Thursday, February 02, 2012

Groundhog Day

There are so many things that I never really thought much about until I had kids.
It's important to note, I'm one of those people that thought a lot about having kids...
I thought about how I would teach them, how I would treat them, what I would need in a co-parent to supplement my particular hangups, talents, shortcomings, and anxieties. I considered how I would handle raising different personalities and how I would balance the different needs of boys vs girls or boys AND girls. I even thought a bit about what I would do if I had a kid that had ambiguous genitalia or one that looked like a boy but felt like a girl (Thank you, Middlesex).

I thought about how I would teach them to pee standing up (having never done that myself) and how I would teach them to stand up for their beliefs without disrespecting others. I thought about how I would handle the rage inside myself the first time they were bullied or teased.

I mean, you get my point, right?

The "parenting" as a verb catches me so off guard sometimes. Watching and letting them struggle for their own good- even if right now it is only with language and putting on socks and shoes- requires attentive restraint. (Jake's particular nemesis right now: Button-fly jeans. Who at gap thought that was a good idea?!?) But sometimes, I am completely disarmed by how they flip the world around on me, they completely scramble the compass.

Can we talk about Santa?!?
An uncomplicated concept to get behind in theory. He's jolly, he's fun, he's generous, he's magical - "Kid-less Tracy" didn't give it much thought. What was there to protest?

I just didn't anticipate how hard it would be to make up the little white lies required to make that myth work. It's not that I have a problem lying to my kids, per se... I mean our relationship is based on honesty (of course)... but a lot of the stuff I say to them is not so much TRUTHFUL as it is AGE APPROPRIATE: "Soda is an 'adult beverage'," "Everyone loves vegetables!", "Mufasa's brother, Scar, is so silly". Still, the pseudo-creepy, heavy-set man in the Santa suit in the mall?!? Not that interested in plopping my toddler on his lap.

When my kids have the uncontrollable urge and desire to run up and hug Santa, I'll stand 2 feet away and allow it. But trying to convince them to partake in the pre-kids-it-didn't-seem-so-bizarre ritual ("Stop crying, there's nothing to be afraid of... Go sit on that strange man's lap so we can take a picture")?!? Sorry, I'm not playing.

I'm okay lying about the reindeer flying and speaking of magic like it's a real thing (that's called imagination). Leaving the notes to and from the big guy and the treats and cookie crumbs... I start to have some ethical dilemmas, but I see the value.

Then I have to partake in the back-story, and I start to loose interest: Mrs. Clause sitting home doing nothing but keeping his suit clean? The army of enslaved elves making millions of toys? Landing on the roof? Breaking and entering- a man sneaks into our house on the promise to leave us some goods? Wait.. WHAT?!? So this guy just wanders around our home while we sleep? How is that congruent with everything else we are trying to teach about normal social behavior?

Why can't we just update the tale? Example: Kids and parents correspond with Santa's family by email to coordinate requests from the children and advice on good behavior from Santa. The elves have been set free except the ones that were hired (union bennies and wages) by the Clauses to help coordinate money exchanges and purchases from corporate entities (toy making and product packaging has obviously been outsourced from the north pole due to increased transportation costs and an effort to be more Green.) This is such a corporate holiday, but as a parent tied to the increasingly outmoded and ridiculous Santa myth, I can't even bring in a tame lesson on the dangers of commercialization or find easy ways to explain how much harder a lot of our neighbors have to work around the holidays, b/c Santa is the only one getting street cred for upping personal productivity...

All kidding aside, it was a creative struggle in December to find pieces of the holiday story that are not complicated by half-truths and increasingly inane postulations (a deer-drawn winter sleigh when we haven't had snow since that one storm in October???). So we tried to minimize it and focus on the story of the nativity, and teach them to notice the smell of the tree and the enjoy the beauty of Christmas lights.

And then, not all of our friends celebrate and believe in Christmas or Santa. And the ones that do? Their not-so-little white lies to their kids are slightly different than ours. Our kids are like, "that's not what so-and-so said about Christmas..."

Holidays with kids can get complicated.

Last night, Jake and I are sitting on the couch:

J: Tomorrow's Ground Hog day.
Me: (not having thought about this at all) yes.
J: what is that?
Me: (stretching my mind) Um... that is a holiday where the ground hog comes out of his hole to determine if the winter will end soon or not.
J: What?
Me: um... the ground hog comes out and if he sees his shadow, he goes back in and if he doesn't, he will stay out of his hole?
J: Why?
Me: I guess he will get scared if he sees his shadow
J: no. why does he do it?
Me: um... (remembering) it's like 6 more weeks of winter if he goes back in his hole but... (I trail off knowing this is absurd)
J: why
Me: I'm not sure, baby
J: why?
Me: (i knowing I'm beat) yeah... I don't know, really... it's a very silly holiday

Parenting (more often than I would have previously believed) involves mini existential crises, sometimes 2 and 3 times a day.

As I try to explain the world to our kids, I'm forced to decide- often in a moments notice: Am I going to pass on some bullshit that no one believes but everyone repeats over and over again? Am I going to overwhelm them with a depressing amount of realism?

But cutting even deeper, once a previously unnoticed absurdity comes to my attention, how will I handle if from there??? Inside MYSELF???

Sometimes I feel like I'm just noticing things for the first time and when Jake or Milo ask "Why?" I have to shake my head like a visitor to this country or planet and say with true helpless confusion, "I really have no idea, guys... I'm sorry. I have no idea..."

"It's totally fucked up." I want to admit to them, "And I'm sorry to report I never noticed how totally fucked up it is until right this moment..."

(Head in hands) When they are older, we can just watch the Bill Murray movie together, right?

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