My transition into motherhood was a boot-camp therapy session into my own psyche and shortcomings. I was not ready to be a mom at 39, but then no one is truly prepared to be a parent, despite the hokey all-encompassing love theory we’ve been fed by our culture. Motherhood is a mixed bag of pain and joys, with a lot of really hard and often thankless work in the middle. Kids can be as horrible as they are sweet.
I think perhaps, here at the start of summer, it’s a good time to take a break from the heavier writing to just talk about Le Child, and what I will call Neu-Childhood, because the way kids exist these days is like movement of tiny Lacanians speaking in Oulipo verse. Kids do music lessons, science camp, dance and cooking camp before most of them have mastered the art of having arms and legs. I joke about cooking camp — they usually can at least ride a bike by then. Don’t get me wrong: These are all good activities for kids, in moderation, but kids need downtime like they need food.
When I was a child, my every-day consisted of going to my grandmother’s house and playing. Celia Howard did not do crafts, water play, puppet shows or alphabets. She fed me, and kept an eye on me, but, for the most part, let me play and grow in the world around. She taught me things, subtle things, like making friends in certain places gets you the best cuts of meat (minds out of the gutter, folks. I’m talking butchery), or the proper way to hang laundry on a line. Most of the time, at least at the butcher shop, I spent staring at the nightmare of flesh and fish corpses or, on laundry day, I darted between the sheets, eating honeysuckle from her fence. My early education was bucolic and halcyon. I played.
This brings me to my own, Le Child. At 3 years old, his language skills are closer to that of a 6 or 7 year old. We spend more time than should be legal discussing gross anatomy. One should always be prepared to talk about the small intestine, or the cerebellum, when faced with Le Child. He’s never been in daycare, or at school, in any way, a luxury not afforded to most families. He’s stayed with his grandmothers, and, like my own upbringing, has spent much of his time playing. His anatomical curiosity is his creation alone.
I spent seven years at one of the best childcare facilities in this city, Highland Community Ministries, and one of the guiding philosophies behind our work there was that play is the best teacher. We did all of the enrichment activities, crafts and field trips, as I do now with my little guy. But, more than anything, we let the kids play, and rarely did parents question that philosophy. There were a few.
The ones who had questions about what the children were doing, or who walked in and asked if all their 18-month old did was play, were often highly stressed, and projecting their perceived shortcomings onto their children. Now that I’m a mother, I understand this desire for the little one to be more — a Neu-Child. This world seems to require that our children perform. What used to be a given in childhood has become a conscious choice. We can train, or allow, them to bloom in a field of play and exploration out of our control.
For the most part, I choose to allow Le Child to bloom but the performance demon sneaks in, and I feel like maybe he ought to be learning integers, or working for General Motors designing cars. You know, achieving.
Then I remember the moments when I want him to do more, and be more, are the moments when I feel anxious about myself. His life belongs to him, and my job should be to give him a platform, and allow him to dive into life at his own pace, and in whatever formation he should choose. Basically, I need to provide him a field, give him water and let nature do the rest.
So far that has resulted in an obsession with pumpkins, anatomy and an expansive knowledge of possibly inappropriate lyrics for children to learn. I am proud that he is finding his quirks and growing without the stresses a stacked schedule of Neu-Childhood activities brings. I’m less proud about the lyrics.