Friday, January 27, 2012

My Greatest Fear

When I was a kid my parents often hurled a curse at us: "I hope one day you have a child just like you!"

I didn't understand what they meant when I was grammar-school aged (except that I was somehow "bad"), though later I decided it was an expression of frustration resulting from their obvious incompetence as parents. Being a teenager, I knew everything, of course, and my parents, though older and more experienced, were somehow stupider. The hubris of youth, eh?

Today, though, as I find my bladder shrinking and my breasts expanding, I've starting wondering about what my son will be like, with my parent's words echoing in my mind. And more and more, I'm hoping he'll be like M. His parents say he was an easy baby and an easy child. He wasn't fussy or demanding, he wasn't a trouble-maker, and he wasn't accident prone. Just a little contrarian. And he's still contrarian. And given that I'm contrarian too, I will not be surprised if our son is as well.  I'm ok with that.  Contrarians don't follow the herd. We are comfortable questioning the majority (the status quo, the conventional wisdom, the common practice) when it doesn't make sense to us, and we'll often do the opposite just to demonstrate our disagreement. I can handle contrarians. I are one :)

I understand that a child's behavior and psychology are heavily influenced by their parent's behavior and psychology, and M and I are both pretty self-aware people, so I'm not too concerned about our child picking up passive-aggressive behaviors and the like from us. I'm not sure how much having a child will affect our relationship, but right now at least, we don't play the typical gender-role based mind-games many couples do. We're both too pragmatic and efficiency-minded to waste time with such counter-productive forms of communication. Our son will probably be very direct and verbally articulate, because that is how we are with each other.

Back to fears:
M's greatest fear is having a stupid child. It sounds like a terrible thing to say, but I understand. Heritability of intelligence is polygenic and highly variable depending on environment. So that M and I both have IQs over 140 doesn't mean our son will qualify for Mensa from birth. In his experience, it is difficult for people of very different intelligence levels to connect, and he's afraid he won't be able to relate to his son if he's not "bright."

Meanwhile, my greatest fear is of having a child like the one I was.

My friends have heard the stories over the years, and they are amusing. Except if you think about being the parent of a child like I was. Now I recognize that much of my early childhood behavior and psychology was influenced by my parents and my environment (the former being disinterested and the latter being quite odd), and I know that the environment I provide will be very different, but I can't help but wonder if the the way I viewed, experienced, and interacted with the world is something that will be passed on.

I was a terribly bright child. I heard it again this Christmas from the woman (Susan) who taught me to read and tell time and tie my shoes before I was 4 years old.  I was rather solemn and observant, active but not hyper, and very very curious. I wanted to know. I wanted answers. And I didn't hesititate to act in my pursuit of those answers. I was a budding scientist, always seeing connections and causality and wondering if the patterns I observed could be applied to other things. Put that way, it sounds innocuous enough but in many ways it wasn't.

A month ago at Xmas Susan and I were laughing about "The Water Hose Incident" It was interesting to hear about it from her perspective, and to remember it from my (then child's) perspective. Putting the two together made for a comical story.

It goes something like this:

Adult perspective: Pregnant Mother was out in the garage doing laundry and talking on the phone. While she was doing this, Kelly fed a garden hose through the mail slot in the front door and flooded much of the house with several inches of water. She splashed water everywhere, getting the TV, the stereo, and even her sister in the playpen soaking wet. When Mother discovered the mess she called Susan to come take Kelly away for a few days so she wouldn't kill her. The carpets had to be torn up and replaced, the TV and the stereo were ruined, and the water had to be pumped out of the house. It was a mess!

Child's perspective:  Oooh look! When you water a lawn, brown grass turns green. My carpet is brown, if I water it, will it turn that pretty green color? The mailman puts things through the slot in the door, can I put the hose through the slot in the door? If I can put the hose through the slot in the door, then maybe I can turn the carpet green! I'm watering the carpet but it isn't turning green yet. You have to move the sprinkler around to water all of the lawn so it all turns green, so maybe if I water all of the carpet, then it will turn green. Things are in the way, but I have to get all of the carpet watered, so I am going to have to water them too, I guess. Oh no! Tammy is screaming and crying. I like playing in the sprinklers, why doesn't she?  Uh-oh, Mommy is yelling. I'm not supposed to water the carpets? Why not? And if I'm not supposed to, why didn't anyone tell me that?

Amusing, isn't it? Only it wasn't an isolated incident. Long before I could be shipped off to kindergarten I was already dismantling things to find out how they worked. Crawling into places to see what was there. Trying to use grown-up tools to do grown-up tasks.  The world was a puzzle and I was determined to solve it.

Now admittedly, I was left unattended a lot, and my parents often resorted to "I don't know" and "Because I said so" and "Go away" when it came to my endless questions. So I tried to learn things  by myself. My parents, young as they were, didn't know how to cope with me. I scared the hell out of them many, many times. And back then, thorough spankings were legal, so I was spanked a lot for reasons I didn't understand, which brought out the contrarian in me and made things even more difficult all around.

Ok, so... maybe... thinking about it... my "awfulness" as a child was less about me and more a function of my parent's lack of preparedness to handle a child like me. But then again, is it even possible to prepare for a child like me? I'm not going to have 3 children under age five like my mother did, and M isn't going to have the PTSD that my father did when he came home from Viet Nam. I'm 20 years older than they were when I was born. I've had years of training and experience working with children -- but those were other people's children. I'm a calm person, not a reactive one, and I know not to let kids push my buttons. But still...

I guess my greatest fear isn't so much that I'll have a child like me, but rather, that I'd lose my mind trying to be an adequate parent for a child like me. A nice, sweet, quiet baby like M was -- no problem. But a double-handful of a child who is impossibly bright and contrarian and always on the go and getting into things... I don't know. I suppose time will tell if this unintentional mother has what it takes.

1 comment:

  1. Parenting is about patience and creativity. I KNOW you have lots of creativity. Boundless interest in science and learning can be used and nurtured. and yes when they drive you mad and you are ready to strangle them, ship them to a friend for a day!


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