There are certain realities all parents share that bind us together as One People. It's as though we have collectively pledged to a Declaration of Not-As-Much-Independence…
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Children are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creators with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Stuff That’s Wicked Fun.
That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Families, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, (hahaha, that makes me laugh).
Such has been the patient sufferance of these Households… To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
Here’s a Fact. Our kids interrupt us. All the time, under any circumstance. We employ countless coping mechanisms (“strategies” on a good day) in response. Nevertheless, the interruptions continue, regardless of chosen sleep method, race, country, or creed. It’s as though we entered an obstacle course on the day our children were born – one that ends maybe never.
It doesn’t matter if we’re in a meeting, driving through ridiculous traffic, baking a soufflé, sleeping, perhaps enjoying a bed’s other fine uses, or conducting an orchestra. We might be on the cusp of saying something insightful at a gathering of clever friends or, after a decade of trying, finally binding in Marichyasana D. It doesn’t matter. Your children need you. And they need you now. It’s the great leveler of parenthood.
Naturally, we do our best to teach our kids manners and a basic respect for other people’s time and space. We remind them they are, in troth, not the Center of the Universe. Yet until they abscond with the car keys or, for late-bloomers, their betrothed, VIP Status will be demanded indiscriminately.
Such brazen entitlement can have the effect of grating on one’s very soul – especially when the invasion of certain basic privacies is involved, such as using the toilet. But we adapt, don’t we? After awhile, there we are, stranded mid-movement, half-clothed, coaching the fruit of our loins from the throne in lessons of self-discipline, tolerance, and understanding.
Now wizened into my fourth decade, I’ve decided these disturbances must be good for me, even when they don’t feel so good. They force me out of my irritable adult brain and challenge me to be nimble, sharp-witted, even funny, to employ levity or guidance or discipline, depending.
Really. They do.
If you stuck a bunch of those neurosensory electrodes on my head, I bet sparks would be flying in both the left and right hemispheres of my brain as I register my four-year-old’s four-line-octave yowl beckoning from the other end of the house, or feel the tiny padded grappling hooks of his remarkably strong hands seizing my thigh, triggering me to U-turn out of a given thought or action, remind him yet again to “speak to me in your real voice, the one I can understand, please” and, once the desired timbre has been achieved, land my grown-up ship on his toddler planet, which means squatting down, looking directly at his alternately angry/hurt/overexcited/delighted cherubin face and hearing the little bugger out.
That is one very long, unwieldy sentence because the (evidently) unalienable Rights of our Children send us through the emotional equivalent of a Spartan Race that is also very long and unwieldy. They test our mettle mercilessly. The very fiber of our being unravels and reweaves itself to the quickening pace of their adamant little hearts. Such trials leave us breathless, questioning our merit as Governing Bodies dedicated to the proposition that we actually know how to rear our indefensible offspring into Free and Independent Citizens.
It’s okay, people. Breathe easy. You’re not alone. Fyodor Dostoevsky, father of two, the first of whom died from pneumonia at three months of age, said this: “Times of crisis, of disruption or constructive change, are not only predictable, but desirable. They mean growth.”
Remember this, my Parents in Arms. Re-mem-ber this. Even when you get pulled over for the second time in as many months because you’re half an hour late for work because you slept too long and had to skip a shower because Frankenstein’s mini-monster traded places with your rosy-cheeked daytime child, disrupting your sleep every hour on the hour to rage and wet the bed, then demand your presence in that bed, which you – the sport that you are – put fresh sheets on at 3:45 a.m., hospital corners and all, because…well, damnit, honey, it seemed easier than saying no and enduring the inevitable assault of protests that always fall on me while you inexplicably manage to sleep through it! GAH!!!
Let’s visit that Dostoevsky quote again, shall we?
Times of crisis, of disruption or constructive change, are not only predictable, but desirable. They mean growth.
Here’s an example, a real-life one, to bring some fullness to Fyodor’s insight. It’s your classic interruption scenario:
Full-time-working-mom-me, at the kitchen sink, crashing furiously through the dishes while rehearsing a long suppressed comeuppance I planned to unleash upon an incompetent colleague the following day. So absorbed was I in this psychological cleansing that I failed to notice my eldest son, then five, standing at my hip holding something up in his hands and saying, “Mumma, look at this… Mumma, look what I made…”
I’m a sucker for inventiveness, so “what I made” snagged just enough of my attention to allow for a couple programmed responses like, “What you got there, buddy?” and, “Oh yeah? Mmm, good job,” my eyes still laser-trained on a soaking breakfast skillet thickly gummed with scrambled egg remains.
There were a few more exchanges like this, my occupational vengeance playing out in my mind, when my son screamed, “MUMMAAA!! LOOK! AT! ME!!!”
I stood there like an idiot, dumbstruck, hands dripping, finally turning my head towards him –his blue eyes like search lights in a tear-streaked face, and in his hands, a winged contraption made out of a plastic mini-ruler and a tea-steeping basket stuck into the end of a toilet paper roll all taped up and tied off with string.
“You weren’t even looking!” he said, explaining his anger in a way that felt to me so grown up in that moment, and so completely justified.
“I’m sorry, Jack. I’m looking now. Here I am.” Then I dried my hands and got down on my knees as he wiped his runny nose with a sleeve and walked me, piece-by-piece, function-by-function, through his little vehicle, which had the coolest, most ludicrous name that I’d pay cash money to remember now.
I think of this often. I’ve told the story to friends. It’s become a sort of touchstone, a lesson in how not to be a dipshit parent. Because, of course, my son wasn’t interrupting me. He was, by nature, pulling me out of a steaming pit of protracted overwrought political nonsense that I’d been sinking in for months. After that, I left it alone. And in the end, none of it mattered anyway.
I need to reframe the Founding Fathers analogy. As parents, we’re not so much trying to reclaim our independence as it once was. We’re trying to figure out how to lay new foundations for our families that, to quote the Declaration again, “seem most likely to effect (our) Safety and Happiness.”
Safety and Happiness. Now there's something to declare.