Thursday, January 08, 2009

Blink

All week people have been asking me, "How was your Christmas?" and I've been answering, with somewhat startling and unnecessary enthusiasm, "It was awesome!" For two whole weeks I sat around at home with my kids and (sometimes) husband, and baked double-chocolate cookies, played Guitar Hero, watched hours of home-reno shows on my newly acquired "Lifestyle Package" of TV channels, and did two excessively difficult and kind of annoying jigsaw puzzles.

I can't remember the last time I've had so much time to play. To fiddle around, to sit around the house, to accomplish nothing useful.

The key, of course, the trick to all of this unheard-of leisure, is that while I was busy learning how to master "Welcome to the Jungle" on medium without being booed off the stage, my kids were busy too. Santa brought them a whole roster of Digimon toys, and so while I flipped back and forth between Kitchen Nightmares and Holmes on Homes they kept up an unbroken commentary of "Tentomon, digivolve to ... Kabuterimon!" and "I'll attack him with my Howling Blaster!"

For the first time in five years, I can spend time at home with my kids and it feels more like play than work. I still have to settle fights and heat up macaroni and cheese, but these are interruptions to the tenor of my day, not a full-time occupation. Hanging around at home on the weekend is starting to feel more like what I remember from my own childhood: downtime, time to fill with all kinds of meaningless and pleasurable puttering.

A year or so ago, a certain headline-grabbing study proclaimed that babies don't make their parents happy. Childless adults report the highest level of happiness, rivaled only by adults whose children have grown up and left home. In between those two eras of life, however, the study suggested that there is a period of time when one's happiness level recovers: after the children hit school-age but before teenage rebellion sets in, parents report levels of happiness that almost rival those of their childless counterparts.

We all wrote scathing posts about this study at the time, but I tucked away that little tidbit in my back pocket and have been secretly awaiting the happy school-age years with a certain amount of anticipation.

One of my post-Christmas leisure pursuits has been watching my way through a box set of Freaks and Geeks (how is it possible that I've lasted this long without watching this show?). The two main characters, a brother and a sister, are fourteen and sixteen respectively, and their parents are full of bad ideas. They persuade their ninth-grade son to ask a girl to the school dance; they think it's a good idea for their newly rebellious daughter to dress up in full costume for Halloween to help give out candy at the door. As parental advice-givers, they seem constantly to concoct new ways for their children to commit social suicide.

In one early episode, the mother sits glumly on Halloween night, looking at photographs of past Halloweens, her kids dressed up in costume, all eagerness and excitement. Meanwhile, her teenage daughter is out smashing pumpkins while her son is being pelted with eggs by local bullies. She's sad because she knows it is ending, that brief era of family life, that ten-year-window between the hard labour of infant care and the long twilight of adolescence. That era is just barely beginning for me, but already I can see the end on the horizon, a mere decade or so away.

29 comments:

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Up until the last two paragraphs, I was shouting, "Exactly!" You perfectly described this new-found leisure. It's not freedom, since the kids can't be left alone; but still, it's awfully nice to feel like my house is my home and not my place of work.

Regarding those last two paragraphs, I have to say: 10 years of happiness sounds pretty good to me, even if it's followed by 6 years with miserable adolescents!

ewe are here said...

My kids drive me nuts, but they also make me happy. I still seriously question the 'study'...


Glad you had such a great holiday break. Sounds lovely.

Anonymous said...

Can I borrow Freaks and Geeks????

Laura

Anonymous said...

Also, good to know happy EASY times are ahead :)

Mimi said...

Mark's only married to you sometimes?

:-)

Omaha Mama said...

We are just on the cusp of this. Our boy will be three this spring. No more diapers. No more crib. He watches a whole episode of Dora now. You know how it goes.

The problem with my leisure time is that my house gets trashed while I lounge around. That doesn't stop me or anything, I'm just sayin'.

Mad said...

I am just arriving myself and it feels glorious. I still can't do much independent "for me" activities but I can enjoy play with my daughter more and the demands are less taxing. It's delightful, innit?

Mary G said...

Dead on, ten wonderful years. But you know, my teens were pretty good companions and we had a lot of fun, in between bursts of adolescent angst. Until they got to the point where they could beat me at Trivial Pursuit. You have to draw the line somewhere.
Glad your holiday was lovely.

Nancy said...

I agree completely.

I call those the "Honeymoon Years" with elementary aged kids. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Anonymous said...

My boys are 17 and 19 next week and the high school years have been the most fun of all, so don't worry about the adolescent/teenage years. I love all the activity, friends, sports, etc. I dreaded those years and now I don't know why. Actually, I do know why and that's because I dreaded having children like me. I did so much crazy stuff as a teenager that I thought all teenagers were like that (actually they were back then) but I have been very open about sex, drugs, drinking, etc. and we really haven't had any big problems. The big rule is no drinking and driving.

Now one is in college and I can see where I will be enjoying the empty nest years too.

liz

Lady M said...

And just wait until they're in their thirties and having their own children, expecting you to come take care of everyone! ;)

I'm enjoying now, but also looking forward to those school years.

trudymorgancole said...

I think about this a LOT. I said awhile ago that I thought the age our kids are now (8 and 10) was the absolute best age they'd ever been, and Jason informed me that I've said that every year since they were born. I really don't recall saying that but I do believe it's important to appreciate every stage you're in for what it is, rather than yearning forward or backward to the remembered or imagined joys of a different age/stage.

That said, I do think there are some really unique pleasures to the elementary-school years, perhaps because kids strike such a great balance between dependence and independence in those years. I also believe, however, that we have as parents been sold a bit of a line about adolescence. Not that it doesn't have its challenges, but two books I've been reading lately (Bringing Up Geeks by Marybeth Hicks, and Hold Onto Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate) have convinced me that the concept of adolescence as a period when kids necessarily draw away from the family unit, rebel overtly and lose their close relationship with parents, is a late-twentieth century social myth rather than a necessary part of human development, and that it's by no means inevitable.

It's interesting that you use the Freaks and Geeks example to illustrate your point -- not to dis that particular show, but I do think there's a danger in taking our images of family life and child development from the media (who am I to talk -- heck, my favourite show is Arrested Development, but I try not to take it as a template for family life!) I'm heartened by some of the comments here by people who obviously haven't lost all relationship with their teens. So, I'm more optimistic that the teen years will have their own joys -- but check back with me in four or five years to see if I'm still so sanguine.

kgirl said...

My sister always said the easiest time with your child is after they can wipe their own damn ass, but before their friends start to impart more influence on their actions than you do.
Easiest, not best.

And, honestly? Who in their right mind would trade a warm baby cuddle for an extra 5 minutes watching tv?

Bea said...

Liz, Trudy - I have always had a very close relationship with my mother, especially during the teen years, so I know that there's nothing inevitable about teenage rebellion. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that history will repeat itself. The dynamic is different, though, no matter how well-behaved the teens are - not necessarily worse, but different.

Sarcastic Mom said...

Ah. Braden just turned 2 in October.
I already look at him and get weepy.

*sigh*

Janet said...

These years between little kid and tween are my favourite. My older two are 9 and 7 and life with them has this calming cadence, where they play independently (or, at least, they now prefer games that I also like) and their response to most requests is entirely agreeable and rational.

Then there is the almost-three-year-old. Last night she threw a cookie at me and then had a 20 minute tantrum in bed, finally dozing off while whispering, "Cookie!" reminiscent of Welles' "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane. She's keepin' it real, yo.

bren j. said...

We're not even finished having children yet and sometimes I just can't wait to be a grandparent. I see how much fun my parents are having with it and how 'easy' it is....I'm glad to hear that our weekends will eventually become less hectic and filled with more actual time to relax.

Anonymous said...

You guys have been sold a false bill of "just wait" about teenage years. Adolescents are fun! I have said here before, our teenagers are still our babies, just bigger bodies. I loved every single stage EXCEPT baby and toddler-hood; made me feel guilty at the time that I didn't love it more, but once their conversation and interests entered the picture life became more fun.

Good for you! Glad you are now on "the other side".

(Your) Anon

Bon said...

i had forgotten the study. today, in bleak January with a beautiful baby who delights me but doesn't want to be put down long enough for me to feel like i can finish anything and a toddler who undoes what i even start, i think i get what it was saying. my kids bring me happiness, even with the difficulty, but they do not bring me relaxation or downtime whatsoever at the moment and that can be overwhelming and alienating. so to that ten years coming up, much as i'm sad to say babyhood slip away forever, i say...hola!

Kyla said...

It is nice, isn't it? We're finally stepping into the same thing.

wheelsonthebus said...

kids may not bring me giddiness, but they bring me deep fulfillment.

i just wish they weren't bringing it at 3 AM

Jo said...

I have been thinking about this very topic this week. I was musing about how hard it is to be the parent of a manic four year old, and how the 12yo daughter is darling but hormonal, and how the 15yo son is a true delight - but how his newfound independence causes me much anxiety (because teenage boys think they are immortal). The 8yo daughter, however, is just happy and uncomplicated. Her rages are short, her capacity for enjoyment unlimited, she is independent enough not to need me to do much for her, but not independent enough to cause me anxiety. So there you have it. Eight is the perfect age to make for happy parents!

Mad said...

Looking at paint chips and missing you.

Julie @ Letter9 said...

the easy times seem to come and go, don't they? right now 18 months feels like heaven... evan actually plays alone. he answers questions. i can bargain with him. i know i'm in for harder times ahead, and then easier, and then harder...

Amanda said...

A beautiful post.

Mac and Cheese said...

With children as young as mine, I'm still doing my best to find the pay-off. So far, it's when they're asleep.

kittenpie said...

Whihc makes me ask yet again what the hell I'm thinking, but there it is. Something to look forward to... Though I must say despite the WORK of it, I am enjoying this second babe a bit more. If only my back could take the strain of his ginormous self.

No Mother Earth said...

Oh, this gives me hope. I am still in the small infant stage, and I find it hard work. Rewarding yes. Pleasant a lot. Hard work absolutely.

I still want to watch Freaks and Geeks! Must convince Mr Earth.

Lisa b said...

Since Julia was born I have just been waiting for her to be the age her sister was (2.5) when we restarted the madness.
Enjoy! I am right behind you.