Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Before and after

Posting about homeschooling the other day made me realize that there are a lot of ways that my ideas about what kind of parent I would be changed once I actually gave birth. It's hard to sort out whether the differences are due to age, the fact that I have to parent alongside another human being with different ideas, or just plain laziness. So homeschooling, which I sincerely considered doing when Sister was a wee girl, has been chucked out the window. We live in the top school district in the state and so far I have nothing to complain about, nor am I at all convinced that I would do a better job teaching her than the professionals have done. Other stuff I'm not so sure about.

I used to imagine that only organic, home-cooked foods would ever cross my children's lips. Poor Sister didn't have any sort of sweet treat until she was around 2 years old--except for the organic carrot cake on her first birthday, of course. Now? Husband started giving Bean candy after dinner when she was around 10 months old, I think. I voiced a feeble protest, but Bean totally knew that her big sister was sneaking off with something delicious after her meal and there's no telling that child no. Hey, at least I still make my own baby food!

I used to think tv was the antichrist. I could probably have counted the number of hours of tv Sister watched during her first 3 years on the fingers of my two hands. Maybe not even two hands. Now we still keep the tv off after school, but Bean is in the habit of watching tv when she wakes up so that Husband can get coffee and a juice sippy cup made up and do some work on the laptop. If I'm sleeping in that morning, I'm embarrassed to say how long she's allowed to watch. And then she also watches another couple of "Curious George" episodes when she wakes up from her afternoon nap, just because she's godawfully cranky and mean as a snake. Here's where the laziness comes in--I'd SO much rather have my toddler watching tv for a little while instead of throwing screaming fits on the floor after her nap. There's probably a better way of talking her out of this behavior, but I don't know what it is and am tired of trying.

I once thought I would keep my kids away from the evils of town life by raising them out in the country amongst the trees and plants and wild critters. We'd have a big ol' country farm house and we'd live off our huge organic vegetable garden. I'd show them how we could raise our own food with only infrequent trips to a grocery store. We'd can and preserve things, too, plus bake our own bread, raise our own chickens for eggs, and even slaughter the occasional fowl for soup if there got to be too many roosters running around. Now, we live in town but aren't close enough to walk anywhere. We drive to Whole Foods and Harris Teeter for groceries like all the other middle class suburbanites around us. Our little lettuce patch--hardly deserving the name of "garden"--is overgrown with weeds. Sigh.

And let's face it, I used to imagine that I'd be something along the lines of Maria on "The Sound of Music." I'd be the real mama and not the nanny, of course, but I'd be tra-la-la'ing my way through every child-rearing day, never yelling, always coming up with fun stuff to do that every kid would love and want to do for as long as I wanted them to. Now? Well, you know if you've read my blog lately that I'm maxed out a lot of the time. I go to bed feeling good about myself only if I've managed not to yell at Sister or Bean that afternoon, and forget about any sort of enriching, creative project I might've thought up in the middle of the night when I'm up with the baby again. It seldom happens. Another sigh. It all still sounds lovely but so far from how we're living. I mean, don't get me wrong! We have a great life and happy, healthy kids, but I sometimes wonder how we got here.

Nevertheless, I'm in this for the duration! I try every day to do better. I really do. And I just came across a piece of advice in a parenting book I'm reading while nursing Sweet P before bed lately. The advice is this: "Cultivate a spirit of optimism about your children."

Yeah. Whatever my parenting aesthetic has become, I'm still trying.


Joan said...

Remember the show Thirty Something or am I too old? Before I had kids, I envisioned getting together like Hope and Nancy. My neighbor would be my best friend. We would drink coffee and watch our kids play together (very well I might add).

Suburban Gorgon said...

Oh, girl. None of us are the parents we thought we'd be, or wanted to be. Not all the time, anyway. Life is too complicated. Your kids are healthy and happy. You make more stuff than most people do, you crafty thing, you. So what if you're not living on the farm, composting your tampons? Good enough is good enough. And coming from the a-retentive freak that I am, that is saying something.

Beth said...

I think we all had dreams of what our lives would be like....i always thought Me and Bina would live next door to each other, our kids would grow up together....never happened. But we make do with what we have and try to make the best of it...ya know? It's not that your UNhappy...it's just not what you envisioned, that's all. It's ok

And I've seen the way you mother, ok?...I think you're FANTASTIC!!!!

kat said...

You know something? Your kids are smart, they're fed more balanced meals than most kids (hell, most adults for that matter), and though they may watch occasional tv, i also know they spend plenty of time outside and doing other things, so I think you've accomplished a great balance.
It's easy for any of us to be judgmental and have pre-conceived notions of parenting and child rearing - BEFORE we have kids. Hopefully, we all learn a little something about what's truly important when we actually become parents. You know, the loving your kids and doing the best you can. . .
and just to follow up on the homeschooling - philosophically, I think its a great idea. And I know that there are some mamas out there doing a tremendous job with homeschooling and unschooling their kids. I have great respect for them. All that being said, though, I just don't see it happening for me. My boys will go to public school - at least in the beginning. I'm open to change, but why start off being afraid of something that could possibly be great? Now when they start all the end of year testing crap. . .well, we'll see.