Thursday, September 20, 2007

Parenting At 20 Or 40 Makes A Difference

I have a daughter who arranges her Webkins at bedtime. So does James Lileks and his post mentioning Gnat put a lump in my throat:

Gnat lost a tooth today. It was the second upper front tooth. Gives her a nice cheerful ogre look. It went right under the pillow, of course. Later I checked my wallet to see if I had a dollar to slide in the place of the tooth; only a fiver. That seemed excessive. I asked her what she expected from the Dental Familiar, and she said “well, a dime? Maybe even a quarter.” There’s something about the quarter. It has inherent heft. It’s one corner of a dollar, the cornerstone currency. Unfortunately for her, I hoard quarters for the parking meter. I let no quarter go uncorralled. Once upon a time I saved quarters for pinball; now they serve the slakeless mouth of the armless sentinel who lines the streets of the city, he said, overwriting as fast as possible. I had a JFK half-dollar on hand, though, so that’ll do. It should surprise her, since I’m not sure she’s seen one. It’s BIG, and that counts.

She arranged her Pokemons and Webkins to greet the Tooth Fairy. You reach for your Fixative Spray to ensure that they’ll always be this age, but of course if you had such a thing you would have used it long ago. And aren’t you glad you didn’t.

My daughter arranges her Webkins before bed. She lines up the doll babies. She's putting the full-court-press on for a puppy--that's been going on for a year now, two years really, since our dog died. My daughter now sports a pair of big, front, Gary Bussey teeth that are way out of proportion to her remaining baby teeth. I want that Fixative Spray because it seems like every parent of teenagers wishes they had used it at just this age.

Did our parents have this awareness of time marching on, ebbing away (to mix my metaphors and similes and parts of speech) like we seem to? One result of elderly parenthood is that a good chunk of life has been lived; the elderly parent has a sense of time. Time awareness is lost on a 22 year old and my mom was 20 when she had me.

I try to imagine what being 20 and a mother must have felt like. Less thought would go into every developmental stage, that much I know. It had to be more action-oriented and functional. It was more action-oriented and functional. At 20, the world still seems safe and no wrong can happen. That optimism is good. Maybe that's why kids ran amok in neighborhoods. A young parent could be out rolling in the mud at Woodstock or playing the best tennis of her life as easily as having babies so maybe youth contributed to kid freedom. Well, youth and the fact that most moms were actually in the neighborhood--not supervising necessarily, but being there.

It's not that elderly parenting is a bad thing. Wisdom comes with age, temperance, the full knowledge that children are far more important than that business meeting, even if the meeting can't be missed. Perhaps that elevation, too, has contributed to the narcissism that has been written about so much. Little kids today are placed on fluffy pillows in the center of a hermetically sealed universe surrounded by Webkins. Kinda. Certainly, children today don't have the freedom the Gen Xers or Boomers had when they were kids.

I worry about these things. And then, I worry that I worry too much. That's just the point! It never seemed like parents of a generation or two ago worried much, though I'm sure they did. But you know what I mean. "Eh, see you at dinner!" It was noon. "Be back before dark!" It was breakfast. No worries. How could anyone send their kids on ten hour adventures such as those and have worries?

The only solution I've found is to have a bunch of kids. The younger ones get progressively wilder, braver, calmer and more confident. Mom is tired, relaxed, distracted, and more confident. There is no micromanaging a slew of kids. Once they out-number you, you're in trouble, but they're in luck. What a forty-year-old parent can't give a kid, maybe a big sister or brother can.

There were many benefits to have kids young. Maybe the Western world will come back around to that parenting model again, but I doubt it.


Anonymous said...

We young mothers still exist, we're just looked at by yuppie society as no-ambition hillbillies-- even if we do have a college education and are married. It's rather insulting when the umpteenth person asks me if my son was a "mistake" or looks at me with pity because I didn't pursue a full-time position at a pharmaceutical company. Even my mother-in-law has asked me "what I wanted to do with my life".

Melissa Clouthier said...

I do think it's interesting in this generation. My mom wanted me to get an education so I "would never have to rely on a man". And it turned out to be good advice because my husband did get cancer and I realized I could care for my family, if I had too.

There does seem to be these days that being a full time parent is a lazy choice. That a person who cares for the kids and house and things is opting out or just not pulling his or her weight.

Women, especially, concerned about equal rights don't acknowledge the biological differences (a man, no matter how equal cannot grow or nurse a baby) so they hold women to an unequal and stiffer standard and call it "equal".

Ultimately, the children lose while the men and women duke out "equal".

Anonymous said...

I am one of those "elderly" parents.:-) I had my first baby at 36 and waited on purpose because I did not want anyone else raising my children.

There are ups and downs to everything, including young parents vs.elderly parents. I tire a lot faster and want and need more quiet and peace. Well, with kids that is sort of out of the question.

I could not have pictured myself having children in my 20 though. It's different for everyone.

sandy said...

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