Saturday, February 2, 2013

Musings on parenthood


Recent events and tragedies have left me, like many others, wondering why. Why would someone shoot up a school full of sweet innocent souls? Why did someone let his priorities become so skewed that he’d spend his energy fighting for the rights of a zygote instead of doing something worthwhile, like improving the lives of kids who are already here?

I’ve also been asking this question in my personal life. There are people who are only in my life because of things like work and my family tree. I’ve allowed myself to get annoyed with them when they show traits I don’t like—excessive negativity, inability to feel empathy or appreciate all the good in their lives, constant martyr attitudes and a slew of other things I work hard every day not to be.

Lately, instead, I’ve tried asking myself why they do the things they do. It doesn’t excuse the traits, as they are responsible for recognizing and fixing them, but it helps me. By understanding, I’m able to exercise more patience and feel compassion instead of contempt. I don’t do it for them, but for my sanity. And I’ve reached one conclusion, which is the same conclusion I reach for the bigger issues: it all comes down to the childhood… the experiences, the parents and the teachers.

I’m no Freud, and I’m certainly not saying bad parenting is the root of all evil. But I truly believe that if every child is born knowing they are wanted and loved, being encouraged to follow their dreams while being properly disciplined, taught respect, respected in return, nourished with good nutrition and sent to schools full of teachers who loved them too, we’d hardly have any miserable adults.

I’m not na├»ve enough to think it would solve everything, but imagine if every single child was raised with the belief that they mattered and that anything they desired (education, dream jobs, whatever) was accessible to them…if we put as much energy into raising our children right as we do trying to “fix” adults.  It would make a huge difference, to say the least.

That realization saddened me, as being a teacher’s daughter gives me an inside look at how badly kids are treated these days as well as how little teachers are valued. Then it terrified me. As my biological clock begins to tick and Mr. W and I stop talking about if and start talking about when, I’ve thought about the job that lies before me.

So I’m supposed to raise this smart, kind, goal-oriented individual who will be an asset to society, not a burden, who will leave the world a better place, when I haven’t gotten my own shit together or reached most of my goals? No pressure. The more I thought about it, the less appealing it became. There was just no way, I decided, that I could put all this effort into this human and still work on myself. And I’m not about to make a human unless I can make it a good one.

Then I met Henry. Henry is the son of one of the older copywriters on my team, a phenomenal artist and a badass rocker guy who is in at least two bands. Since he started, I’ve heard a lot of things about Henry. For example, Henry likes pink and purple. He likes to play with dolls, and he enjoys getting his nails painted. He was a fairy for Halloween.

I know how Henry would be treated if he’d been born to a family in Idaho. I shudder to think how life would be for him if he lived in the south or a less developed country. But Henry is lucky enough to have been born to parents who understand. They don’t ever want him to feel like he’s different or feel badly about himself. And I think that’s the most amazing thing in the world.

Henry came strolling through my office one day with his “Papa.” And if it wasn’t for the purple beanie on his head and the baby doll in his hand, you wouldn’t know that Henry is “different” in any way. There was no tell-tale flamboyancy in his voice, no sassiness in his strut. He’s just an ordinary little boy who happens to like some things that have been traditionally attributed to little girls.

The fact is, Henry might grow up to be interested only in women—or, he could grow up to be gay. He could be the football captain or the star of every high school musical. He’s going to grow up to be whatever he wants to be, because he has parents who will encourage his authenticity and let him follow his dreams. He won the parent lottery for sure.

I want that for my child, too.

A few weeks later, I came into contact with Lola and it changed my entire perception of pregnancy and motherhood.

Lola is the alter ego of my building manager, who is a sexy burlesque dancer when she’s not collecting rent checks and playing referee / Mommy to the tenants. I’ve been dying to see her perform for awhile, but worried she might feel strange about me watching her twirl her tassels. Apparently she didn’t feel that way, because I scored an invite to her latest show.

Oh, by the way, Lola is eight months pregnant and it’s quite obvious on her tiny little frame.
My first reaction to hearing about her pregnant performance was a resounding, “You go girl!” I admit I fear not being comfortable in my own skin during pregnancy, which would make me feel shallow if I hadn’t worked really damn hard at overcoming some serious body issues. Lola was an inspiration, to say the least.
I was curious, though, about how she’d pull off a burlesque act. Would she work her baby bump into her act, or would she pretend it wasn’t there, doing her normal sexy routine and hoping everyone would just ignore it?

What she did was strut onto the stage, grab the mic and sing beautifully. I had no idea she could sing, but her voice was so powerful that I would have forgotten it was a pregnant performance if not for her song choice: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Of course. Lola took the stage again after that for a dance performance, and it was adorably full of “bun in the oven” references and really amazing, sexy and not at all weird.

I don’t know anyone else in the world brave enough to do something like that. And hell, if she can feel that comfortable with her body during pregnancy, I can maybe chill out about the idea of it. In the future, when that little baby is old enough to hear that he was onstage before he was even born, it will make a great story. Her performance was almost symbolic, showing the world that underneath the baby belly she was still Lola. So this baby will grow up knowing that his mom loved him enough to hold onto her authentic self, but was happy to work him into her life.

I want that for my child, too.

I don’t know what went wrong with the Newtown shooter or if Paul Ryan didn’t get hugged enough as a child (or was dropped on his head). And I don’t even know if I could be a better parent than either of them had. The idea of raising a decent person is intimidating, to say the least.

But with all the evil in the world, there is also so much good. For every bad parent, there are hundreds of parents who are doing it right. And I don’t know if it will happen, when it will happen or how I can possibly make it work, but… I think I’m up for the challenge. 

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