Performing the Parent
The hardest part, for me, about parenting has not been taking care of the child (feeding, clothing, sleeping, teaching, wrangling), or even mentally and emotionally adjusting to my role as someone's mother, but dealing with all the parenting stuff that a person in charge of a child must deal with whether s/he likes it or not. It's the doctor's appointments (he's four months overdue for the second half of his 12-month immunizations), it's the babysitter/daycare/preschool dilemma (how, may I presume, are we going to pay for that?), it's the acknowledgment that although I may be clueless about a lot of things, I am at least enlightened enough to know that Wombat needs to be socialized (like healthcare!) and I need to sack up and get him out of the house to interact with other kids every so often in order to avoid raising a loner/misfit/sociopath. (Not that there's anything wrong with two of the three. I poked fun at him here for being the only kid not gathered around the pinata at the promise of candy, but just look at who was even farther away from the action with a camera in front of her face.) (And then, he ended up not taking any candy anyway, instead scoring two plastic medals that each had a star on one side and "Winner" on the other. Here's hoping he's always so easily rewarded.)
So far, one of the hardest parts about being a parent has been acting like a parent in front of other parents. Case in point, the thought of conversing with other moms and dads (and nannies) at the park is a big part of why I never take Wombat to the park alone in the first place. Also why I walk softly and carry a big camera. With Simon? No problem; all things are possible. I can go anywhere and do anything. He is my security blanket and social lubricant. (Linus van Pelt on the hooch?) But when Simon eventually goes back to work (and he will hopefully go back to work soon), it will also hopefully be full-time, which means no more Daddy Daycare featuring regular field trips to the park and the record store and the Berkeley campus and the marina and the aquarium and the library--all of it as much to stimulate the developing brain of our spawn as much as it is to fill up the time Simon doesn't want to spend languishing at home reading reading reading the same books books books over and over and over. (Something I, in contrast, am happy to do, perhaps because I'm a trained Read and Re-Read and Re-Read professional.)
Back in the good old days, when we were both working part-time and parenting part-time, it was the perfect balance. They went out, we stayed in. They extroverted, we introverted. They drove over the bridge, we dove under a blanket. I didn't feel guilty or jealous that I was a stay-at-home mom in the most literal sense of the term (okay, yes I did), and although I knew those days wouldn't last forever, and that I'd have to start parenting outside the
box house sooner or later, I maybe kind of figured if I just ignored that whole thing it would go away. (See also: four months behind on his 12-month immunizations.)
So now here we are, with Simon looking for full-time work (he's scheduling an interview at a great company!), and I'm less worried about the fact that we have absolutely no childcare plan in place (to cover the days I'll be working part-time) than I am knowing I HAVE to get over my stupid social awkwardness and take the kid out into the world now and again, even if it means throwing myself into situations in which I'll be forced to interact with other parents. (Who's the loner/misfit/sociopath now?) I like to think it will only get easier now that Wombat is a big boy who has a mind of his own and can walk around on his own power (he's so fond of walking around on his own power that we...*cough*...bought him a leash), but I also like to think that deluding myself into scenarios like these will make them come true, how ever unlikely, so take that as you will (e.g., mark my words, he will be a holy terror any time I try to take him anywhere from now on).
(I'd like to clarify here that I'm not a sociophobe in the way that will literally drive me to the corner behind a potted plant during, say, a baby shower full of strangers. I'm very good at acting normal and pretending everything's just fine, yet what you don't see while I'm smiling and nodding and twirling my carrot sticks in the dip is that I'm mostly just hoping there's some truth to the tune that when I fool the people I fear, I'll fool myself as well. Into thinking I'm not afraid, that is. Which I am. But of what, exactly, I'm not sure. Saying the wrong thing? Saying a stupid thing? Running out of things to say? (And of course in an effort to skirt the last of these, I end up running headlong into the first two. OF COURSE.) Anyway, what usually happens is that I sit with my hands folded neatly in my lap (or twirling a carrot stick) and I either make very short, awkward conversation or I say nothing at all, thereby ensuring everyone thinks I'm (a) vapid or (2) a giant holier-than-thou snobby snob snob. But I'm not! I'm just shy! Selectively shy!)
Anyway, parents at the park totally freak me out with all their chitty-chatty "do you come here often" networky speak. (How old? What preschool? Breastfeeding? Words? Spanking? Ferber? Playdate? Calling card?) And then last weekend two parents got into a screaming match at Totland (it's called Totland, for pete's sake! there's no screaming at Totland!), although it was actually just one parent screaming at another parent I couldn't see but I imagine was cowering under the slide because Screaming Parent happened to be a big strong-looking dude. Speaking of whom, guess who didn't make any new parent friends at the park that day? (And sadly, his kid didn't make any new kid friends either.) The hubbub was started when both kids wanted the same toy, and the Screamer decided there was unfairness afoot and told the Cowerer to "CONTROL YOUR CHILD!!!" and "TEACH HIM SOME MANNERS!!!" Quoth the man on a rampage, giving everyone within a two-block radius a performance of the verbal version of the parent who smacks his kid because the kid won't stop hitting his sister. DING DONG DUMBASS.
Okay, so obviously this isn't how most parents interact at the park, and so I need to take Fear of a Smackdown off my list of excuses to avoid the outside world. And then I need to put Learn Small Talk on my list of things to work on. You want to talk about personal issues? Medical history, emotional problems? Yes, let's! Do you want to show me the really cool trick you can do with your colostomy bag? Okay! Want to chitchat about the weather and vaguely commiserate about child-induced sleep deprivation? Oh, then I'm paralyzed.
But then at the park I overheard a woman talking to another parent about her two-year-old son having been recently diagnosed with something that was possibly shaping up to be SPD. I was a little skeptical, as while she was explaining that her son gets really overwhelmed by normal stimulation, the kid was running around the loudest, busiest park in all creation and was right then hands down in a puddle of sandy water, but more importantly I was impressed because here was someone talking about the kinds of things most people don't share with strangers...except on the internet.
I took at look around, then, at all the other parents looking so...old and...parent-like, and thereby wholly unrelatable. Granted, most of them are older because they (1) have older children and (b) live in Berkeley, nexus of the over-40 first-time-parent population, but I'm also in denial about my own age (I turn thirty-one on Saturday--eep!) and still find it hard to believe on most days that I'm someone's mom, like, for reals, and so the actual problem is my own skewed perspective. Because I am someone's mom and, dammit, I'm no spring chicken, and these other parents? The lady with the two-year-old with SPD, the hot young thing with two under two, the parents who clearly let their kids dress themselves and to comic effect, the dad who lost his temper, the couple laying out a buffet of unhealthy choking hazards (a one-year-old eating hot dogs cut into discs!), and the mom hovering like a Huey ready to medievac her preschooler at the hint of a skinned knee? The older parents, the younger parents, the single parents, the same-sex parents, the adoptive parents, the accidental parents, the sick parents, the parents of sick children? They're all just you guys. They may not have blogs (and maybe they do), but they still have stories, and realizing that makes a difference.
They may not want to share their stories with a stranger at the park, or with anyone for that matter, but somehow just knowing that their stories are there--and that their stories are being told, if not by them than by you--goes a long way to making them feel less like alien life forms and more like peers, more like friends. More like me.Previous Next