Wednesday, May 16, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

Children, are that is.

They make messes, they puke on you, keep you up at night and generally make a nuisance of themselves. They have a way of consuming us that nothing else does. And it's not like you can send them back. So why do we bother?

It's not like these pint-size tornadoes can actually be safely pigeon-holed and trotted out on display for company. Unless you are royalty, of course. I mean, what's it all about, Alfie?

As a parent, I had PLANS. Oh yes, I did. We would do this and we wouldn't do that and my children would, OF COURSE, be perfect. Riiiiiiiiiiiight. Leaving aside the fact that my children ARE perfect, let's examine parenting and how it changes us.

Once upon a time, I was a beautiful, thin person with a perfect manicure and a red convertible sportscar. Five years and three kids later, I'm fluffy (my kids say "really fat") with broken nails and a 5 year old (paid for!) family sedan that has seen it's share of carsickness, pee pee accidents and other things that are too gross to name. At least the car is red like my Mustang was. Do I regret having kids? Hellno. Children strip away all the masks we wear. They show us for who we really are. If we're shallow - it will show. If we're patience-less - it'll show. Children are the true mirror of who we are.

Our priorities shift (or should) when we have kids. Once we become parents, we have these babies who are dependent on us for everything related to survival. I've heard babies compared to puppies or small animals, but even small animals can forage. babies can't do a blessed thing except lay there and look cute (and pee, poop & puke) for the longest time. It's a good thing they are so darn cute, because the newborn stage can be QUITE a trial (unless you get blessed with the Angel Child Who Is Super Easy). I had one easy-ish one, one difficult one and one easy-easy one. But I wouldn't trade any of them for a different model.

I thought parenting was going to be a slam dunk after my first. She was pretty easy going (except in the evenings) and so I thought #2 was going to be just as easy. #2 challenged every notion of what I thought parenting was. #3 simply confirmed that every child is different. What works for one child probably WON'T work for subsequent ones. In fact, I'd bet money on that. But then I can say that because I've been there done that a couple times already.

What's interesting to me is that my husband - who is from SE Asia - has this philosophy based on his upbringing: When you become a parent, YOUR life is no longer as important as that of your child(ren). Your dreams, goals and aspirations are secondary to raising your children. It's not about fitting ~them~ into ~your~ schedule or budget. The irony of this is that in America, where we have so much that is "child-centered", children are largely seen as a status symbol or fashion accessory - not unlike Paris Hilton's pooch. While we see children allowed to do whatever they please, it's not because the parents are necessarily being child-centric but because they don't want to be bothered to get out of their own way to parent. Parenting is HARD WORK. Now in Asia, it might seem that the needs of the one are glossed over in favor of the needs of the many (conformity in culture), but children are seen as the most important legacy a person can leave. Parents go without food so their children can eat. They discipline their children so that they can be productive members of society. They DON'T give in to a child's whims so that the child dosen't have "hang ups".

When I watch my in-laws interact with their children, I see something that I rarely see in the States. I see parents that LOVE their children beyond life itself. Unselfish love. And I am shamed. I am shamed because I KNOW I'm selfish. And I don't always love my children because they just ~are~. That's how our children love us, you know. At least in the beginning. And there's nothing better than baby love and kisses given because they are bursting with love for us. When Lorenzo hugs my hands to his face and gives baby kisses, it melts my heart. And I wonder if I deserve it. I probably DON'T.

Hug your babies, often. Tell them you love them. Don't begrduge them their infancy even if they DO wreak havoc on your schedule. Babies don't come with a Blackberry running Windows Mobile 5.1 with an auto-sync function. They aren't like an iPod that you can sync from one desktop to another. They are dynamic little buggers who challenge every single preconceived notion of who and what we are. They keep us honest.

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