Monday, October 29, 2007

What could be scarier than Halloween in a Muslim Country? Being a Parent

When you grow up and have kids, you start looking back on your own childhood and your parents. You suddenly realize that there were many times that you hurt your parents’ feelings, even if you didn’t mean to. You grasp how many times your parents let you do things, aware of the dangers that you were blissfully ignorant of. The fear and pain associated with parenting is not just one of labor and childbirth, but everlasting, and no one tells you about this.

What brought this up? Last night the baby hurt his Daddy’s feelings. He didn’t mean to. I’m sure this is just the first time of many more to come, and I’m sure I’ll get my fair share of hurt feelings. The baby woke up after only an hour or so. So, Dad and I went in. Daddy trying so hard to be the good Dad and help out, wanting to show his son that he loves him, tried to pick up the baby. The baby got a nasty snarl, and pulled his arm away as if Dad were a leper. Surely, Dad thought, he didn’t mean it. So he tried again. And again, the baby pulled away. The baby wasn’t even nice about it. He pulled his arm away in sort of, well, a bratty kind of way. He really wanted his Momma. What was wrong? We still don’t know. We just know it took hours to get him to go back to sleep, and that I ended up laying on the couch with him for over an hour until he finally was able to relax enough to sleep. I’m suspecting molars.

After watching the baby hurt Dad’s feelings, I started thinking about my mother and how she raised us. Looking back, I understand there were many times I hurt my mother’s feelings in much the same way. I know that both of my sisters have hurt her feelings as well; it’s just something children do. What is worse, though, is looking back at how many times she had to “let go.” The worst fear I have is something happening to my child; someone taking him from me or having him get seriously hurt. Every parent worries about their child being hurt, but only a few experience the fear that she did. You see, my, uh, I don’t really want to call him my “father” because he never lived up to that title. Let’s call him “Chromosome Donor,” or CD for short. CD wasn’t really in the picture. Sure, he’d show up randomly expecting us to love him as though we’d seen him every day and he’d actually made some attempt at being a father. One Christmas CD arrived, packed my sister and me up and took us to visit his family in Michigan. As I’ve gotten older I’ve been amazed at the fact that my mother had the strength to let us go, not knowing if we’d ever return. Only in the last year have I even begun to fathom the fear she must have felt that Christmas. I was only five or so, so I barely remember the trip, there are a few crazy memories (one was confusing the “northern lights” with some parking lot lights, and the other with trying to make my sister poop “white”), perhaps that’s a good thing. If I remembered too much more, I might remember the fake smile my mother kept on to hide the dam of tears she’d let fall after we left. He did return us, so all was okay. The fear didn’t end that day though. After the trip to Michigan, we KNEW who HE was. So, she had to do things to keep us from being tricked into leaving with him again, only without her knowledge. She developed a family password. Anyone who was to pick us up from school was to use that family password. I remember her saying “Even if it’s someone you know, unless I’ve told you they are coming to pick you up, they HAVE to say those words.” Those words were (I think we’re safe now.) Purple Cow. What a genius idea was that? Now, it’s pretty common, but in the early 80’s it wasn’t. I don’t know how my mother kept her sanity.
As we got older, there were more things to fear. First, we lived on a lake, so there was the possible “drowning.” We weren’t allowed to swim, or leave the backyard fence when she wasn’t home. HOW AMAZING IS IT THAT WE FOLLOWED THOSE RULES? How easy would it have been for one of us to disobey. JUST ONCE?? Then there’s the fact that she had three girls. There were worries about teenage pregnancy, drugs, car accidents, our sometimes less-than-wholesome friends. The list goes on and on.

Being a parent is scary. You don’t understand how scary it is until you become one, and then you discover how terrifying it was for your parents. You suddenly come to understand the reasons for your parent’s crazy rules; even the ones that seemed silly and outrageous. They weren’t there just to keep you in line, but to keep you safe; because, to be honest, your parents love you more than life itself. Those rules, those crazy regulations, helped ease their fears. We’ve started setting some rules for our child. Easy rules so far: No playing with dangerous things, expensive things that could break. No biting, pulling hair, etc. With each rule I set for my son, I thank my parents for doing the same for me all those years ago. With each new grey hair (yes, I have a new one SMACK in the middle of my forehead) I get from worrying about my son’s safety, I wonder how our parents survived. Somehow, I think it has to do with love. When the baby eats his bananas and gets a silly goober face, or figures something out, or just climbs into my lap for no reason it all comes into perspective.

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