Thursday, July 29, 2010

Retrograde Motion

Just to illustrate how rabidly uninterested I was in anything to do with babies -- a few years back a close friend of mine told me her brother's wife was having a baby, that day, and I wondered where she was going with the story, what the point was. When I saw others around me acting like it was a big deal, I tried to summon up at least as much enthusiasm as if I'd caught sight of a Mr. Softee truck. Same thing I do when I hear about an engagement. Maybe because it's all so overdone that a blasé reaction is just one way to try to combat that. And the truth is newborns really are incredibly dull if they're not your own. But...

Yesterday Wally called a pen a "Mommy crayon". And given that we'd never referred to it as a crayon (and he's pretty delayed in speech compared to other kids his age) I was really happy. That was my first thought followed immediately by -- don't tell anyone! Make sure that doesn't come up in conversation (or make its way to the blog -- ha!). That's the kind of inane drivel that makes people hate people with kids. "You won't believe what Tommy said today" and all that. But later I was thinking -- why is it that things that are big (kids learning to walk, to talk, to ask questions about the sky) are treated as small? Why do they feel so small? But someone drinking coffee or starting to get a cold is reported on Facebook like late-breaking news. And seems to be treated that way. I guess partly it's that most of us know how to walk fairly well and use a spoon and there's no reason we should care that someone else is learning how to do this. And maybe it's because we, legitimately, care what friends are up to, but not what their kids are up to (see Elinor's brilliant comment on New Parent Rules).

But I think it's also partly our disconnection and isolation. Generations don't mingle a whole lot. Grandparents live on their own. Families live far away from each other. People are not overly involved in each others' lives. Visits are short. In-laws don't come by on Sundays. No one asks for big favors or wants to be roped in to giving them in return. No one drives anyone to the airport (or the New York equivalent). Walks each others' dogs. Babysits each others' kids. People don't want to go one block out of their way most nights. ("Which way are you heading?" "East." "I'm going West." "Okay, bye.") Like even to finish the conversation, I'm always surprised when someone says they'll walk me a little ways. I used to do it all the time to people then realized they were just rushing along to catch the 5:15 to Valley Stream and I gave up.

I am speaking in broad terms of course and yes some people do babysit and some of my friends have, including Dario (How's that for free-range parenting?) and others have offered. Plus most people have so many friends, so scattered and spread out, that they're not going to be super-ultra close to one person's kids. They're not going to be an "aunt" or godparent. They're not going to sit squeezed between someone else's offspring in the back seat of a 2-door 1973 Plymouth Duster no air, no radio in August for a 4-hour car ride to Cape Cod.

In general.

I know some people will.

Some people might even go so ludicrously far as to try to convince me that they like knowing that Wally said, 'Mommy crayon'.

And some people are going to respond to this like they respond to every argument I posit: "Well, it is and it isn't." I won't know which part they're referring exactly to but either way that's often true but not too exciting. Just like it pretty much always "is what it is" (hate that expression, hate it). The fastest way to end a conversation, I think. Other than, "You should donate your brain to science -- and fast."

9 comments:

  1. THE most unclever comment, I agree! ("is what it is") Why do these people give up so easily? Fatalists!!

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  2. Still don't get why people assume because I have my own kids that I also like other people's kids. I get the hugest case of the icks when folk try to get their children to call me aunty. I'm not. So don't. Use my name like everyone else.

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  3. I really enjoyed reading this post. You're right that we are so disconnected and isolated from each other, despite living in a city with millions of people. It actually makes us feel all the more lonelier. The problem is that we live an illusion of proximity, because we think of ourselves as living in the same city, and the subway provides easy access to each other, but while a 30-45 minute train ride is average for most of us, if you think about driving that long then the reality of time and distance becomes more blatant. And I'm not even including the time it takes to walk to and from the subway, which often adds another 10-15 min. The fact of the matter is that it just takes a lot of time and trouble for people to get together, but because we live in a culture where it's standard practice, we forget how all this running to and fro can really run us ragged. Subconsciously, we know this, because as we're getting older we are just getting together and going out less, the time and trouble are less worth it, and we're focusing more on taking care of ourselves as well as our families. However, the times we do get together feel all the more special and precious.

    So as I've said before, I imagine that being a parent in the city is extra isolating, unless you have friends and family in close proximity to you. It really does "take a village." I do think in time, your friends will love your kids as much as they do you. As a non-parent, I feel fond of my friends' kids but without seeing them that often, I can't feign a closeness that just hasn't happened yet. I also don't want to default to just pretending the closeness is there - I see kids as individuals, not just as extensions of their parents, and for me the closeness has to happen through getting to know them, as individuals. I do expect this will happen though, in time, and I can't wait until I'm attending Wally's wedding. Hopefully he will want to invite me and not complain that you're inviting too many of your friends. "Mom, it's MY wedding, not yours!".

    I did really like the "mommy crayon" story. Such a brilliant and abstract thought. A random person reading your blog may not care as much about those kinds of personal anecdotes about your kid, but your friends certainly do. In that way, the internet does help bring us closer. I can't jump on the train to visit you at this moment and have a conversation in person, but at least I can read your blog and have this ongoing virtual conversation with you, which is a real treat.

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  4. Hein- No hogging the comment session!! Head no likey. Just kidding. You are awesome and an awesome friend. Furthermore are very talented artist. You definitely have a unique style. Sorry, I couldn't resist using a non- compliment.

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  5. Head, I'm doing it for Rachel! Sorry to steal YOUR thunder. Thanks for the compliments & non-compliment. I do consider the non-compliment a real compliment though - funny how everyone perceives non-compliments differently.

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  6. btw, Head is a bizarre-sounding tag. I like it!

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  7. I found "Head" so odd at first but it's growing on me. TO CLARIFY: Head only meant hogging the section b/c you had accidentally submitted it twice. Now that I deleted one of the comments, I've confused everyone. Your comments are if anything too short (that is meant as a compliment...b/c they are full of insight, support, understanding). They add so much to the discussion and help me see things in different ways and get me out of the train wreck stream of consciousness I can often get into. I like the back and forth -- live for it -- love it. Thank you.

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  8. :)!!! I love that your blog is creating a community, at least drawing your friends closer into your life.

    "Train wreck stream of consciousness" is a great phrase - definitely describes what I go through!

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  9. I really worry that we really believe our time is so important that we can't possibly waste an hour there/hour back commute to see a friend on a Saturday -- but we spend hours on the internet having pseudo relationships that are rarely truly as intimate as sitting across from a friend. It seems strange that it is so hard to do both. It is part of the reason I'm thinking about ending our baby blog -- Aside from the fact that I'm always getting censored lest I say something unpleasant about our child. I'm hoping it will make me actually get out and take the time to see friends rather than just emailing them or facebooking them.

    And as far as kids -- no, I generally didn't like them before I had my own baby -- but like I said before, I think it has to do with the fact that there is no balance. Parents go on and on about their kids like their identity flew out the window and kids can't ever participate in real life -- God forbid they see someone get drunk or smoke. And on the other side, God forbid they make any noise at a restaurant.

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