Thursday, March 11, 2010

Raising your child, Raising yourself

Parenting a small child can be so humbling, assuming you have any amount of introspection. Toddlers exhibit humanity at its most primitive; they are 100% selfish. I'll cut them a break because human selfishness is at bottom rooted in self-preservation, and when you are 3 feet tall and unable to operate a microwave, you have to be pretty insistent (and dare I say a wee bit rude) that someone feed you and that your other needs get met. Once we are grown and can operate a microwave, we can afford to be a bit more polite, unless we are very hungry and our spouse gets his frozen burrito in there before we do. Then someone will have to die.

It is a bit counterintuitive that to grow up and become a happy, well-adjusted, and successful human being--in order to preserve yourself--you have to learn to put your needs, or at least what you think you need, aside on occasion. But that is indeed the case. Those adults who continue to act like toddlers on a regular basis are not going to effectively get the basic human need for relationship met. Unless of course they become a military dictator and have everyone around them living in fear, which works fairly well for a time, until they are pulled out of a rat hole in the Iraqi desert on a very bad hair day.

As I am beginning to teach Charlotte these important life lessons (i.e. Do NOT become a dictator), it strikes me how poorly I have learned them myself. Here's a few examples:

Lesson Number One: We do not throw a fit just because we aren't getting enough attention. This is a hard one for Charlotte. If I am around and doing something other than adoring her, she will see to it that, whatever it is I am doing, I will not be having fun doing it, because she will be giving her best impression of a puppy being tortured to death. If I do not get the attention I think I deserve, I don't quite throw myself in the floor and writhe around while screaming. But I might go on and on to Kevin about how Debbie's husband gives her a foot massage every night and brings her flowers at least once a week just to thank her for being born and isn't that so sweet and oh by the way you forgot to take out the trash again this week (loser). Not a fit, but just as charming.

Lesson Number Two: We do not eat things that are not good for us. In Charlotte's case, this would be Play Dough or a stick. But I am just as guilty; I pretty much ate one of her two birthday cakes all by myself, and I think a stick definitely has more nutritional value than that, at the very least more fiber anyway.

Lesson Number Three: If we can do something safely by ourselves, we don't nag others to do it for us. I am trying to teach Charlotte that she does own a pair of working legs and can in fact walk and grasp things with her fully functional opposable thumbs. We do not need to play fetch with Mommy. Mommy is lazy and prefers to stay seated. But then I recall the last time I badgered Kevin about doing ______ (fill in the blank with anything besides our taxes, as this is not something I can safely myself. We will both land in prison if Kevin does not do this.).

Lesson Number Four: Patience is a good thing. Charlotte unfortunately acquired the phrase, "Right NOW!!!" fairly early. I really don't know where it came from, probably those Nazi daycare workers. This phrase has wide application, including, "I want crackers Right NOW!!!" "I watch Yo Yo Right NOW!!!" "Mommy read Right NOW!!!" and seems unfazed by the lovely Patience song I sing in response (She will sometimes then yell, "Mommy stop singing Right NOW!!!). I myself am not the most patient person. I would say that my impatience is demonstrated in a more subtle way than screaming NOW!!! at the top of my lungs, but I have even done that on occasion. I am even impatient about things that don't matter in the least. I'll be watching Charlotte try to put a puzzle piece in its place and feel the anxiety welling up in me as she wriggles it around unsuccessfully. It's all I can do to sit there and do nothing. That's when I start singing the Patience song to myself, which actually does make a dent.

Lesson Number Five: Imperfection is "not a big deal." I was shocked, SHOCKED to discover that I have a child who has a panic attack when food gets on her hand and would not walk or feed herself until she could do it almost perfectly. How did she become so anal? It could not have anything to do with the laps I did around her high chair, catching every morsel of dropped food before it could even hit the floor as if I did not have a 10 year supply of paper towel in the garage. It couldn't be because I conscientiously told her as I heroically saved every bite that it was "OK, not a big deal." Now I try to restrain myself when she accidentally shovels oatmeal onto the table and use the "it's not a big deal" mantra on myself.

Maybe by the time Charlotte is 18, her mother will be a civilized human being.

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