Tuesday, June 9, 2009

mama article

I read a lot. I'm a magazine junkie. Lucky for me a lot of magazines post their articles online. Here is one I read recently: "Let the Kid Be" by Lisa Belkin in the 31 May 2009 NYTimes Sunday Magazine.

"Let the Kid Be" made me feel a much better parent since Belkin's premise is stated in the title of her opinion piece. Having a baby seems so much different than having a kid but even so - I spent a tired month thinking that I had to be right in front of Claire singing and talking and making faces when she was awake. The entire time she was awake. That's nuts. My mom soothed my conscience. "You spent a lot of time by yourself when you were a baby," she told me. And then I wondered: would I be more spastic or better spoken if my mother had constantly jabbered at me when I was a captive baby audience?

Probably more spastic. And we don't need that.

And to clarify: Claire doesn't crawl through the rooms chewing on electric cords and nibbling at my Birkenstocks (though she tries every chance she gets). I read books to her. I sing to her. I tickle and coo and lay on the floor with her. But I also take joy in letting her be. One of my favorite things to do is watch her when she doesn't know I'm watching just to see what she finds interesting.

Belkin gives a short walk through parenting trends through the ages before wondering if refusing to overparent is just another trend. She briefly mentions "feelings of competition and inadequacy" related to being a parent today. This caught my attention because I've had a few conversations with expats here about parenting, starting around the time Hanna Rosin wrote "The Case Against Breastfeeding" for the April issue of The Atlantic. I won't jump on my soapbox except to say that I think most moms and dads have the sense and intuition to be great moms and dads. But I also think that sense and intuition sometimes whisper something counter to the current culture.

Okay. Soapbox. My sophomores read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. At one point in the book the narrator, a freshman named Melinda, almost cries because her parents bought her art supplies for Christmas. Because they actually noticed that she enjoyed art. The rest of Melinda's relationship with her parents is full of holes: they work long hours, don't say much to each other or to her, don't understand what is going on in Melinda's life. And my class started talking about time. Spending time with mom and dad. So I asked them if they wished they could spend more time with their own parents. All but one raised their hands. The girl who kept her hand down is always helping out at one of her family's restaurants. She gets plenty of mom and dad time. We laughed about that. But then I asked if they would give up expensive gifts - stuff - to spend more time with their parents. If their dad came home an hour or two early once a week to hang out with them, what would that be worth? No Diesel jeans? No Swatch? And the majority of my sophomores said they'd make that swap.

Made me sad. "Go tell your parents," I said and a few of them laughed.

"What would they say?" I said.

"That it's ridiculous," one of my students replied.

So looking at Claire and letting her be while still aiming to very much be here for her, I think that there is much more to this parenting life than pumping breastmilk and buying the right board books. Much more than filling a schedule with playdates, music lessons, and soccer practice. And remembering what my sophomores wish for, I hope I'm not ever too wrapped up in me to make time for the much more.


jessica said...

I also caught that NY Times article, and it pretty much summed up our "idle" approach. I've already been chided for not having Lola in preschool (she's still 2.5 years from kindergarten!) -- apparently kids need to be in structured activities ASAP because natural curiosity couldn't possibly provide any meaningful learning opportunities ;)

DC Running Mama said...

It is interesting that your students don't feel that the get enough quality time with their parents. My hubby and I were just talking the other day about the balance between providing our kids with financial security versus emotional security (in the sense of time spent with family). He would actually prefer to trade emotional security for financial security, which surprised me. I had always thought of him as someone that would value spending more time with his kids. And, while he is present with Nathan when he is home, he usually only has 1 hour each day with him. Maybe I can use your anecdotal data to sway him on the importance of time versus money. But, I guess growing up quite poor (as my husband did) will impact the value you place on money and financial security.

jsmarslender said...

Jessica, I agree about natural curiosity. I think we all, no matter our age, need some idle time to let our minds wander and learn and make connections. I think that's vital to enjoying this life.

And DC, financial vs. emotional security...I think that a lot of parents are thinking about money right now. And I can completely understand your husband's position too. My parents didn't have much money when I was little but I was also not really aware of that until later because they did make great efforts to spend good time with us and do things that didn't require a lot of money. I didn't get a Disneyland trip growing up but I also don't feel less for it. We didn't want for our needs and often, Mom and Dad did manage to give us some of our wants too. But things were made special - we didn't get everything, we weren't loaded down with stuff. When my husband was really little, his parents struggled financially too and his father disappeared into work and continues to overwork today. Justin looks at that and decides it's more important to spend time with Claire than be buried in work for an extra buck. So it's a good discussion to be having. I also think all of this depends on what you see as emotionally and materially necessary or how you define "financial security."

And hey - do you ever think: Oh, wow, I'm a mom and thinking very adult things? :)

Clare said...

about to read the article...i sense i'll like it. kind of neat that your sophomores said that...i wonder if my freshmen would say the same...they live in a VERY rich and materialistic town and many are/were raised by nannies, so you'd think they'd say time was better, but i don't know that they would give up their iphones and ipods. i should read that book...