Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Guest Post: Naptime Writing

Hola, Readers! Since it's Freakshow Circus week, my wonderful friend Naptime Writing has generously agreed to guest post for me! I adore her. She's got just enough wit and snark to have me doubled over in giggles on a regular basis. She's also honest as Hell; if you haven't read her post on Ambivalent Parenting, you must head over to her blog right now and do so. It's sheer brilliance.

Enjoy! And thanks, Nap! You are awesome!

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Walking a city street today I heard a man in a red and blue plaid button-down tell someone on the phone, “I’m wearing a red shirt and a khaki jacket.” Then he pulled his olive green windbreaker tighter and zipped it. Good luck being found with that description, I thought, and began thinking about how we describe ourselves and others and how really crummy we are at seeing reality.

All my life we’ve been told who and what we are by people who don’t really look. In my case, the snap-judgment labels paint a dismal picture. High maintenance. Overly dramatic. Controlling. Negative. Know-it-all. Bitch. Family and strangers alike are happy to tell me how terrible my personality is. Thank you very much, society, for finding a way to make me want to despise and fight every impulse I have, even if knowing exactly what I want, being emotive, cautious, creative, interested in learning, willing to share information, and a rather strict rule follower could benefit me as an adult.

Labels have always made me feel like I’m a burden---too much for most people and generally abrasive. I can handle that, I guess, even if I feel like crap about myself most of the time. But when I had a child I glimpsed some of the same qualities in him and wanted to spare him feeling that way. From only a few weeks old, my son stared suspiciously at anyone new and watched---without warming to them for days. People would try silly things to get him smile and laugh, while their antics received a cool appraisal that seemed to say, “Do you find yourself amusing? How lovely for you. I don’t agree.” People were offended. They said he was “so serious” and “surly” and “shy,” though none of those was true.

In reality, he was (and is) circumspect. He checks out every angle before diving in with wild, silly, and boisterous abandon. He just wants to make sure, first. Cautious. Careful. Qualities that will serve him well as an adult. He is, for instance, guaranteed never to buy from an infomercial or company with earning statements like Enron.

There’s nothing wrong with babies who laugh easily and enjoy strangers. But there’s also nothing wrong with children who do not think strangers are perfectly delightful. I don’t find almost anyone delightful, so why should I expect something different from a young person?

My child is a lot of things that other people don’t like. He has very strong opinions, and is quickly and loudly labeled by family and strangers “picky” and “spoiled.” He is intensely persistent and will cling to an idea for, honestly, more than a year if he really means it. (Ask me later about the “when will the cats die so we can have a dog,” and the “we need a metal detector just in case” projects he’s been engaged in for nigh on twenty months.) People who know him barely or not at all call him “spoiled” and “stubborn” and “a control freak.” He knows what he wants, he expresses it clearly, and he stands there and waits, often patiently, until he gets it. Sounds like the sort of thing people spend thousands of dollars to learn at a seminar after the impulse was beat out of them as children, but everyone is willing to tell me how unseemly these qualities are in a child.

Last week we went on a long walk that included a trip to my preschool-aged son’s favorite rock, bread store, and book store. But we didn’t have time for a toy store. (For the record, toy stores occur to him once every two months. But when they do, woo-hoo, stand back.) Endless raging and sobbing and carrying on for the final mile of the walk, despite logic, reasoning, empathizing, ignoring, threatening, and judicious use all the other tools in my Super-Mom Knapsack of Wise and Useful Tricks. We made it home, barely, and I made a mental note to offer a choice this week. So today we agreed to change the walk to include the bread store, book store, and toy store. As we finished THREE HOURS of awesome bonding as-much-fun-as-you-can-have-without-sugar good times, he told me we went to the wrong toy store, and again raged and sobbed and cried for over a mile. Despite logical efforts to point out the time of day, the heretofore child-centric nature of the walk, the appointment with the plumber, the possibility next time of going to a different store, the reality of using different names for different stores, and my totally legitimate five-miles-into-a-walk-while-eight-months-pregnant exhaustion, he would not let it go.

After a mile I stopped and had The Talk with him. This talk has been a long time coming and I issued forth calmly and a bit more self righteously than I wanted. The Talk was given, unfortunately, in my own mother’s voice. To wit:

The world does not revolve around you. There are times in life we don’t get what we want. Sometimes other people are in charge. And right now, since I’ve heard you and talked with you and explained to you and told you my answer absolutely will not change, this conversation is over. And if I hear one more word about this, just one more boo-hoo or word or argument or idea, I will park the stroller and walk home alone.

The Talk had little effect, but the threat worked just fine. Score another one for old school parenting and the my-way-or-the-highway approach I vow to avoid. Unless I need it. Or just want to use it. Because, really, principles are all fine and good unless you don’t want to stick to them, right?

At lunch I told him we can compromise and negotiate and that it’s great that he knows what he wants and keeps trying. The way he feels is important, and it’s quite impressive that he articulates how he feels and makes himself clear even when people disagree. Yay for him. But that when I say my answer will not change, the conversation is over.

He said it was good to know that. And that maybe we could play just one game before naptime.

He’s going to be a great CEO. Or lobbyist. Or both.

21 comments:

  1. Have a good week of crazy over in your Kitch, Witch. *You* are the awesome one.

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  2. Labels. Eck. I hate them, but I use them.

    My daughter? She is crazy. And happy. She is friendly and busy. So, we get all sorts of labels. My son? He is serious. I love it. I love how different he is. He doesn't really smile for other people because he reserves all his best personality pieces for his mom and dad. That's how it should be, right?

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  3. I don't have kids, but this gives me good insight into the line that I will draw with them someday. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. It's always handy to have "Because I said so. Now, hush." in your Super-Mom Knapsack of Wise and Useful Tricks. I know I, for one, never leave home without it.

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  5. Very funny, I like that other people use the same fine parenting techniques that I do with the strong willed ones with little avail.

    Thanks

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  6. Napster, you had me at your phlebotomy rant. Then the screwyou rant was icing on the cupcake. I'm convinced we are twins, hatched on different rocks, on another planet. Oh, the places Peanut will go.
    jc

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  7. Thank you both for this. I think I have a new bloggy crush in the "Napster" :) I love this post for so many reasons. It is stuffed with both personal and universal bits. It makes us think about our propensity to judge people, to attach labels. It reminds us of the unfortunate fact that much of who we are is tied up in how people see us. It implores us to think about this when raising our own kids and attaching our own labels to self and others.

    Must spend some time poking around a certain new blog now!

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  8. I was just having a similar discussion with another mom. Having a child (like my youngest) who's never met a stranger, thrives on attention, and shows off for others is fun and cute -- but it's also tiring and scary (because she has no fear). Having one (like my oldest) who is watchful, quiet, and slow-to-warm-up is sometimes inconvenient and time-consuming, but it's also relaxing and safe. I've definitely had to learn the hard way to just accept them as they are and leave the labels off.

    Also, "because I said so" has become quite the favorite phrase in our house. It doesn't always work, but I'm not giving up on it!

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  9. This was a great post. I just had this conversation with my 7 year old. I have always said she'd make a great salesperson b/c she just doesn't give up but she's so sweet and innocent while she's trying to close me.

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  10. I love the insight here. Since we are newer to the parenting gig around my house, I've not yet tackled many of these battles. But I admire how you embrace your son's challenging qualities without also letting him run rough-shod over you. I'll be sure to bear this in mind as my own son becomes more opinionated.

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  11. Thanks, Nap and TKW, for this. I have huge fears about seeing certain frowned-upon personality traits of mine emerge in my not-yet-conceived children. How, I've asked myself, will I handle those personality traits in them now that I know what it's like to grow up with them myself? (My parents were rather clueless, which is understandable, but not for particularly good reasons). I'm glad to know someone else out there is actively thinking through that process -- and sharing that so clearly with the rest of us.

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  12. My older daughter, now 19, was always that way. Shy, withdrawn, but paying so close attention. She's still that way. A lot of people don't "get" her, and even I can get frustrated. But she's smart and, in many ways, so like me. Really nice post.

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  13. This talk goes on forever, I swear. I am having it daily with one of my kids--at least in my head I am--and it just drives me bonkers.

    One good thing though...I think you'll find that when the new baby arrives, he'll learn this a little quicker. Except for the bumps in the first few months, of course, siblings are a real blessing for the first born.

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  14. Brilliant! In fact, now will you please go and explain how the world does not revolve around the people who are pissing me off this week?

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  15. And ps, dear Nap...re: "Labels have always made me feel like I’m a burden---too much for most people and generally abrasive," you are JUST RIGHT. Not too much. I adore you.

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  16. What a great post! I loved it.

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  17. I have one of those young intense children too. She examines your SOUL for 10 minutes or so. It is hard for some people to take. I've only had one negative comment from an always inappropriate Uncle and my Daghter-in-Law (its complicated) crossed the room in about a millisecond and got in my Uncle's face and said "WHAT DID YOU SAY???" Her standing up for my daughter was so powerful I don't even remember his response.

    Don't mess with the women in my family. Now, my little son...you can mess with him. He likes it. He's a giggler. Yin and Yang.

    there are so many good and right ways to be in this great world and you are RIGHT ON Naps.

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  18. Great post and thanks for introducing us to Naptime, TKW! Like you, I don't believe that all children have to be as easily amused as puppy dogs. My daughter was generally very, very grumpy until she started speaking. Then she was very bossy. Still is. And I mean, she was just born that way. I definitely had to use the strongarm technique with her, threatening to pull over our van and drop her off at any house on the block if she didn't stop screeching. Guess what? She stopped screeching.

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  19. This post is why I love you, Naptime. Not the only reason, for I've loved your blog deeply for a long time, but the essence. You are inspiring and encouraging and so very smart. You validate how I parent my child, which few of my friends truly understand because their kids are so wildly different from mine. Thank you for being honest and vulnerable. It's exciting to imagine just who Peanut will be someday...

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  20. I always find it so encouraging to read about your parenting. Especially about the struggle to blend love and respect for the little one's autonomy and self with the need to survive to naptime. (Your writing on ambivalence really speaks to me as well.)

    My monster has a very different personality from your Peanut, with its own endearing and challenging bits, but I find it so reassuring and challenging and wonderful to read about your thoughtful approaches and honest feelings. Thank you!

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  21. You are so insightful, Nap. My daughter has certain things about her that I have feared would be labeled. Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't. I've found that if I don't label her, then that becomes the first step for others not to label her either. I am also trying to teach her to recognize things about herself that will help her to navigate the world in a way that is less stressful for her. I swear, figuring this parenting thing out is never-ending, isn't it?

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