Thursday, February 21, 2013

Art museums, wearing socks to bed, and other parenting mysteries

There are two categories of parenting that can equally shock: When your child is like you in ways that are inexplicably specific, and times when they are completely disconnected from anything you could have imagined.  Genes pour together into a vat, get stirred up a few times, and come out all kinds of unpredictable chaos.
Simone (4) said in the National Gallery last weekend, with wide-eyed awe: “How are these paintings even possible?”  This is nearly identical to something I said to a friend at the National Gallery last fall: That I loved the Dutch Realist painters, where you can’t even fathom that it’s possible to paint it.  I have never said that sentence to Simone, but her emotional computer created the same feeling and articulated it in nearly the same way.
There was a buzzing brain-sizzle as I stared down at this tiny, blonde, Shrunken-Down Version of Me, standing in the museum corridor. She collects words like me, drags books around the house and begs me to teach her how to read them, starves for sentences and ideas, and authentically loves art museums.  Not to make me happy, but to make herself happy.  If I apply zero pressure to steer her path, I will still have created a word-loving literary child.
Or the littlest things: Like when Jack told me he likes to wear socks to bed, because the best feeling is waiting a little bit and then taking them off,  so you can feel the cold sheets on your feet.  I do the same thing.  For the same reason. 
It’s oversimplified, I know.  There are 100 ways they’re different from me. With Andrew, there are 1000s. More on that later.
But still.
So to go back the Gene Vat analogy: You reach into the vat and scoop out a soul, with its pre-wirings and interests and proclivities.  And then you create an environment around it. 
In some ways, Jack seems like the Me I wish I’d been.  Or rather, a version that I’d be if I could take multiple paths at once.  Life is like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, and you have to make choices along the way.  Not like the current me: I ask him what he did in school today, and he asks if I want it in French or English.  And he is not joking around.  That’s not Me because it can’t be me.  But I understand that side of him, because he got it from me. But…born into a different era, different situation, different parenting strategies. 
You always have to choose, as a parent, which experiences to give your children.  It’s like reading.  When I think of all the books out there, it can shred my heart that I will never read them all.  You just can’t. It’s not humanly possible.  I can live to be Very Old, and I will still die with countries unseen, movies not watched, museums not explored, books not read.  It pains me on some level, but it’s also a comfort.  You choose.  You do your best.  And you fill life the best you can in the time you have.
When my children pack their bags for college, there will be so many things I haven’t done with them.  We’ve made travel a focal point of their childhood, and my 4-year-old has been to 30 states.  But in doing that focal point, there are other things that haven’t happened for her.  She never once went to a Mommy-and-Me class. J Or: I can send them to French immersion school and Russian camp for Jack, and that still means hundreds of languages not learned. 
But it’s only partly what I pour into their lives, too. There is a library at work, a floor down from my office, so I come home with books for the kids most days. They love biographies.  We read about Helen Keller, Ben Franklin, whomever. They aren’t picky.  I got one about Vivaldi the other day, and was reading it to Jack before bed.  Apparently, Jack already knew Vivaldi.  Heard his music at school.  Knew he was called the Red Priest. And that he taught orphan girls music.
These tiny moments leave me breathless.  I’ve created this person who is of me and like me, but with his completely independent path through life.  He’s already learned and will learn things that never came my way. 
There are echoes of me in Jack and Simone, in ways that are eery, disturbingly exciting, and profoundly fascinating.  Andrew is a near carbon-copy of Steve, so Steve has baffled wonder moments more often with him.  We swapped out Steve’s cautious analysis with my fearless impulsivity, so those parts of Andrew resonate with me.  Most times, though, I filter through Andrew dilemmas through the Steve-filter.
I thought motherhood would be just about loving these little persons, and ohmygod, I do. But the exploration of another human being…that’s this completely unexpected element.  Learning about them, guiding them, watching them unfold.  I can’t choose what interests I pass down to them – whether through genes or dragging them on my outings – because you can’t predict or steer whatyour child becomes. 
I can set good examples and give them values and teach them how to treat people, and all the Parenting 101 basics.  But at the end of the day, the individual they become is their own masterpiece. I hand them the brushes, buy the paints, make suggestions, tell them I like how they made that tree over there.  The painting is all theirs, though, and I just get to observe the scene unfold in front of me.
Basically unrelated, although still under Musings About My Children… and things I want to remember for them:
Andrew (6): “What if all this is a dream?  Our whole lives?  What if I’m just in the dream?”
Me: “Andrew, did you know some of the greatest minds ever have asked that same question?”
Me: “So guys, what was your favorite thing about our trip to DC?”
Simone: “Learning that even if I’m as cold as an ice cube, I can STILL DO IT.”


1 comment:

Annie R. said...

SB, I love reading your blog. I have a tendency, as much as I hate to admit it, to get bogged down in the annoying on-the-surface things about my children more often than I care to. Reading your thoughtful, soul-deep descriptions of your children always reminds me to look deeper and really appreciate them for who they are. That seems to come so naturally to you, and it's a parenting quality I admire SO MUCH. It's very inspiring to me. So please keep doing it. :)