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!
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.