It’s Not All Mary Poppins

It’s not all Fluffy Bunnies and Baby Giggles: Musings on Sentiment, Symbols, and Parenthood

People make assumptions about me because of my job. This is hardly surprising: people do that to other people all the time, for any number of reasons, and a few assumptions seem reasonable, after all.

For example, people assume I’m patient. It seems a reasonable enough thing to assume when you see a woman knee-deep in knee-high people, and said woman is not drooling along with the kids, screaming, or staring glassy-eyed into space, but is smiling and speaking softly. “There goes a patient woman!” people say. However, they’re wrong. I’m not patient. This is not to say I indulge in screaming hissy fits when the children don’t jump the second I utter a direction. I know what’s reasonable. My expectations are high, however, and I don’t put up with anything I don’t have to.

People also tend to assume I’m sentimental about children. I’m not, not at all. I love children. I take joy in their accomplishments, they make me laugh every day. I enjoy being around them. I respect them as people.

Perhaps that’s where the sentiment ends: I see them as people. Not cute little puppies that tumble about my house, nor live “Precious Moments” figurines. I respect them – and I expect them to respect me back. When this doesn’t happen, I am not a happy camper, and don’t tell me that the delicious sound of baby giggles makes everything worth while. It may make up for that horrible runny poop you are currently wiping off your baby’s butt, but it might not make up for your two-year-old’s biting habit, and it’s probably the last thing on your mind when your 16-year-old hasn’t returned with the car three hours past curfew.

I have long accepted that there is much more giving in parenting than there is receiving. I don’t resent this: it’s just how it goes.

I love all the perks of being around babies. The giggles, the cuddles, the funny things they say and do, the peeks of kindness, the dawning of imagination and empathy. It’s wonderful. And yet. You think baby giggles, toddler snuggles, and the smell of a clean baby somehow, magically, creates balance in this relationship? Adults give till it hurts. Children complain of being hurt when the adult gives a little less than normal. Adults make sacrifices of sleep, relationship, time, career, even health, for their children. Children see eating their vegetables, or taking out the garbage, or coming home for dinner once a week as a sacrifice too great to be asked. It’s the way it is.

But that’s young children and teens, you say. Young children are too, well, young to understand. And teens? Well, we all know how teens are! “When my kids grow up and have kids of their own, then they’ll get it. Then they’ll appreciate all that’s been done for them, because they’ll be doing the same for their kids.” It’s certainly true that having that first baby is often a huge wake-up call for the young parents. I know it was for me. THIS is what my mother did for me? Wow.

While there are some adults out there who speak kindly of their parents, there are many who routinely mock and sneer at them. They make fun of their parents’ clothes, their music, their vacation and home decorating choices. These are merest difference in style and taste, yet we mock. Adult children gripe about how they were raised, badmouth a mother’s choice in clothes or toys for her grandchildren, deplore how grampa does or doesn’t interact with their grandchildren. Sometimes these concerns are real and justified, but more often, as with the clothes and music, it’s just a matter of personal style and child-rearing current fashion.

So, while I am thankful that it appears that my own children, even the one who’s left home for university, don’t appear to be falling into that camp (yet?), it also seems that for many of us, if our own behaviour is anything to go by, we won’t start to feel a lot of the benefits of parenthood even once our children have grown. So, parenthood is a life-long journey of giving more than you get. It’s what it is.

So, no, I’m not sentimental.

People who are sentimental tend to see babies as symbols. Babies are symbols of hope, of innocence, of all that’s new and fresh. As indeed they are. However, babies are not solely symbols: babies are real people, toddlers even more so, and teens are so much people that sometimes they forget anyone else, particularly parents, are people too.

Firemen are symbols. Especially post-9/11, they are symbols of heroism, self-sacrifice, and courage. They must be prepared to be that way every working day – and they do. They act with courage, they save lives. However, if your best girlfriend has ever dated one and been cheated on or summarily dumped, you know that the symbol is not the whole story. While many are perfectly lovely men (and women), some can be real jerks. It is what is it.

Once you get up close and personal with a symbol, it loses much of its mystery and takes on a more real, more human face. Warts and all. Children are many wonderful things: innocent, funny, kind, cheerful, vibrant with life and love and energy… Still, those of us who work with them day in and day out know their wonderfulness sometimes takes a bit of bringing out, a lot of encouragement. We know that there are also things that need to be dealt with, trained away, subdued, and modified in order to bring all that wonderfulness to the surface.

Because children are people, warts and all.

© 2006, MaryP

August 7, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 17 Comments