Over the weekend a friend of the boys came for a playdate. He’s a great kid, very likable, someone I’m glad the boys have as a friend. He is good-natured, good mannered, and easy to get along with. He was at the house for about six hours, which some might feel is too long, but as long as things are going smoothly, why upset the apple cart?
Over the course of his visit, I observed the children all playing together for a while, and then the two oldest of the boys seemed to get into their own groove and my youngest was isolated from this. My older child is a very typical boy…he likes sports, he falls down and picks himself back up relatively easily…and loves to roll in the dirt. My younger child is vasty different from this. He likes games of ‘imagination’ and ‘make believe’ – he cries easily when he stumbles, and though he’s seemingly not fazed by dirt, he’s not really one to roll in it. He reminds me a lot of myself when I was a boy.
My mother has long said that when she wanted to find me when I was young, I could usually be located behind a chair reading a book, from very early on. Reading took me to new worlds and new ideas…it was not a conscious choice on my part to engage in ‘escapism’ early on, but it did satisfy me far more than trucks, tree-houses, and tumbles. I was a quiet kid, not one to go out of my way to gain attention, not all that sociable, though I did go out and play with kids in the neighborhood, a few of which I am still friendly with to this day in our 40’s.
I recall a lot of days and disappointments when it felt as though, even with the presence of other kids on the street, I had no one to really engage with as no one else was that much ‘like’ me – my older brother had friends who built club-houses and go-karts, and excavated mountains of dirt in our unpaved driveway….I played hide and seek, and was far more comfortable being the ‘hider’ than the ‘seeker’ – or just buried myself in reading. I’ve never had more than a passing interest in sports; and my brief careers in both baseball and basketball ended before they had begun. I lacked the agility, upper body strength, and acumen for athletics that most boys my age appeared to possess. I was quickly labeled a ‘sissy’….a ‘pansy’..I didn’t feel like a sissy….or a pansy….even with my limited understanding of what either really was….I was just ‘not like them’. I liked solitary activities…quiet, controlled ‘play’ bourn more of imagination than action. I just had no interest in scrapes, bruises, and abrasions, other than the ones I was developing inside already in a few short years.
I listened to someone recently expressing how difficult things had gotten with her young adult children,…how different they were, and how she couldn’t understand how two children that she raised and loved the same could turn out so un-alike. When she finished, I related my own upbringing, and my mother’s similar sentiment that she couldn’t understand how you could raise three children the same and yet they share little similarity with one another. I proceed, in my own parenting, with the notion that you can never love or raise two children exactly the same way. You just have to love them in the same amount….and navigate the rest as best you can.
I tried, yesterday, to recall images in my mind of either of my parents laying down on the floor with me to play with toys, or read, or simply talk the way I do with my younger child. I couldn’t really dredge any up, despite my early childhood memories being relatively vivid still. My mother would read to me at bedtime, certainly – but during the day when school was not in session for me, she was busy making a meal or cleaning or doing laundry. This left little time to really engage with the children. I’m not trying to sell her short; whereas she didn’t have much help, or really any, in the ‘childcare and housework’ arenas. Dad went to work, came home, and cracked a can of beer or eight each night while hiding behind the newspaper in a recliner. The evening meal would be served, with us three children sitting at the kitchen counter and Mom and Dad somewhere else, or not eating at all. They were married for nearly 30 years, but only eight of that was in my lifetime. I have only memories of them sharing a meal at a table, together, with us on holidays and the occasional trip to a relative’s house. Other than that, I don’t know exactly where they sat to eat, and don’t recall a word passing between them during meals. They were somewhere on the other side of the wall, perhaps watching a television program together, or really just engaging in a pretense of that if they sat in the same room and the television was on. There was no discussions of how everyones’ day went, or planning for the weekends as a family. There was blackened steak, heated canned vegetables, and a slice of bread with butter, served up with a side of silence and disconnection.
My dad always liked to hunt and fish. I have never, ever had any desire to trot through the woods murdering wildlife with a gun, and have never been hunting. I likely never will. Many of the males in my family still engage in this ritual stalking and slaying of a deer each fall. I have never had an interest in joining them. I did, for a while, try fishing with my dad. Eventually, when that proved to be as much of a ‘failure’ for me as athletics, I brought a book with me and would read it as dad cast his line into a stream hoping for mutant-sized trout to simply jump on and let him reel them in. I gave up on that eventually, as well…..and Dad never tried any other manner of us relating to one another. In ways it didn’t matter….as I still had my books. In other ways, though, it did matter – as I felt like I didn’t have a father.
I have, even with only a passing interest in sports, managed to forge a ‘connection’ with my older child by watching the Bruins together when we can catch them. He’s very interested in most sports; but hockey seems to be his favorite thus far. He also loves to read and loves television shows about cars like Top Gear and the Barrett-Jackson Auctions. I love both of those shows, and can spend a great deal of time sitting with him watching along and talking about the shows. I can’t say that he and I have a tremendous amount ‘in common’, but after my own childhood, I feel it’s most important for me to keep trying to find the similarities rather than surrendering to the differences. Unlike what I think my own dad was capable of realizing….I am the adult….I have to be the one to keep trying, again and again, no matter what.
I am comfortable with my own identity at this stage of life. I know who I am. I am an introvert, through and through, who can spend days on end without human contact and be perfectly satisfied with it. I enjoy quiet, controlled days…with a decided lack of chaos…..though having two heightened needs children doesn’t always contribute to that lack of chaos. I am an observer (and chronicler) in life more than I am a participant. I don’t go out of my way to be noticed. I hate someone ‘taking care of me’, even when I’m sick, and require the time to process daily emotions and occurrences before I can move on. I spend a lot of time inside my own head. Sometimes it’s just safer in there than anywhere out in the real world. I don’t spend much time seeking approval from others, which comes in handy when others don’t approve as it really doesn’t impact my sense of self-worth. My identity has become clear to me over the years, and I’ve learned to embrace it. I would never tout this as the ‘healthiest way to live’, but it’s who I am
My kids are 7 and 8. They are at the threshold of developing their own identities. Many parents look at their children and think ‘he/she’s gonna be a ____ when he/she grows up’ – I have no idea who or what the boys will be…I can’t plan that for them. I can, throughout their childhood, try to teach them that whoever that is to embrace it and be happy with it – as it’s a long life to live if you live it in misery and doubt.
I think that much of what needs to go into my own parenting is to realize, as they grow, that they will be whoever they are, not who I want them to be. It’s important to find ways to relate to both of them, not expect them to relate to me. The more I am able to show them an example of being comfortable being ‘who you are’, no matter who that is, the more likely they are to feel that themselves as adults, or at least I hope they do.
Parenting is so much a balance of recognizing your own identity but leaving room in your home, your mind, and your heart to observe, understand, and celebrate THEIR identities as well. You may look at them one day and think, ‘Who the hell is this person, and how did they get into my home?’ Well….the ‘how’ doesn’t matter….the ‘who’ is what you really need to pay attention to. And constantly tell yourself ‘This is who they are, and that’s okay….I love them anyway.’
Identity is such an important part of human existence and happiness. It can cause either great joy or great sorrow – for myself, I’ve learned to reject the latter and embrace the former. I hope that my kids, over time, learn the same thing. I hope they are happy with who they are, no matter who that is. I don’t ever want to stand in the way of that…I want to tell them I love and accept them no matter what, and just go along for the ride.
As Pooh said, ‘Love is taking a few steps backward, maybe even more…to give way to the happiness of the person you love.’