Tuesday, January 27, 2009

And While We're At It

Believe it or not, I got roughly 0 hours of sleep last night, since D3 and D4 carefully choreographed alternating screams of hunger. However, pondering random thoughts is easy for me when I have had little sleep. It's kissing owies that I don't have any capacity for when I'm tired. Fortunately no one is screaming at the moment.

Which relates, somewhat tangentially, to another idea I'd like to discuss: parenting time investment. Here's an article arguing that 1) parents actually spend more time interacting with their children now than in years past; and 2) it doesn't really matter how you parent, as kids turn out according to their natural bent in the long run, even though parenting style may make some difference in the short run. (Ruling out extremes of abuse and neglect, of course.)

There are a couple of things left out of this discussion; one is opinions rather than just personality traits. Whether you are devout or not might be more a matter of personality, but I'm pretty sure whether you're a Baptist or a Hindu is very strongly correlated with what your parents believed. Also even if your child turns out all right, most of us would like to still be on speaking terms with them and have them remember our time together fondly. So don't throw parenting out the window entirely.

That said, I do suspect that the modern standard of "good parenting" pushes us way past the point of diminishing returns (at least for most people). At least if I am interpreting other people correctly (and the time diaries cited in the article are correct) many mothers try to spend all or most of their children's waking minutes interacting with them. Some make this a conscious goal; others seem to just fall into it and then wonder if they should institute some time for them to play alone.

Which, if you like it, is great. But is it the gold standard of good motherhood?

I sure hope not, because it's always seemed so hopeless to me that I've never even tried. I'm not really a people person and I'm not at all a reality person.

And as I consider my own childhood, which was quite happy, I think: Did my parents spend every waking moment with me? Certainly not. Did I want them to? Definitely not. It was nice to have them handy in case of emergencies, but they were parents, not buddies. A good portion of my time was devoted to evading their notice, secure in the knowledge that parental notice would shortly be followed by chores. Having them try to enter into our games would have spoiled the fun. Adults just don't get some things; worse, they know too much.

There is, no doubt, an age differential here: I am remembering elementary age, while most of the mothers I've read talking like this have preschoolers or younger. I have read, for instance, that up to about age two children prefer to play with adults even over a slightly-older sibling; by three the preference switches. And I cannot speak at all to the situation of an only child.

But even at 3 and 4 D1 and D2 are quite happy playing by themselves for hours each day, with only occasionally including me or appealing to me to settle arguments. And D3 and D4 spend a good portion of the day just rolling around on the floor and watching. Maybe if I chattered with D3 and D4 I could nudge them ahead a bit in language development, but what would be the point? They'd use the same number of words as adults. And with daily focused activities I could probably have at least D1 reading, but why bother? She'll learn to read on her own soon enough, or if not, all the faster for waiting a few more years, and she'll be reading the exact same books at twelve either way.

This sounds like an excuse for laziness. It's not exactly (although I do feel like I fritter away a lot of time these days, but sleep-deprivation is not a good state to engage in any elaborate endeavors). You can spend as much time doing stuff together as is fun for all of you, and then you can not feel guilty about doing all the other interesting things that can be done with the children within earshot.

To Be and To Do

What if the whole debate over biblical gender roles is asking the wrong question?

A role is something all-encompassing, drawn out on every side. If you're playing a role, you must get inside that persona, forgetting yourself to become them down to the smallest detail. You must follow the script--and so must everyone around you. If you've studied for Portia and it turns out everyone else is playing Twelfth Night, confusion will reign.

But real life has an irritating way of not following a script. And the Bible doesn't hand out roles--individual character parts we must become. It gives examples and it gives commands.

Compared to a role, a command is both narrower and broader. Narrower in that it doesn't begin to try to define every aspect of your life. Broader in that it applies in every situation, not just a particular script. "Thou shalt not covet" applies to your neighbor's donkey and your neighbor's SUV. More than that, the fact that a command is given to some does not necessarily mean everyone else is exempt. (Although small children hold firmly to this theory as long as possible.)

Is it just a semantic distinction? I don't think so. If we go to the Bible looking for commands, they're pretty easy to see. We have freedom to apply them to the different situations of our lives; we also have freedom not to worry about the areas that aren't covered. We can give other people the freedom to apply them in their situations.

Also if we look at the specific commands to men and women, we can see they are all applications of broader commands that apply to everyone (we all are to love one another; we all are to be subject to one another and clothed in humility). We don't suddenly become exempt from a general command because we are following a specific application of another one. We can't turn up our nose and say, "Well, that's not my role" when something ought to be done.

On the other hand, if we are looking for a role, the commands alone will not give us nearly enough information. We must rip the book apart looking for every clue that might help us flesh out every aspect of our "role": taking analogies long past the point where they break down; trying to deduce duties from descriptive statements; following examples as if they were paint-by-number pages; torturing every obscure allusion out so that we can fully develop our role. And then when life doesn't follow the script we are expecting, we're at a loss; or when other people's situations don't fit the role we've developed, we're unreasonably critical.

Family life is not a play, and there are no roles and no script. Do what's right. Be the children of God.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Heads Will Roll

Happily Ever After

One should perhaps not ask too much of fluffy, popcorn movies, except that they be suitably light and fluffy and everything turn out all right in the end. But there's one thing that annoys me about the modern version of these movies, perhaps because--to my mind--they no longer come out all right in the end.

In an older movie of this type, if you were to encounter an estranged couple, especially with children, you knew they would be back together by the end of the movie. If there was a single parent, and some adult of the opposite gender became good friends with the child, you knew that a romance with Mom or Dad was next on the agenda.

Now it seems the rule is quite opposite. If there's an estranged couple, the apparently less-cool parent will have a cool new romantic interest by the end of the movie (curiously, this is true even if the other parent seems to have realized their mistake).

And as for the single-parent movies--well, last weekend we watched The Pacifier. Watching a Navy SEAL get some discipline into some spoiled suburban kids while getting in touch with his softer side and foiling some international spies is fun. (Do the SEALs rent these guys out?) Watching the basically fatherless lieutenant learn to father the kids he's guarding is heartwarming.

So why can't he just marry their widowed mom? Why bring a totally different (and not particularly interesting) romantic interest into it?

Do not talk to me about what is realistic. This is a movie. The bad guys always lose, kids can take on international spies successfully, and people can drive like maniacs through the city and only attract police attention when it is needed. It's not about the way things are, it's about the way we want things to be.

Do we no longer want children to grow up in the same house with a mother and a father? Is it happily ever after enough to have someone promise they won't forget you?

(But I made up my own ending. He sticks around town, dates the principal for awhile, it doesn't work out, he keeps visiting the kids and falls for the mom later on. So there.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

D1 the Personal Trainer

(D1 and D2 have just finished cleaning their room and are running in circles on the newly-clear floor. QOC enters.)

QOC: What are you guys doing?

D1: We're running in circles! You should try it! It would get rid of your tummy!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Whence? Wherefore? Whither?

Somewhere in the last month we crossed the line from little babies to big babies, and now we have to be messing with all those pre-toddler difficulties of supervising, keeping things out of reach, preparing meals, changing nasty diapers, and setting boundaries. On Sunday DOB overheard a delighted cackle, followed by a thump and a howl as D4 propelled himself off the bed. He was uninjured and probably undeterred from a future hobby of bungee-jumping. (Not to be outdone, D3 got a case of nursemaid's elbow the following day, requiring an emergency trip to the chiropractor. She then put it back in place en route.)

The internet is a discouraging place for a dormant writer. Everybody wants to be a writer on the internet. (Unless they want to be a videographer.) Some of them may have something worthwhile to say, but it would take a cryptographer to deduce it from their convoluted writing. Others are technically proficient but when it comes right down to it, aren't saying much. (This would probably be me.) Most are competent enough and have useful information, but there's only so many useful things to be said.

Indeed, why bother? The trouble with writing is it never goes away. You're not just competing with your contemporaries, you're competing with every writer from all time. In a world where Shakespeare and Plato and Chesterton are available at the touch of a button, what's left to be said but blather? (Making an exception, of course, for useful, practical advice, but I am not a practical person and can offer very little.)

This is not an anti-internet, I'm-leaving-now post. I've got four small children alone with no car or tv for twelve-hour days and it's 15 degrees outside. I'm not cutting off my one contact to the outside world. But I am pondering what is worth doing and saying.

Then again, the main purpose for this blog has been to keep in touch with my scattered family and friends. So it's not so bad if it often degenerates into nothing but baby pictures and kid quotes. The world only has room for one Shakespeare, but there is room for an infinite number of letters to Grandma, profound or not.

Likewise there is only a need for so many recipes, but there is a need for dinner every night. There may be only so many stories worth being told, but they must be told over and over. Every child must be raised, every garden must be planted, every floor must be swept, by the person who is there. It cannot be turned over to someone else who might do it better just because they write about it better. The field of competition in my own back yard is very small.

And so, one cute picture to go on.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Seven Quick Takes Friday: The Interview Edition

It is Seven Quick Takes Friday over at Conversion Diary. It is also the twins' six month birthday, at which time it is our custom to interview the children for the first and last time. (After this age, we might not like their answers).

So in the interests of blogging efficiency, we combine the two with Seven Quick Questions for the Babies.

1. What do you each think of the world, as a whole, now that you've been here so long?

D3: The world is full of fascinating things to watch.
D4: The world is full of fascinating things to grab and drool on.

2. What's the most exciting thing you might see in the course of a day?

D3: Papa! Hey, over here! See my special Papa grin!
D4: D2 left his toys behind. Woo-hoo!

3. How do you get along with your twin sibling?

D3: He's fun to watch.
D4: She's great to chew on.

4. How do you get along with your older siblings?

D3: They play games and talk to me.
D4: They leave toys lying around. I like that.

5. Solid foods: Yea or Nay?

D3: Umm, OK I guess. If I must.
D4: Really? Was this necessary? What was wrong with milk? I like milk. I can drink milk all night long!

6. Any particular skills you're especially proud of?

D3: I can cross my fingers. This will come in handy once I figure out how to talk.
D4: I can pull toys out of toy bins up on shelves.

7. What worries you these days?

D3: I overheard Mama talking about us getting itchy red spots soon and I'm worried about its effect on my flawless complexion.
D4: Forward movement. I can go sideways. I can go backwards. Why not forwards?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Communication Problems

As was briefly mentioned below, DOB lost his voice last week. He hasn't found it yet.

I will gloss over the difficulties this poses him at work (where he had to contact numerous clients to make essential adjustments before the end of the year, and where he's added a new boss starting this week) and focus on the important part: me.

Many romantic young couples believe they can communicate without a word, so deep is their level of sympathy. We thought we had a deep, instinctive level of understanding early on, too. It turns out this is not the case, which is good, because what is the use of being married to someone who thinks just like you do? Not only is it boring, it's terribly narrow-minded. We practically always agree once we've talked through everything and have a far better view of the world from having considered it from the other's perspective.

But if we can't talk--well, we're two trains travelling on different tracks at different speeds from different stations and you don't even want to do the math.

Furthermore, I hope I never go deaf, because I am terrible at reading signs, signals, lip movements, or the finger alphabet. (I can USE the finger alphabet, I just can't READ it. Unfortunately, I'm not the one without a voice.)

So a conversation with DOB goes like this:

DOB: (Gesture)
QOC: Um . . . D?
DOB: (Gesture)
DOB: (Shakes head)
QOC: P? That's not a P.
DOB: (Gestures harder)
QOC: I don't care what you think, that's not a letter.
DOB: (Gestures some more)
QOC: Oh, you're counting. Um . . . Two? D . . . 2? Oh, D2! What about D2? Do you want me to tell him to stop what he's doing? I told him he could do that.
DOB: (Shakes head, more indistinguishable gestures)
QOC: Um . . . so . . . what else should I do about D2?
DOB: (Gives up in disgust.)

Fortunately DOB got a surplus laptop so we can now communicate via instant messenger. This should be very romantic, as this is how we first met. However, back then I believe we both had the opportunity to engage in an activity known as "sleep" which we have since forsworn. In consequence, our communications were far wittier back then. Now they go more like this:

QOC: I'm tired. We should put the kids to bed.
DOB: You have to. I can't talk.
QOC: You have to. I can't move.

It's OK, though, because D1 and D2 have discovered they can put themselves to bed, without any adult involvement. In fact, it's more fun without it. So please don't investigate such matters as Thoroughness of Teeth Brushing and Doctrinal Correctness of Bedtime Prayer.

There is one finger letter I have mastered: "T." It stands for "tea." As in "a big, hot cuppatea please, preferably with honey and lemon." That much, I can do.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Old Year, New Year

With this Christmas, we can at last say that fully half of Duchy Christmases have transpired without anyone present throwing up. That alone is almost enough to make it a good year.

Fortunately time blurs the edges, and even if I write it down we won't really remember that this was the Christmas we went for three weeks without sleep because the babies decided they need to eat all night. (I think it's starting to get better. Maybe. A little.)

I tell them they don't need to grow any more, they're just fine the size they are, in fact they probably should have stayed a little smaller and less mobile, but they refuse to listen. D4 has discovered rolling for transportation and is trying to make it do until he figures out crawling. D3 got started babbling and then decided she should quit working on that and try to figure out how to catch up with D4. Secure gate for the stairway is on order.

It's hard to take a picture of sleep-deprivation, or the fifteenth meal in a row interrupted by an urgent plea for help in the bathroom, and DOB looks pretty much the same even when he's lost his voice. So we'll just rub those things out of the memory book from this year and put in things like this:

D1 and D2 never could figure out the vowel sequence of everyone's favorite Christmas cookie, krumkaka, and finally settled on calling it "Cream-ka-ko."

D1 saved up her own money and bought the purple bear for D2. Then she told him what it was as soon as she got home from the store on Christmas Eve, despite everyone's best efforts to insist on the virtue of surprise. D2 was still surprised.

DOB and I got our first date in almost six months--we went grocery shopping alone together. We were even able to hold hands for a few minutes before the cart got too full. (I guess technically on our anniversary we went out to get pizza, but that was an even shorter trip than grocery shopping.)

The older ducklings were finally old enough to participate in our tradition of making predictions for the New Year by writing various persons, places, and activities on slips of paper and then drawing them at random. D1 still walks around cackling that she's going to be painting in Seattle with Winnie-the-Pooh.

We went to see the zoo lights, rode on the train (riding on a tiny train over sheer drop-offs in the dark with a bunch of little kids is not easy on the nerves) and got a peek at the giraffes in their winter quarters.

I'd like to resolve to eat less and exercise more, but that will have to wait a few months. I'd like to resolve to read some great books, but I think I'd better wait until I have enough sleep for them to make sense. I'd like to tackle some great new projects, but I know they'd just get abandoned midway and then torn to pieces. I'd like to create a calm and peaceful home environment but I need a little more cooperation first.

So I'll just try to do less and enjoy it more, eat and sleep when I have the opportunity, savor any quiet moments that come, and live as happily as possible whether the moment is photographable or not.