Thursday, June 16, 2011

Three Little Words

One morning when my husband Tim was leaving for work, we went through our standard “goodbye” script: “Bye.  I love you.  Have a good day.”  I happened to be holding our 9-month-old at the time, and I said, “Okay, now tell Charlie you love him.” 

Tim rubbed Charlie’s funny, cowlicky hair and laughed a little.  “He knows, don’t you buddy?” he said. 

“No, tell him,” I insisted.  “If you can’t get in the habit of saying ‘I love you’ to your baby, how are you ever going to be able to say it to your 15-year-old?” 

“Does your dad tell you he loves you?” Tim asked.  Zing.  He got me there.  “And do you know he loves you?”  Zing x2.  If there’s one thing I’m completely certain of in this life, it’s that my dad loves my siblings and me with an unswerving, unceasing, almost pathological devotion.

But I kept at it.  “Come on.  Look at this guy!  He’s waiting to hear that you love him.”  Sure enough, Charlie was gazing at Tim with his enormous eyes wide open and a wide, toothless grin.  Finally, Tim rolled his eyes and raised the tone of his voice to sound like an old British lady and said, “I looooove you, Chaaawlie!”  And he was out the door. 

I don’t know why I’m so intent on establishing a verbal confirmation of love between my son and my husband.  Sure, if you tell my dad you love him, you’re likely to get a response like, “Okay.” But everything I can ever remember him doing indicates how he feels about his brood. Why else would a man learn the rules of women’s lacrosse just because his quasi-athletic (and that’s generous) daughter had joined the team, and then make a fanatical study of passing and running strategy, attending every single game, home and away?  Why would a guy rent a U-Haul and drive the six hours from Buffalo to Manhattan—a big-city area he instinctively mistrusts—in order to load up his 24-year-old daughter’s 32 boxes of books and move her to Rochester on the very next day?  Why else would he call that same daughter whenever he had business in Rochester and treat her to a Portobello mushroom sandwich from his favorite sandwich vendor in the park across from the theatre where she worked?  I can think of no reason, other than paternal love, why a lifelong baseball fan might agree to leave a Phillies game after the seventh inning stretch just because his pregnant daughter was feeling a little peaked, thereby missing the one homer in the otherwise scoreless game.  And I certainly can’t credit anything but love for the Mother’s Day card I got in the mail during the first week of Charlie’s life … in September, four months after the card was purchased.

Given my history, I should be content to come home after a run to find Tim and Charlie crawling around on the living room floor, saying “AAAAAAA!” at the top of their lungs.  It should be enough for me to listen to Tim reading Charlie Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, using his “Australian” voice (which sounds a little like a South African Crocodile Hunter eating a lollipop) for the purple cat.  I definitely know what Tim’s really saying when he tells Charlie, “You have the world’s biggest head!”, his voice oozing with pride. 

All the same, I’ll keep pressuring Tim to spell out his affection for his son.  And sure, I can foresee a day when Tim’s not the only one resisting the mushy talk.  (Me: “Charlie, tell your dad you love him.”  Charlie: “Mom, I’m 35.  We’ve been over this.”) There’s just something internal that compels me to do it.  After all, I’ve got a mom to emulate. 

Happy 35th Father’s Day, Pops.  Happy 1st Father’s Day, Tim.  You’re both … well, you’re okay.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

This Is All I Am

A few weeks ago, I read a interview with Laura Miller, a hip, young (childless) gal living in New York, who maintains a blog on tumblr called Too Big for Stroller. She posts surreptitiously-snapped pictures of children who she deems to be … well, too big for their strollers, along with funny (if snarky) comments.

The idea is that kids who are spilling out of their MacLarens should be walking, and that their gangly legs hanging over the restraining bars are illustrative of the epidemic of the overindulgent American parent. I don’t disagree with the basic premise. Seeing an 8-year-old in a stroller would probably make me elbow my husband and ask him why he didn’t bring my adult size umbroller. I can be as snide as the next guy.

But this part of the Salon interview rubbed me the wrong way (the italics are mine):

"I wrote a caption at one that said: 'When I have a kid, it will be strapped to me as an infant, and then walking, no middle ground.' You know, a joke. And someone commented: 'I said the same exact thing and I really meant it. But then my two-year-old started walking and she never walks in the same direction twice. The stroller is necessary.' The blog is all kidding around. I do think that at some point I will have a kid and I will push a stroller but there's still this impractical or immature side of me that thinks there's something fundamentally un-cool about strollers. I mean, you could be the world's best businesswoman, but when you're pushing a stroller it just screams: 'I'm a parent, this is all I am.' I get why strollers are around, I don't hate them, they're appropriate for babies and toddlers. I just think it's funny when kids who are way too big for them are in them."

Maybe I'm hypersensitive thanks to my current stay-at-home-mom status, but implicit in that italicized sentence I read the following equations:

Businesswoman > Parent
World’s best businesswoman + parent = 0

Ms. Miller seems to say that being a parent is far below all life's other accomplishments and, what's more, that becoming a parent nullifies all the things that once made a person interesting.  If I were to take her judgment personally, I’d have to add an equation along the lines of “Meg = Pathetic Nobody.” (But that's bonkers.  I mean, have you met me?)

This past weekend, my mom and I were talking about my unplanned (though likely temporary) transition out of the traditional workplace and she asked me, "Do you ever feel unfulfilled?  Like you're missing out on something?"  I said immediately, "Absolutely not."  She replied, "No, I never did either."  And that makes perfect sense to me.  In the 20-ish years that my mom stayed home with my four siblings and me, she was a seamstress, Girl Scout leader, musician, teacher, mentor, chef, nurse, gardener, artisan and about 40 other job titles. My dad, in addition to working a full-time job, was a coach, handyman, tutor, outdoorsman, athlete, groundskeeper and – again – dozens of other job titles. A statement as ridiculous as "I'm a parent, this is all I am" would never have crossed their minds.  Those are the models I'm working with as I forge ahead in this parenting project, and they're complex,  multi-faceted examples that can't be reduced by the mode of transportation I choose for my child.

So go ahead, childless hipster bloggers, and judge me as you will.  In the meantime, I'll push my stroller, write, cook, bake, clean, read, sing, run, sew and do all the other things I can think of to make myself a better, more well-rounded mom.  And if you ask me what I do, I'll be happy to smile and say, "I'm a parent.  This is all I am."