When I was born, my mother was 23 years old. She had a high school diploma and had only worked a few years as a flight attendant. My brother was a year older, and my younger sister due to be born exactly one year later. She was unhappily married to a Viet Nam vet with anger management issues, and the situation was less than ideal.
I’m happy to say that my mother remarried a smart, conscientious guy who adopted us kids–and they worked hard together to provide this unorthodox family some version of a comfortable life. She got a nursing degree and he started his own business. I can’t say that my parents were especially patient, affectionate, or available…but they did the best they could given their youth and initial circumstances.
Reflecting back now, I think about what my own parenting style would look like. My husband and I have not been blessed with children yet, but it’s something you think about at my age. I wonder: What will my priorities be?–because you can’t take care of everything all the time. And, in what ways would I be different or similar to my own parents? In all honesty, these are questions I started contemplating as a disgruntled teenager. You know, like when your mom insists that you clean your room before going to the school dance? I would never do that. Or when you get grounded for staying out past curfew? What’s the big deal–I was only a block away. Basically, it’s a kind of fairy godparent wish-list sparked in the adolescent mind.
An interesting idea has occured to me, as I wait patiently for little ones to arrive. Why don’t I start implementing these planned behaviors with me? What’s wrong with doing a little parenting of myself? If I’ve wished so long (and in such detail) about child rearing techniques I hope to adopt–wouldn’t it behoove me to apply those strategies to the person who might most appreciate them?
It’s crazy sounding, I know. It’s perfectly oddball; how does one parent herself exactly? Am I supposed to bathe, burp, and swaddle myself? Ridiculous. Shall I read happy little books at bedtime and take lots of baths? Preposterous. Only an insane person would contemplate such a notion. Get over your crappy childhood like the rest of us and grow up already. Right?
Let’s map this out and decide how crazy it actually is…
FAIRY GODPARENT WISH-LIST
1. Encourage to play an instrument. How cool would it have been for me to learn the guitar or piano? Musicians are automatically part of an elite group, admired for possessing such a universally beloved skill. Every Christmas my grandma would play all the carols while the rest of us sang along. It was a magical tradition, and I can’t imagine my childhood without those family concerts. My plan is to provide my kids with an opportunity to learn music from an early age and develop a sense of appreciation for the arts in general.
2. Less TV, more exercise. I grew up in an era when it was perfectly acceptable for children to spend three or four or five hours at a time in front of the picture box. My siblings and I knew the TV Guide book backward and forward (only four channels, mind you), treated TV characters like special friends (Facts of Life girls were so pretty and wisecrack-y!), and believed that Jeopardy was a perfectly acceptable substitute for dinner conversation. On the other hand, our neighbors, the Beaversons, were so strange with their daily family jogs and basement weight lifting. Freaks, really. Whenever there was a commercial during Married With Children, we had fun mocking their ‘California’ lifestyle.
3. Culture and diversity. There’s no downplaying the white-ness and Catholic-ness of my youth. I never knew a Jew; there was not a single black kid in my grade school; and all the kids in the neighborhood shared the same preppy, acid-washed wardrobe. To call suburban Toledo ‘homogenized’ is an understatement. Why wouldn’t you want your kids to learn about other cultures, races, religions–fashion trends?? We had already embraced the exotic cuisines from around the globe (and featured at Epcot): Indian, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Thai…how was it that our social circle continued to remain so one dimensional? Ultimately I desire knowledge, and there is very little to learn from people who think and act just like you.
4. Establish organization, boundaries, and routine. As mentioned in my most recent blog entry, I am a bit of a mess when it comes to dependability and responsibility. It is a curse I do not wish to pass on to my spawn, and I fully believe it is a skill that can be practiced and learned. My childhood was scattered, unstable, splintered–we never seemed to have all of our ducks in a row. I went to school everyday disheveled, without fail, forgetting something or other. Even in kindergarten, when your mom or dad is supposed to check your bookbag and your lunch, I would invariably be the only kid without scissors, or carrying a greasy paper sack filled with meatloaf and giant pickles. Truly, I am constantly in awe of the highly organized, detail oriented species of human. And, as much as I embrace what makes me, me–what I wouldn’t give to occasionally have my shit together.
5. Pamper and comfort. My parents didn’t have time to kiss, or hug, or compliment–there was always some utility bill that needed paying, or some report that needed completing. As a result, we children were called on to take care of ourselves from the earliest years. Starting from about eleven years old: we did our own laundry; we cooked the meals; cleaned the house; maintained the garden…and resented pretty much all of it. I think kids should have an opportunity to be kids, to play and laugh without fear of being put to work. It would have been nice to be comforted with kind words and a kiss after stubbing my toe–instead I received tough love statements like, “You’re fine. Get up and walk it off.” I always imagined one day my mother or father would wrap an arm around me and thank me for making the mashed potatoes for the fifth time this week, and just once tell me to “Go, have fun.” if I asked to play outside.
I don’t see anything wrong with employing this list in my own life. In fact, it makes perfect sense. It’s kind of like when you purchase a gift for someone and secretly wish you could keep it for yourself. I always end up treating other people better than I do me. The candle I give you for a housewarming gift is exactly my idea of a nice accesory in the bathroom, and the picture frame I give you for your birthday is something I would love to have for my desk–but I never seem to make the connection that I deserve these things, too.
Whatever happy, productive parenting I plan to bestow on my brood–well, why not live it myself? Shouldn’t I provide for myself the same special consideration I would offer these future children? It is never too late to learn important lessons, experience whimsy, feel tenderness… In the end, I will be my own fairy godmother.