Thursday, October 11, 2007

Children of a Lesser God

Our routine was to watch cartoons together every Saturday morning. We had done so all winter long, and my four-year-old mind could not reach back beyond those endless months of cold and snow. It was thus an unpleasant surprise, to say the least, when the first warm Saturday arrived and he loaded his golf clubs into the car, leaving me to the chill company of Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, and Wile E. Coyote.

I don’t think I threw a tantrum after that first weekend. I knew what to expect, and I knew, too, that my enjoyment of our Saturday-morning ritual had not been shared as fully as I had innocently presumed. It was my first lesson in forgiveness, the inexorable waning of righteous anger and the adjustment of expectations that follows. I would know in the future that I could count on my dad to be proud of my accomplishments, to create treasure hunts for me at the cottage, to engage patiently in the frustrating and ultimately impossible task of teaching me to catch a ball. But all that had to be fitted in around the demands of two eighteen-hole rounds per weekend. Golf always came first.

The Christian ideal of forgiveness incorporates a willingness to turn the other cheek – to risk a repetition of the offence, to believe in the possibility of change. Most of my forgiving is not of this kind. Anger drains away and leaves me with lowered expectations. I know better than to make plans that depend upon the friend who has repeatedly stood me up. I learn not to share private information with the warm-hearted woman who simply cannot help spilling all her secrets (her own and everybody else’s). Friendships can function surprisingly well this way – most relationships, in fact, require this willingness to let people be as flawed as they are.

I’ve been watching this realization dawn in my children’s minds this week. Pie has been clinging to me in the mornings, frustrated and angry at my insistence on detaching myself from our cuddle on the couch to attend to such necessary tasks as washing my face and getting dressed (as well as some not-strictly-necessary tasks like loading the dishwasher and making the beds). When I dropped her off at day-care yesterday, she glowered reproachfully, refusing our normal tokens of farewell (a goodbye kiss or a hastily shouted “Bye-bye Mama!” as she rushes to join the other children at play). I can see a suspicious sharpness in her eyes as she recognizes the symptoms of my restlessness, my inability to immerse myself as she does in a good episode of the Wonder Pets. “It’s a baby zebra!” she hollers, dragging me out of the kitchen to see the animal in trouble. I do my best to feign interest – I thank her for sharing her exciting discovery – but my pretense is starting to waver under her sharp, knowing gaze.

Bub is making the same discovery. A few days ago I put on the Veggie Tales ’70s CD and joined Bub for a few songs – we did the locomotion, we snuggled down to sleep on the floor like lions in the jungle, the mighty jungle. But the Pie was napping and I was itching to get some work done. I detached – he pulled me back. I detached – he pulled me back. A third time I detached – and he stopped pulling, standing there dejectedly, like a boy who has just learned something new, something unexpected.

The Pie was in high spirits today when I picked her up from day-care. Our routine is well-established now so she knows that the day I come get her right after lunch heralds the start of the long weekend. While Bub and I ate our lunch, Pie tormented her brother by grabbing her Veggie Tale pirates and roaring at him menacingly: “I’m a cucumber, roarrrrr.” There were no tantrums or clingy fits, only exuberance. I am forgiven after yesterday’s bitter parting … but in her forgiveness I cannot help but detect a subtle lowering of expectations. I have fallen from my godlike perch – I am teaching my children their first lesson in human frailty.

I love my children more than they could possibly know – and yet my love is far more contaminated by boredom, resentment, and selfishness than they could possibly suspect. Their eyes are growing sharper, more attuned to the outlines of fallenness in me, and the fact that they cope so well with the disillusionment is the most damning evidence of all.

51 comments:

Janet said...

Oh the pressure of leaving the first comment is immense! Perhaps someone else will sneak in before I hit the Publish button.

This line was perfect:

"...my love is far more contaminated by boredom, resentment and selfishness than they could possibly suspect.

I constantly feel conflicted by my desire, or need, to do adult things when my children just want me to play on the floor all day. I try to temper the guilt with the knowledge that, when I do play with them, they have all of me, fleeting as it might be.

Lovely post.

ewe are here said...

Ouch.

I write that because I see myself here, too. Like Janet above me, the contamination of boredom, resentment and selfishness ... it is there. It just is sometimes. And I know my 2 year old already sees it, and it frustrates him immensely.

Mad Hatter said...

It is a necessary lesson for them to learn but oh such a difficult one. I know that one day Miss M will stop clinging and I can't figure which is greater: my fear of losing her and my desire for release. I think it is the latter.

flutter said...

I can't imagine having all of these things in your heart, all day every day.

Jess said...

It seems like the beginning of learning about empathy for them. It starts with disillusionment and then, as they gain the ability to think less concretely, they learn to relate, and understand. And to learn that love doesn't have to mean sacrificing all of yourself. All good things for them to learn. But poignantly sad, too.

kgirl said...

Maybe a few days of full-time daycare would help?

Lori said...

Wow. This beautifully expressed something I have thought many times in my years as a mom. I consider myself a very engaged, playful mom, and yet... I am also a busy adult with a lot of other tasks on my agenda. Unfortunately, the kids do have to figure that out at some point. Although, in the end I don't think it is to their detriment. It allows them to learn that they are not the center of the universe, that other people have interests beyond them, and that chores and work are a reality of life.

Her Bad Mother said...

Oh, wow. I could have written that last paragraph, word for word, with the tiny exception of the plural 'children.' Tiny, but significant, because my own pending plural - in the context of the ever-present cloud of boredom and selfishness - causes me no end of anxiety.

Love, love, love - must just cleave to the LOVE, and know that the selfishness never overhwlems that love.

Blog Antagonist said...

I think you're feelings are more common than most of us will admit. And I also think that it's a fairly recent phenomenon.

My parents were GREAT parents. My childhood was, in many ways, idyllic. And yet, I don't remember my parents making us the focus of their lives. They had their own interests, their own time and I don't think they ever felt guilty about leaving us with a babysitter to indulge in some one on one time.

We were left to our own devices a lot. Sure we had our family time, but my parents did not find it incumbent upon them to constantly entertain us. As a result, we found a lot of creative ways to keep busy.

I was actually going to write a post about this and maybe I still will....Husband and I both had imaginary friends, but neither of our children do. And sometimes I wonder if it's because they are being spoon fed ready made characters with the inexhaustable ability to enterain, and who can be accessed at any time of the day or night. And also I wonder if it's because we parents have somehow been brainwashed into believing we have to entertain them.

Sorry...didn't mean to get so long winded. Suffice it to say that I am often similarly conflicted. I've never really been the kind of Mom who can zoom cars around endlessly on the carpet. And I worry about it.

Karen said...

I hovering around these feelings myself, not sure whether to commit to them, wandering if action is required if I do.

KAL said...

You are such a good writer. A lot of us feel this way but I don't think many of us could express it so eloquently.

Alpha DogMa said...

Love in unconditional. That's what we aspire to teach our children. We love them when they're bad, we love them when they're good. We even love them when they are BORING AS HELL!

Suz said...

It have about 20 minutes until the nanny leaves and I've been getting more and more anxious as they tick away, realizing that I soon have to leave my work to feed and entertain the boys. However, we've not yet reached that stage of realization yet. If they are disappointed in us, it's a fleeting moment, and that's something to treasure.

Miscellaneous-Mum said...

Totally understand; totally get it because this has also been me lately. The reproach kills me :(

bubandpie said...

BA - I agree that it's natural and right for children to have to share their parents with siblings, with housework, with the whole apparatus of adult life. In many ways the process I've been observing is a healthy one. But I don't know that my MOTIVE for those tiny rejections is always their long-term emotional health. ;) The sad part, I think, is losing that free pass we get for the first couple years of life, when our parenting flaws are unnoticed or quickly forgotten. Sure, it's good for my children to know that I'm flawed, that I will sometimes let them down ... but ouch.

Mary Joan Koch said...

My two-year-old said very eloquently: "Mommy, look at me with both your eyes."

Angela said...

How aptly you capture the central conflict of my parenting life. Ah, the guilt.

Niksmom said...

Oh how I see this same reproach in Nik's eyes as he sits having his dinner (tube fed) playing with a toy and I am not sitting with him and playing along. When I approach he turns his face from me for a moment and smirks; he knows the torment he causes. OUCH.

Julie Pippert said...

You just grabbed that feeling I think all parents have and elaborated gracefully on it. I knew from teh get-go I was likely to be the person who first "broke" my daughter's heart, and my trepidation about that was alleviated when it happened and we both learned that there are always caveats and obstacles and two sides and much better to learn that with someone you can trust to love you, period, than otherwise.

Julie
Using My Words

Chaotic Joy said...

Oh this post. The whole last paragraph. It is profoundly perfect. The way I feel I love them so completely and yet so restlessly at the same time. The way my love will alternatively be more and less than they want it to be in their lives.

Mimi said...

Oh yes. How can I love my little girl so so so much, and still get bored after umpteen repetitions of tuck-the-elephant-in? I have feared the days you describe: where she becomes disappointed in me. But we all recover, I guess, and this IS a necessary part of maturation.

I just never want to be the bad guy ...

kittenpie said...

This has been me these last two weeks. I just don't hve the energy, and she is growing clingier and more demanding in response. Today was better, and I hope tomorrow will be more so. Maybe I'll be back to singing WonderPets songs with her again by the weekend. It could happen... Because, like you, I am seeing it and not feeling very good about it.

painted maypole said...

oh how well written and heartbreakingly true all of this is.

Sandra said...

You have touched on something that stirs inside most of us. But none of us are perfect. Perfection is impossible. For our children to expect that, is not good for them either.

Boredom, resentment and selfishness are one thing but they pale in comparision to the word "unconditional". And that is how I know you love your children whether you are engaged every second or not.

Gwen said...

This was, not surprisingly, beautifully written, b&p. My kids are slightly older and so we are further along on the disappointment/grace line. Two things I ponder: 1)The seemingly endless capacity for my children to forgive my inadequacies and 2) The fact that it's the flaws I am not so conscious of that will come back to bite us all later.

Mardougrrl said...

Oh, YES...I adore my daughter beyond reason, and yet...I also long to read, write, or be "off duty" while she plays. She senses that, and forces me to sit through yet another repetition of her "Maisy" book or to play for what feels like hours with her colored rocks.

Thanks for saying it in the most perfect way.

-The Shiny Happy Mama- said...

Perfectly written. That last paragraph resonates deeply with me, as I think it does for all parents at some point. Thanks for expressing it so well for all of us.

Kyla said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

And yes.

This was beautifully stated. It brings to mind your Rage post; you have a knack for putting these universally uncomfortable parenting experiences into words that many people can't seem to find. I love that about you.

dawn224 said...

Amen sister, amen.

Occidental Girl said...

I'm feeling every inch of this post!

And when I try to think of an alternative, all I can think of is to ask, what am I supposed to do about it? I could be my child's plaything, but that's not very realistic. It's a balance, right? Like everything else. I need to play with my daughter more, that's true. I think it would be weird to be available for her for every second, though, too.

I do think it's a good thing to be mindful of.

Omaha Mama said...

Wow. My heart just broke a little as I realized how much I relate to this. How it seemed like you were writing about me.

I see it in Brenna's eyes. When I say, "Mommy doesn't want the snake to scare her any more." Disappointment. It is tough to see. Yet, I'm not up for being more than I already am, if that makes sense.

But maybe, I can try.

Nowheymama said...

Our parents are human, and so are we. It's so hard, though. When one of my friends worries about some transgression with her children, she says, "I don't remember anything my parents did when I was 2, (3, 4). Will they remember this? When do they start remembering?"

Great post.

Aliki2006 said...

The little rejections are the hardest--when kids begin to realize that they are *not* the entire center of their parents' universe. But I think this is an important rite of passage--this realization that the love is there and unconditional, but that their parents need to do other things as well.

DaniGirl said...

I'm fascinated by this post in the way I was fascinated by the one about "sorry" and "thank you". I'm not sure I ever felt this particular flavour of guilt, but I have my own salad bar of various mothering guilts in its place.

I'm particularly interested in the intersection of what you wrote and Blog Antagonist's comment. I think about this often, about how much responsibility we take for not only feeding and clothing and loving our children, but for entertaining them. I'm finding it so very much easier now that they're three and five and able to engage themselves without me lying on the floor subordinating my annoyance at having to be the voice for Thomas and Percy and James - so much so that I'm now making an effort to ask them to play board games with me after dinner, so we have some play time together.

In the blink of an eye, they go from too needy to not needy enough. Didn't Cat Stevens write a song about this?

Lisa b said...

I feel the same way. I worry that since I constantly disappoint my kids one day they may stop counting on me. What choice do we have though?
Some things have to get done.
oh and the guilt of having a second child. My time is now divided and I am sure the older girl will never forgive me.

thirtysomething said...

Wow. Just, wow.
You expressed what I have tried to explain to myself over the years as a mom, and so understandably and forgivingly. We are moms, yes. But first, we are human, and it is ok for us to want things and time separate from our babies.
Eloquently written post.
Thank you.

Julie said...

I enjoyed this post because I read it right after writing all morning about my own desire to push aside things I used to consider fulfilling in order to be fulfilled by my son and to find peace in my days. Even as I was writing I knew that my post was the post of a new mommy. I knew that a few years from now I might be singing a different tune, writing a different post. Writing your post.

You know, the best we can do is be human beings for our kids. The best we can do is let them see that being human can be hard. Your kids may notice your detachment and frustration but what they can learn from you is how to deal with detachment and frustration. What they can learn is how to approach their own lives.

You're a good mom. Your kids are lucky. That you can't summon the enthusiasm to dance with them for hours on end doesn't mean you're not.

Isn't it nice to have a place to admit such dark secrets as this, though? A place to say, "Wow. Sometimes I resent my kids." I appreciate that you're willing to share that stuff.

Mary Joan Koch said...

With four daughters, I found siblings and other kids were the way out of these conflicts and guilt. I didn't have to play on the floor all day; I didn't have to engage in endless fantasy play. I just had to facilitate their playing together without too much conflict. I almost always bought sharing toys--blocks, legos, playdough, clay, paints, markers, dressup, musical instruments. I learned not to intervene too quickly unless physical damage was being inflicted; my 15 month old had figured out how to make her sister 26-months older the culprit. Having a friend over for each kid was often easier than just having my kids. We belonged to a babysitting coop; I was always willing to sit during the day. I admit having five younger brothers gave me a high tolerance for squabbling and a confidence kids can work some things out for themselves. They don't always need Mommy as referee or entertain.

slouching mom said...

G., I remember with uncomfortable clarity the moments when my children realized this about me.

This was beautifully written and resonated so sharply with me.

Thank you.

Kelly said...

Oh man, it's constant, that tug of war. Surrender is so entirely difficult, and the days I can master it are perfect. The days when I feel like I'm in a cage with two adorable creatures, and start plotting my solo escape, well, those days not so much.

Brilliant essay.

(And sorry, but the Wonder Pets are insanely annoying, so I blame you not for being unable to immerse yourself in Linny, Tuck, and Ming-Ming too. Ack!)

Mary G said...

So well said. This is a guilt trip every parent takes at some point, I think. But I think it's better for a child to learn this lessen than to be the kid whose mother never disngages, does not want her 'baby' to grow up and who clutches and whines when the child becomes an adult.
Old fogey that I am, I think a child needs to learn she is not the centre of the world, much as it hurts to see her hurting as she discovers this.
And let's face it. Preschoolers' repetitive play is sometimes very boring.

cinnamon gurl said...

I know what you mean. On the one hand it is important for kids to see parents do things they enjoy and feel passionate about, but on the other disillusionment is painful to watch and go through. Sometimes I fantasize about pursuing my writing or photography more, and then I think about the daughters of a writer qutoed by HBM, something along the lines of "We always waited outside the closed door of her office wishing she would open it and let us in." I've been wondering (yet avoiding doing the actual calculation) of how much time per day I'm 100% engaged with Swee'pea. I suspect it would be a frightening small amount.

Maddy said...

Very rich.

I think we're people first, parents second.

If I remember correctly, the age of cognition is generally around 7 - I am a separate being.

Maybe you could enjoy their intuition, I certainly wouldn't dwell on the negative element of being human yourself, as we all have needs that we need to fulfil.
Best wishes

nomotherearth said...

This really hit home for me, as I have seen an uncomfortable look in my Boy's eyes lately. Being so pregnant, I am not the energetic playful mom that I used to be. He turns more and more to his dad and it breaks my heart. And sometimes I'm relieved because I'm just so tired. And then I think, what's going to happen when we have Baby #2 and I'm MORE tired and MORE of a disappointment to him.

Sigh.

JCK said...

Wow, this hit close to home. Thanks for having the courage and the honesty to write about it. As you see ...you resonated with so many of us!

"Play with me, Mommy", "Do you want to play with me?" are questions that seem to come from my son at a time when I am running on empty. I often have to give myself time to recharge -even if it is only 15 minutes, before I can be that playful Mommy again and ...again. Otherwise I become a screeching preschooler and that's not good for anyone.

Ser said...

My children, more than anything, have shown me all of my greatest weakensses. I love the ending of this post--you express, so well, the joy and heartbreak of parenting.

Kit said...

Ooh that hurts! Such sharp observation and something that I hadn't really got into clear focus about my relationship with my children - the need to detach and free myself some space, and their gradually realising that they are separate beings - necessary but poignant.

Suki said...

Ah, don't do that, woman! Hits too close for comfort.

I feel that trust functions on the basis of knowledge. Personal ethic being "trust someone only as far as you know him". If i know someone's mentality and motivations, I will trust him with something that I believe he has no reason NOT to do.

As for forgiveness, my idea is exactly like yours. However, anger gives way only when the after-effects of betrayal go away. I need to get out of the knowledge that that betrayal is still ripping my life apart.
I am too sleepy to make further sense, so shall stop now.

Ally said...

"I love my children more than they could possibly know – and yet my love is far more contaminated by boredom, resentment, and selfishness than they could possibly suspect."

This sentence rings so very true for me, too. Well said.

Emily said...

I haven't read all the comments, so maybe someone already said this, but I actually think that good parenting is a degree of benign neglect. You must leave them to play in their own way. If you are always there playing with/for them, they won't learn or grow. I think you need to detach yourself and leave them to their work. Otherwise, you are just getting in the way of their imaginations all the time.

So, don't feel selfish. It is actually probably best for your kids.

Susanne said...

This is such a great post! I have never thought about this like that. But we have been talking with our son about this. That he finds things fascinating that to us aren't that much, and vice versa.

I very much believe in being open with my son, telling him that I like spending time with him and so I do things that I'd otherwise find boring but that I like to do other things as well.