...but when it is, it's nice to be able to catch them both at the same time.
We know hardly anybody in our neighbourhood though we've lived here for more than three years.
Through no real conscious effort we have gotten to know the families in the houses to either side of us. One is a young couple, early 20s, who have a daughter four months older than our toddler. The two kids get along quite well. Amy spent several months babysitting the girl during the day when the wife went back to work after her maternity leave was up. The husband and I swap tools and sweat equity as needed and sometimes lean elbows over the fence we share to make idle mumblings about wives and kids and work.
On the other side of us is a retired couple; the inside of their house dates back to the era of my birth. The husband is the wife's second and she has kids and grandkids from her previous marriage. The husband and I have sort of an uspoken competition to see who can shovel our shared sidewalk first during the winter after each snowfall. We're about even on that score. We borrow their lawnmower when ours isn't working.
Across the street from us live a middle aged couple with a 10 year-old son. Our first exposure to them came shortly before our wedding. The piper we hired was strutting his stuff, inflating his bag and moaning expansively, in our backyard. (There is little that draws attention quite like a set of bagpipes unleashing aural hell in sleepy suburbia.) Over the fence popped a white-haired head, topped by the foppish brown of his son astride his shoulders. That was our introduction.
Fast forward to this spring when there was an ambulance parked outside our house to take Amy and our baby to the hospital, from whence Amy - at the time still gestating said baby - had just been discharged. The wife from across the street anxiously made known their ability to look after our toddler if I needed to go and be with my wife for whatever reason was taking her to the hospital. The neighbour lady was relieved to hear (and I was amused at her reaction) that our second boy had just been born rather unexpectedly all over our bedroom in the presence of six large uniformed men. We've gotten to know those neighbours a little better since then.
That's it. Three years in this neighbourhood and we know three families by dint of obligation, bagpipes and medical emergency.
I was at the pharmacy last winter and waited behind an attractive young woman. I overheard her tell the pharmacist her address and I realised that she lives two houses down from us, on the other side of the retired couple. I'd never even seen this woman before and I can hit her front step from my own with a well-hauked lugie.
Part of the appeal of suburban living is the relaxed atmosphere, heightened sense of security and community that more urban locales can't deliver. I find it ironic then that the inclination - not unique to us - is to entrench ourselves inside of a pseudo-urban facade and conduct our daily lives as if hindered by an urban jungle rather than through use of the open spaces that connect us all so conveniently.
In that respect, I'm looking even more forward to when our boys are of an age to interact with school friends and neighbours. We'll be forced, through them, to come out of the domestic bubble we've formed around ourselves since our first son was born.
Tonight, Amy and I are going out to dinner to celebrate a friend's 30th birthday.
Without the kids. Granny and Grumpy are coming to watch the boys while we go and cavort with other grown ups. Legal adults at any rate.
This is very cool since it's only the second time in about a year that my wife and I have taken the opportunity to go away from home and engage in adult interaction without the terrible, horrible, burdensome burden of our boys to weigh us down and cause us to regret ever becoming parents. The first was at a friend's wedding last month where Amy and I had such a good time that we had to take cabs home.
There have been a few occasions where we've each had opportunities for an evening or an afternoon away from home, but they've always come with the other parent staying behind. We've taken it in turns for sanity breaks. These joint deals, now that Tavish is nearly six months, should come more frequently.
Since we first got the email invitation to dinner, we've been talking about this all week.
"Do you think your mom will come watch the boys on Friday?"
"As long as they don't already have plans, probably. I'll call her."
"What if she can't? I really want to get out."
"So do I. Don't worry. I'm sure they'd love to come over for the night. You know how well Dex and Grumpy get along."
"Is it Friday yet?"
"No, it's only Wednesday."
"Shoot, I really want it to be Friday."
"Me too. Don't worry, it'll be here soon enough."
"No it won't."
"Yeah, that's true, but it'll still get here. Eventually."
"Your folks can still come over, right? To watch the boys? They haven't changed their minds?"
"Yup. It's still all good."
"Maybe you should call, just to be sure."
"Maybe I should call."
"Well, okay. Is it Friday yet?"
Anyway. We're looking forward to dinner tonight.
I've inflicted this poem on other blogs as part of a comment, but never transcribed it here. It fits very well with the sentiment I was attempting to convey in the previous post, so now's as good a time as any to inflict it here.
In case it's not obvious, I'm really big into ensuring that the parenting my wife and I do is born of consulted and conscious choice rather than rote regurgitation.
Reproach will seldom mend the young,
If they are left to need it;
The breath of love must stir the tongue,
If you would have them heed it.
How oft we see a child caressed
For little faults and failings,
Which should have been at first suppressed
To save the after railings!
If, when the heart would go astray,
You would the passion smother,
You must not tear the charm away,
But substitute another.
Thus it is pleasant to be led,
If he who leads will measure
The heart's affection by the head
And make pursuit a pleasure.
A gal I used to know got pregnant and had a baby boy when she was 16. I met the kid when he was about the same age as my Declan is now and I got to observe, off and on, his upbringing for almost five years.
The mom's parents helped out a lot -- almost too much. He also spent a LOT of time in front of the television.
The thing I picked up on more than anything else over the course of those years was that the mom lost out on a huge chunk of her own childhood and most of the interaction she had with her son was tainted with some degree of bitterness at the fact. She wasn't a bad mom. She loved her son dearly, and obviously, but she never forgot what she could have had without him. This resulted in a short temper - passed on to the boy - and she took full advantage of opportunities to leave him with relatives or babysitters (or in front of the TV during the day) to get out and salvage what vestiges of hedonistic excess she could.
He'd be over 10 years old now and I sometimes wonder how he's done.
The startling revelation these sorts of thoughts inflicted on me is that I'm now of the impression that the parents we are in the course of our kids' nascent years are, by and large, the same parents we become later on. The habits, rituals and routines laid down now are the same as what will be there five, 10 and 15 years from now. Barring some monstrous, conscious effort to change. Putting in that conscious effort now, though hard at times, strikes me as having rather tangible benefits down the road.
How we deal with a temper tantrum now is very much the same as how we will deal with pubescent freak-outs and teenaged righteous indignation. The details will be markedly different but the parental mindset from which we approach the situation of our child behaving inappropriately will differ hardly at all, the foundations having been laid down years before. I'm not there yet so I don't know; I could be wrong. But I don't think I am.
I like to think that Amy and I are doing a pretty decent job of it with our two boys. We both keep a relatively even emotional keel and share a passion for the fact that our sons are where it's at right now. All else is secondary. We even mostly manage to compensate for varying quirks of personality. When my wife has a tendency to get rather distraught over apparent medical emergencies (kid crying and gasping for breath; wife giving birth in our bedroom), I'm more level-headed and pragmatic. When I get bent out of shape over the domestic minutiae that frequently piles up past my ability to accept (last pair of clean underwear, various bits of house being chewed by dogs), Amy goes a long way to diffuse my volatility. Our being good for each other is one less obstacle to being good parents. Indeed, a key ingredient.
We're doing our best to be conscious parents. A lot of this means, for us, establishing routines early (which aren't set in stone) and definitely not getting bent out of shape when they're not followed. If Declan, in exerting his fledgling independence, doesn't want to eat dinner with us at the table, he's welcome to take his grilled cheese sandwich and sit on the back step, left to munch and stare as the dogs carouse in the yard.
That gal I knew was in a constant battle of wills with her son, and I think it will always be so for them: both very unyielding. I frequently got the impression that one of them was going to snap. If Amy and I adopt, now, the practice of bending where the consequence is little more than the exploration of individuality, then the individual established in the future will be imbued with a much greater sense of having arrived - wherever he is - under his own volition. And he will be unbroken, and flexible.
Just as importantly, if my wife and I can learn to deal with minor tantrums over toaster waffles and broken toys in a level-headed manner that won't compromise or damage our boys' will, then the larger issues that rear in adolescence will be, ideally, less of an issue and dealt with maturely by kid and parent alike.
The concept, at least, is simple.
An overly long video of Declan eating an apple.
What I like most about it is how much of his personality he exhibits in this (relatively) short time.
The funkiest thing, about half an hour later, was that Dex politely handed me just the stem of the apple. He had eaten everything else. He grimaced a little when the seeds went down, but polished the whole thing off like a real trooper.
(may have to crank the volume a bit to pick up what he's saying...)
One of the places I don't take my conversation in this space on a very regular basis is on the subject of parenting. More specifically: the how and why.
The reason, for me, is a bit of a catch-22. Next to sex, parenting is the subject upon which I dwell more than any other. The rearing of our boys is more important than any other task (it deserves a bigger word than that) my wife and I are engaged in. So, I frequently find myself pondering both the forest and the trees of the issue. What ineluctably follows is a semi-analytical comparison of my current thoughts on the matter versus 'case study' examples from my own upbringing. And that of my wife's, too.
We talk regularly about our respective childhoods - the good, the bad and the indifferent - and compare philosophies on just how the hell we're gonna help these boys of ours turn themselves into men. We know what we liked when we were kids, so more of our conversations tend to focus on what we didn't like (or what, in hindsight, didn't work) and how we will do things differently. It's important, I think, not to follow blindly in the path set down by our parents, but also not to spurn it entirely in order to blaze a new trail through an array of old, avoidable mistakes.
The natural progression of these talks has yielded one enviable conclusion in that there are very few major (or even minor) issues where Amy and I take opposing stands. I chalk some of this up to the fact that we entered the parenting playground in our late twenties and were already pretty well established as individuals. One of the most frequent comments we make to each other is how much younger our parents (and *most* parents of previous generations) were when they started a family. My mother was 23 when I was born; at that same age I was still getting used to having sex on a regular basis, never mind caring for the by-blow of such coupling.
So, whereas discussion about parenting inevitably raises my past, I'm certainly not going to make it a topic of conversation in a space my parents make a habit of reading. My brother and I turned out to be quite fine young men, as did my wife and her sister grow into the fabulous broads they are today. We are who we are both because of and in spite of our upbringing, so it would be naive and callous of me to criticise actions taken on my behalf (or observed) when I was a kid, since they helped shape me today, even though I may not now agree with some of the underlying philosophy.
I'm driven to make these notes from the gist of the last few posts made over at Kirala. (If insightful, earthy, pragmatic and entertaining prose on the vagaries of raising an erstwhile difficult boy and why you shouldn't move to Norway for the sake of naive puppy love (among other topics) are your cup of tea, then please read.)
I've demonstrated here before a noted lack of restraint for certain visceral revelations. But so much of what I think about parenting is tied to the juxtaposition of my current experience as a parent to that of my previous experience of being parented. I can't write about one without bringing up the other. I'll eviscerate myself here, at times, but a degree of propriety, however much I prefer to ignore it, is due.
Perhaps this is just a first step in talking around it, then. Sharing the daily joys and trials of life with our boys is well and good, and will continue ad nauseum, but it's the stuff that drives me I want to explore more. Some of it I'll just have to talk around.
From the journal of Henry David Thoreau:
Last evening one of our neighbors, who has just completed a costly house and front yard, the most showy in the village, illuminated in honor of the Atlantic telegraph. I read in great letters before the house the sentence "Glory to God in the highest." But it seemed to me that that was not a sentiment to be illuminated, but to keep dark about. A simple and genuine sentiment of reverence would not emblazon these words as on a signboard in the streets. They were exploding countless crackers beneath it, and gay company, passing in and out, made it a kind of housewarming. I felt a kind of shame for [it], and was inclined to pass quickly by, the ideas of indecent exposure and cant being suggested. What is religion? That which is never spoken.
"Hi, Honey! Guess what -- Tavish just loaded his diaper."
"That's great; I hope you didn't call because you expect me to come home and change it..."
"Well, yeah! Aren't you?"
"It's a little far for poop."
"I thought that was part of the deal: sex at least three times a week and you change all the diapers."
"What? When did this happen? And where is this sex you're talking about?"
"Um, I want you to go first."
"Well, that would make me the leader, wouldn't it?"