Even when it’s about you, it’s about us

CAM00318I’m one of those parents.

For gifts, I give people tchochkes

With pictures of my kids on them.

This year for Christmas

It was one of those mugs you can

Put pictures of your kids on and,

In just a few tips and taps of your keyboard,

Be done with your holiday shopping in like

Ten minutes.

Did I stop to think about whether

The recipients

Needed or

Wanted

Another coffee mug?

No.

I assumed that,

Because these are picture of

The Kids,

You know,

The Kids,

They’d be interested.

The grandparents,

I’m pretty sure,

Actually really like the mugs.

But I felt a little sheepish

Handing over the two

Uniform little boxes to my

Brother and his fiancee,

Who had gotten everyone in our

Family something

Individual they might actually like.

“Even when it’s a gift for you,

It’s about us,”

I joked as they

Very graciously

Admired the mugs after

Prying them out of the unbreakable

Styrofoam packaging.

It’s true.

I don’t have time to think about

Much else besides

Keeping my kids and myself

Alive:

No small feat.

But I do recognize that

It must get tiring for people to

Ask how things are going,

And have me talk

All about

My kids:

Ear infections,

New sports season starting up,

All the school closings this winter.

What’s worse,

When people tell me

About stuff going on in their lives,

I’m really good at

Co-opting their experience

And providing a corollary about my kids:

“You say you’re recovering from a

Car accident that almost killed you

And left you fighting for your very life?

My son’s favorite movie used to be Cars!

He was really scared of that scene

Where the semi-trucks fall asleep on the road…

I bet you get why!

Ha ha!”

Parenting,

I’m starting to realize

(And this is not to news to

Childless people, I’ll bet)

That most selfless of activities,

Actually makes people

MORE

Self-centered, not less.

How can this be,

You bluster,

Imagining scenarios in which you’d

Give

Up

Your

Very

Life

For your child?

Here’s how I see things:

I pretty much think of my kids as

Part of me.

Maybe it’s because they came out of my body.

This is mostly a good thing.

It’s what makes me sure I’d

Jump into oncoming traffic to snatch my child

Out of danger.

Or scrape poop off my 1yo’s butt with the

Edge of his wet diaper

(Because I can’t find the wipes)

Then go finish eating my dinner

Without gagging once.

Same with boogers.

Your kid’s boogers?

Disgusting.

My kid’s boogers?

Whatev. I’ll blow my nose in that tissue later

‘Cause they’re practically

My

Boogers.

See how this works?

So if my kids are

Part of me,

My self-centeredness

Has now expanded to

Include my kids.

Now instead of one

Self-centered person,

You get a three-fer.

I’m not really sure what the

Point of thinking myself into this

Paradox has been

Except to acknowledge the grumblings of the

Childless population who

Complain about how

Oblivious parents can be to

Anyone around them except their

Little precious.

I’m not wishing this parenting time away

Because I know these years and days and minutes are

So dear,

But it will be nice,

Once the daily tornado of child-rearing is over,

To come up from the cellar

And have a nice chat with my neighbors

About anything

BUT

My kids.

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Lessons from an elementary school dance

A few weeks ago

I was standing in a pack of parents

In the dark, hot gym of my son’s elementary school

Watching my son and his kindergarten friends

Get down to the latest Top 40 hits

At the annual dance and “fun-raiser.”

And as I leaned against the stage,

Grinning,

Something occurred to me:

I was having

So

Much

Fun

Just watching Victor and the other kids

Get crazy on the dance floor,

Their small bodies twisting,

Arms flailing,

Faces upturned to the D.J. on the stage,

Hoping he would toss a glo-necklace or

Mardi Gras beads their way.

At that moment,

There was nowhere else in the world

I wanted to be than in

That sweaty gym,

Watching my kid lose himself utterly to a

Katy Perry song.

I had

No

Idea

Parenting could be this fun.

I remember in my 20s

Making absolute proclamations:

“I’m never having kids!”

Realizing with existential wonder one day that

Kids are just

Small human beings,

Not another species.

Cautiously hypothesizing to my dad that,

If I did end up having kids

(Big “if”)

I wouldn’t change my life much.

“I’ll just take the kid with me

Wherever I go.

They can just hang out.”

(I think my dad just chuckled,

Didn’t even bother to respond.)

For me,

The desire to have kids came on like a

24 hour flu:

One summer day in 2004 I didn’t want kids,

The next morning I woke up

NEEDING

To be pregnant

That instant.

A year later,

The kindergarten dance phenom was born.

It took me a few years to

Learn to

Enjoy

Parenting.

I adored my son,

Cheered his accomplishments and

Squeezed his small body with a ferocious kind of love.

But get inside his experience?

Lose myself in his sheer joy of physical movement

And discovery?

I was kind of too busy.

I would take him somewhere,

The zoo, say,

And optimistically bring along a magazine

Hoping to relax in the old way

With him just

There, too.

Victor disagreed with my methods

And rarely allowed me to read.

“Oh, okay,” I would think as I eased myself down on the floor

To play a seemingly pointless game of

Car chasing or

Block-tower stacking and

Destruction.

15 minutes was about my limit

Before I would contrive a chore:

Gotta get dinner ready,

Or vacuum,

Or make a phone call.

“Two more minutes, Buddy.

Then Mom’s gotta go.”

Change happened through my campaign to just

“Be in the moment,”

That hippy-dippy phrase that’s the subject of

Books in the New Age section of the library

And shares in my 12-step meetings.

Go on someone else’s timeline.

Slow down.

Shut up.

Busy yet bored nearly all the time,

I thought, “What the hell,”

And gave it a shot.

Planned only through the rest of that day,

Then the next hour,

Then the next five minutes,

Until I got there:

The moment.

Instead of coming up with an excuse to

Sit on the pool deck in a chair

While Victor swims and asks me

Over and over again

To get in the water,

I just get in the damn pool and splash around and get my hair wet.

Now one evening a week after work,

I try to just

Hang out with Victor,

Whatever he’s doing–

No phone,

No laptop,

No book–

Instead of rushing him through his evening routine:

Dinner, bath,

Stories, bed,

So I could have “me time” before I went to bed,

Which usually consisted of aimlessly surfing the Internet.

We were leaving the school dance–

Victor wanted to leave before I did!–

And we walked down the hallway where

Chairs had been set up for parents.

A few were doing that bored-waiting-parent thing:

Leaning forward,

Elbows on their knees,

Tapping around their smartphone.

Every few minutes,

They would sit up straight and stretch a bit,

And heave a deep sigh.

Done it.

Still do it.

But for that one night,

I managed to relish this

Whole new experience I’ve discovered,

That I can have,

When I want it,

If I let it,

As long as Victor will have me.