“You know what’s great about having kids?”
That’s the question that came out of my friend, Kara’s mouth as she was wrestling with her 1 1/2 year-old daughter on a walk home from school. I mean it. Wrestling. The child was clearly winning with a decided advantage of being able to use her small stature and surprising strength to wiggle in and out of Kara’s not-so-deadly grip. The little master was also using her ability to control sound with amazing noises coming out of her body. Amazing.
“They’re. Just. So. Relaxing.”
Kara’s answer to her own question. I’m guessing she was kidding, judging by an exasperation score which I would put at roughly eleven. Out of ten.
If you are a parent, then you have definitely been bested by your child at least once. At least once, if they’re only a day old. More likely you’ve been bested, exasperated, frustrated, and manipulated a few times daily. We all have. But not only by our children. Also by our impressions of what our friends are thinking. Or other parents on the street. Or expert children raisers who yell at us from magazine articles to stop! Change everything! New information! You’re doing it wrong!
I’ve realized that more and more of us – mostly mothers – are becoming afraid of our children. It starts when they’re infants. We read every book, gleaning all the information we can about what we’re doing wrong. Our children are either not eating enough, not sleeping enough, not independent enough, not social enough, not having enough tummy time, or are not being stimulated enough. We buy swings and bouncy chairs and excersaucers and bumbo seats and activity centers (I just looked around my own living room to compile that list). We try Cry-It-Out and the No-Cry Sleep Solutions. We are told not to use rice cereal because it’s overly processed and no fruits because they’re too sugary and how many times in a week are our children pooping? What color is it? What does that mean? Do our diapers have chemicals in them and am I good breastfeeder and what will happen if I slip some formula in once in a while and you know, pacifiers? What? Who? Why? When? Wait….what was the question….?
It’s just overwhelming. And it’s hard to keep any normal perspective because, you know, it’s your child. It’s vitally important, the work of raising a kid. But I’m convinced now – more than ever – that we mothers and we fathers need to relax. I am going to just admit that I’m the worst offender. I read things. How to get my kids to sleep, eat, what they should be playing, how they should be developing. I do. But I’ve also found that when I put all the information aside and just do what comes naturally – that’s when they respond to me. What do my twins want? They want my ugly mug to be about 12 inches away from their faces, they want me to have a big smile, and they want me to make ridiculous sounds at them. I did not read that on the internet. It’s just what I do, and it’s just what makes them happy. They do not care if they are sitting in a vibrating seat that makes ocean noises while this is going on. In fact, they prefer just laying on their backs. On our dirty rug that recently was thrown-up on by my nephew’s dog. I did not read in a book if that is ok, but guess what? So far, so good.
Kids are not relaxing, they are challenging. But as a parent, I think the challenge is not to exhaustively schedule them for music, yoga, swimming, spanish and cooking classes hoping that they’ll be well-rounded and entertained. The real challenge of being a parent – the really real challenge – is learning how to play with your child. On your own, without the distraction of an instructor or an itinerary. Just one-on-one time (or in my case one-on-two). It is an intimidating prospect for a lot of us. What do we say? What should we say? What is the right thing to do and what if my kid doesn’t enjoy it? How can we possibly fill the time?
But it works out. I’ve found that if I just put all the toys away, stretch out a blanket, and have some Stevie Wonder playing, time flies and the twins are laughing and I don’t want it to end. I am trying to trust my parenting mojo. Trying to believe that if I just follow the cues of my children, it’s going to be alright. They squirm when they’re hungry and cry when they’re tired. This includes 3 AM. But there isn’t a sleep expert in the world who can explain to these tiny masters that they shouldn’t actually be awake at that time – there’s just their mother and father who have our own routine that gets them back to sleep – and it works for us.
I don’t always have things figured out. I often times have monkey-brain happening where I cannot come up with a solution. A few days ago my twins were tired really tired and d-o-n-e with the day but I couldn’t put them to sleep because I was waiting for Roan to get home, and he couldn’t get into the apartment without me opening the door for him. Shep and Smitty were screaming, and I’m bouncing them all around. Carrying them around. Singing, dancing, sweating. Finally – my instincts kicked in! TV!! I quickly pulled up Roan’s movie playlist and the first movie – in the “A” section – was Aladdin. Robin Williams? Animation? Loud and bright? That’s going to work! I sat my four-month old boys in front of the TV, turned it on and they were mesmerized. And quiet. Lazy parenting? I think not. That took a lightning storm of thought! And I defy any expert to come up with a better solution for that exact situation. But for sure – if I tried – I could certainly find a huge amount of literature on why infants shouldn’t watch TV. To them, I say: Bite Me. Either that, or come on over and help me.
And that’s the deal. As parents, we have to begin to trust ourselves. You know what’s great about having kids? That when you trust yourself, kids are maybe not so much relaxing as confidence building. But you know what’s relaxing? Feeling confident that you’ve got this under control. You really do. See? It’s on the internet that you have it under control. So it’s true. Relax.
[Note from Jodi: This Sunday, I will be attending the first-ever Brooklyn Baby Expo. This event, arranged by the hot-shots over at A Child Grows in Brooklyn promises to be awesome. Lots of gear, give-aways and a nursing lounge. As I’m bringing the whole family, one guess where I’ll be, at least half of the time. Hint: it sounds like “fursing founge”. If you can make it, I’d love to see you there!]