology in her reply that she only nursed her daughter to 14 months. The breastfeeding hierarchy ironically ranks even women who make similar choices.
I've been reading an excellent book of essays recently called Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families by Leslie Morgan Steiner. The title says it all, and I liked a lot of the essays. But I realized that the reason the book exists is because contemporary mothers are self defensive. Our mothers fought to make sure that we would get choices, and what do we do? We bitch about the choices other mothers are making, whether they are choices made out of need or desire. We criticize other women for breastfeeding in public; we look on snidely as women mix formula to pop into their baby's mouth. We claim the women who stay home with their children aren't doing anything important, but then turn around and glare at women who have to make compromises because they value their careers. (I won't even touch the discussion of fathers staying home with children, which would take me really far afield.)
Several essays in the book came to a conclusion that I agree with: the quality of your parenting is not determined by your work status. Good parenting is much more determined by what works for you and your child. I'd like to take it one step away from good and bad parenting. As parents, most of us are trying to do the best job we can, but sometimes it simply comes down to survival. We don't make our choices based on what seems most pure, most wonderful. We make our choices on what we need and what our families need from us.
This battle of the mommies is turning us against each other, and it's time to remember that this isn't about who wins mommy of the year. The battle of the mommies should be to raise children who will bring us all joy - no matter who brought them into the world.