Friday, March 18, 2011

I Am Far Too Serious

In my younger years I was impossibly independent. After graduating college I found a crummy full time job with benefits and got a teeny apartment in New Jersey. While many twenty-somethings over spend or try and simulate the adult experience by going to bars and clubs, I caught the bus home every night and got to work on time every day. That's not to say that I didn't have friends or didn't go out and have fun. But I was never a partier. I worked hard, looked out for myself and tried to make good practical decisions.

My mother accused me of being too serious on many occasions. She wanted to see me date and laugh and not take life too seriously. Yet I couldn't change my stripes, my heart wasn't looking for fun and lightness. My heart searched for smart job opportunities and true love. I met DH 2 months after my 22nd birthday. Before I met him I was convinced that I would be an old maid. I readied myself for never finding the right person. And I told myself that my life would brilliant no matter who wanted to come along for the ride. Today that seems silly, because decades are long and life's experiences are so varied. But at the time the possibility seemed very real.

I have been with my wonderful husband for virtually all my adult life. And though he is several years older than me, I have joked many times that I helped him to grow up while he helped me to grow young. We complement each other nicely. DH has added true unconditional love to my life in such a beautiful way. I am grateful for him each and every day. And since my husband works in the film industry on my mother's all time favorite TV show, I am pretty sure that she would approve. And it is even more probable that she had something to do with our chance meeting from the great beyond.

But meeting your husband at 22 and getting married at 25, and having two kids by 30 while being a young professional in New York has indulged my serious side. At almost 32 now I understand what my mother was talking about all those years ago. As an adult, life requires that you be responsible and get bills and applications in on time. Youth is a wonderful time where you can explore and have fun and act like a hot mess with little to no consequences. I wish I could go back to the young girl of 20 or 21 and tell her to loosen up a little. One's grip on life needn't be so tight, because life is also holding onto to you.

Yet as a mother I fear that I am sending my children mixed messages on the topic. Thing 1 is energetic and free spirited but also very sensitive and serious just like I was. He is highly empathetic just like I was. I fear that as he grows up he will be locked in the same race to grow up. The mixed message? Because he competes for my attention with his baby brother, he does babyish things and I rarely indulge him. The other night he asked for water. Ok, that's never a problem. But he wanted it in a sippy cup. He doesn't really use a sippy cup anymore unless we are in the car or out and about. I didn't want to have to clean a sippy just for what I knew would be two sips of water. And he melted down on the floor before he resigned to drink his water out of a big boy cup.

Why did I do that? It was a cup of water. Shouldn't I pick my battles? And what would I have done had Thing 2 had asked the same question? I would have given him the sippy almost undoubtedly.

Thing 2 even at 18 months seems more practical. He figures out the quickest ways to accomplish things and all with little fanfare. He cuddles and is sensitive, yet he doesn’t want to be babied like Thing 1. Perhaps this is just the way it goes with the second child. But as a mother I am conflicted about my reaction to it. I end up saying ‘No’ to Thing 1 a lot and ‘Yes” to Thing 2 more often. And as a second child myself I was always very sensitive when my parents did the same to me.

I believe that kids are different. Everything from rewards and discipline to games and learning are different from child to child. One thing I am usually good at doing is tailoring my approach so that each kid (or person, cause you gotta do this at work too) gets the communication style that they need. And even if I still choose to have the fight, I probably need to frame things better for Thing 1. Instead of showing him my irritation, I should talk more sweetly, regardless of what I am trying to tell him. Because while I have been good about not yelling lately, I do still probably show how irritated I am more often than I ought to.

There really is an ebb and flow to parenting. Some days there is calm while others are chaos. And growing up and gaining maturity looks a lot more like the up and down of a stock market chart than a smooth line showing a little bit of growth every day. Just after Thing 1 was born I read that parenting is different than any other job you’ll ever do because there is no learning curve. As an example, in the beginning diapering is a challenge. As you learn to diaper a still baby, then your baby begins to roll. When you learn to diaper a rolling baby then your baby begins to stand. As you learn to diaper a standing baby they start walking away from you. And then by the time you have figured that one out they are done with diapers altogether. I can’t remember where I read this now, so I apologize to the original author. Plagiarism was not my original intent.

I only hope that as I learn to be a better parent I can become more like that girl my mother always wanted me to be—fun and carefree, confident and self reliant. I keep becoming a better parent each day, so I know if I want my sons to embrace their lighter side, I need to be able to reach my own. And I promise to indulge in a little spoiling now and again too.


  1. What you haven't taken into account, perhaps because of their age, is all the yesses Thing 1 will get before Thing 2. You feel like you're indulging Thing 2 but he IS still a baby. Thing 1 is not, he's a little boy. And he'll get to use a big boy knife, and get a cell phone, and stay up late or home alone and go out with friends and drive and many more things before Thing 2. They will both be "indulged" in different things at different times and all within the realm of appropriate and fare, even if they don't perceive it to be so at the time.

    And not letting your son drink out of a sippy cup hardly qualifies as quashing his youthful spirit. Encouraging your offsrping to live life to fullest is a wonderful thing, but that's not the same thing as indulging their every whim. I'm sure you know!

    You're a great mother. I know I can empathize with the constant inner monologue about when and how to react to every situation with my little girl. Do I get angry? Do I pick this battle or save for the next? Was that too harsh? Not harsh enough? I can only imagine it's twice as bad with two things! But I've met your things and they are lovely and bright, just like their mother.


  2. All I can say is Ditto! I totally know what you are saying. I'm probably way too serious as well. I've recently come to the conclusion that I don't know how to have fun with my children, I don't know how to play. So I'm trying to work on that, but it's been a challenge!

  3. I've been pondering the same questions lately with my almost five year old and my 10 month old. I always expect my oldest to be more mature than she should be at this age, and I'm terrified that I'm not letting her be a little kid as much as I should. But at the same time, just by thinking about the issue, I know that I'm being a good mommy and doing the best I can! :-)

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post.