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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Growing up

For the first five months that BB was in kindergarten, every single drawing that she brought home was labeled, “BB AND MAMA.” It didn’t seem to matter what the subject of the drawing was: landscapes (a house with a door and windows), portraits (BB in neon pink and yellow, with enormous eyes), hearts and flowers, oddly appealing bits of geometric abstraction — all of them bore somewhere, “BB AND MAMA.” It was her compass rose, pointing always toward home.

Now, at the end of April, when I empty BB’s backpack at the end of the school day, I find drawings that are carefully labeled in a firm, controlled hand. Just her name, a simple signature in clear capitals and lower-case letters in their proper order. Just BB, standing alone.

I would like to say that it’s been a smooth transition from there to here, but of course it hasn’t been. There were complications, contradictions, an avalanche of notes typed or written to the finest specifications for heartbreak: “DeaR MAMA I DoNT wANt to Go To scHool plEAsE cAN I stAY HoME wiTH You.” When the heartbreak failed to have the desired effect, there was rigorous scientific experimentation to see if some combination of willfulness, piteousness, and flat-out misbehavior would do the job. The testing has eased now, but I don’t expect it to end. She is a stubborn and gifted investigator into the ways by which one may affect the actions of other human beings, and it is clear that she will never stop probing until she has determined exactly which of the laws governing the operation of the universe are susceptible to her control. It is awe-inspiring to watch. It is often exhausting to supervise. There is no respite to the process of growing up. Not for any one of us.

There was some discussion on the blogs awhile ago as to whether it was easier or harder to parent children once they reached school age. People I respect made arguments in support of both positions; and I nodded in agreement to points made by both sides. They’re both right, after all. Parenting is never simple: There are things that get much, much easier as the kids get older. There are things that get much, much harder. For myself, though, I’d have to say that it has gotten easier, if for no other reason than that my work week is now thirty hours shorter than it used to be. Well. Between half-days, holidays, school vacations, sick days, and volunteer requests, it is never a full thirty hours per week that I get off from the immediacies of parenting. I do say no to almost everything that’s asked of me during those hours — after eight long years of having to ask for every single moment I ever got to myself, I don’t feel any shame at all about turning down volunteer requests. The volunteers in our school do good work, of course. But I can’t help but notice how many of their activities are about busy work and tending to social connections. I don’t have the patience for such things anymore. Each hour I have to myself seems too precious to squander. After eight years of being on call to my family 24/7, I have earned the right, I think, to know my own strengths and play to them for as long as I can.

So I spend my hours as intelligently as possible. I take long walks, because walking is the only exercise I’ve ever liked. I tend to my closest relationships. I read. And I write. I hope to have, by sometime this summer, a completed first draft of a novel. Not something I ever intend to circulate or publish, but something I did entirely for myself, to see what the skills are that one must develop to accomplish such a thing, and to see whether or not it is fun. It is fun, actually — that’s surprised me, how much fun it is. It’s surprised me how much I enjoy submerging myself in something that isn’t for the benefit of anyone at all, except possibly myself. Whether I have managed to acquire novel-writing skills in the process, I have no idea. But I have acquired the skill of being for myself when I can, the skill of standing alone, just myself and my own brain getting down to work at something. It surprises me, how much I enjoy it all. It surprises me, how rewarding it is to go on growing up.


Blogger Anjali said...

Oh, I LOVE seeing you back, PS. And I feel exactly the same way you do about volunteering at school. Too bad we're not neighbors, I'd walk and write with you every day.

9:17 AM, April 29, 2010  
Blogger jo(e) said...

I'm looking forward to reading that novel.

10:05 AM, April 29, 2010  
Blogger Ianqui said...

I guess 'circulate' applies to blogs, but if you decide you want a sympathetic audience after all, you could always publish it in serial installments on a blog. How olde tyme!

10:13 AM, April 29, 2010  
Blogger Magpie said...

I too like growing up. Because, I'll never be done.

10:44 AM, April 29, 2010  
OpenID chichimama.com said...

I applaud you. Knowing how to say no (to children who don't want to go to school and to the PTA)is an important life skill which many of us (well, me anyway) still need to learn.

I too would love to read the novel :-), but also totally understand why you would want to keep it to yourself ;-).

10:57 AM, April 29, 2010  
Blogger Michaela said...

I am in awe of your ability to say no. Yeah, sure, writing a novel is hard work. But I think it pales in comparison to the effort it takes to protect that time as your own.

I wanna be like you when I grow up.

11:02 AM, April 29, 2010  
Blogger Songbird said...

I do hope to read it someday, in some form.

11:59 AM, April 29, 2010  
Blogger Margi said...

Add me to the list of potential novel-readers. And I love your description of BB's investigative skills.

4:37 PM, April 29, 2010  
Anonymous Arwen said...

Yay! For! Novels!

5:11 PM, April 29, 2010  
Anonymous Arwen said...

(Also yay for growing up and finding independence! There is definitely a bittersweet-ness to babies becoming bigger, but I find that it doesn't devastate me. I really like Me-Time.)

5:13 PM, April 29, 2010  
Anonymous Jenny said...

I find the school age much, much, much easier. As much as my boy protests school, there's at least an element of reason that works for him. He may not like it, but he understands its a necessary evil. The ability to reason with him makes a world of difference. Still not there yet with the girl, but getting closer...

And, it goes without saying, that I owe you, owe you, owe you and I'd be THRILLED to read your novel should you ever come to the point where you'd like it read. But I will also respect your wishes (grudgingly) if you choose to keep it just for yourself.

5:52 PM, April 29, 2010  
Blogger esperanza said...

Thank you for this. Days like this, it's good to know there's a school at the end of the tunnel. I hadn't thought about what to do or not do with my time, and I'm sure it could easily be eaten up with opportunities to say yes. Thanks for the heads-up and the good example of "no."

I'd read the novel, too.

6:04 PM, April 29, 2010  
Blogger Leslie M-B said...

As a mama and as one of your fans, this post made me so happy for so many reasons.

I hope when you're not writing your novel, you feel moved to post here occasionally. :) It was nice to read a post from you again.

2:02 AM, April 30, 2010  
Blogger Kris Peleg said...

good to see you. and so thrilling to read what you've been up to.

I've found big kids to be wonderful.

2:14 AM, April 30, 2010  
Blogger The Empress said...

Good to have you back.

I like the idea of writing a novel for one's self.

Very much liking that idea...

2:15 AM, April 30, 2010  
Blogger Betty M said...

I suspect your novel is probably rather good. I hope you do let someone see it at some point.

4:38 AM, April 30, 2010  
Blogger niobe said...

what jo(e) and songbird (and I'm sure lots of other people) said.

10:47 AM, April 30, 2010  
Blogger robin andrea said...

I like the clarity of your voice here. The new time you have to yourself has been used well already. Walking is the only exercise I like as well. It's great for quiet time and for working out those novel narratives.

11:00 AM, April 30, 2010  
Blogger halloweenlover said...

I'm so happy to hear it gets easier. I am trying to enjoy the days now, but there are so many moments that are so so SO tiring. Toddlers are a lot of work, it turns out.

I think you should definitely publish your novel. I can tell you in advance I'd buy it.

3:35 PM, April 30, 2010  
Anonymous Jody said...

At the beginning of the year, I checked a bunch of boxes on that list of possible volunteer activities.

As each e-mail has rolled out, asking for firm commitments, I have begged off.

If only I had a novel to show for my finely honed ability to say no. :-)

7:33 PM, April 30, 2010  
Blogger OneTiredEma said...

In a recent development, now I have 12 hours a week to myself. In a month it could be 20 hours.

I feel so guilty that I am not working (for pay). I sometimes have some, but usually not. I wish I could be zen about it. I guess I want to say yes to someone who's not my immediate responsibility.

4:51 PM, May 01, 2010  
Blogger kathy a. said...

go, you!

7:20 PM, May 01, 2010  
Blogger liz said...

Count me as another who would love to read your novel if you want to release it.

And good for you for saying no.

10:34 PM, May 02, 2010  
Blogger susan said...

:waving: so happy to see a post pop up here! And count me in as impressed with your priorities.

10:06 PM, May 03, 2010  
Anonymous Genevieve said...

Yes, yes, on the saying no! I've had to work on that lately myself, and am glad to see you doing it. And I will read your novel the second you want anyone to.

11:25 PM, May 10, 2010  
Blogger Rev Dr Mom said...

What I've learned about parenting is that it just keeps changing...and each part is wonderful and difficult all rolled into one, even parenting adults who are themselves parents!

I'd love to read the novel. And hurrah for you for taking time to be YOU.

10:19 PM, May 11, 2010  
Blogger Miche said...

"But I have acquired the skill of being for myself when I can"

Awesome! Go you!!

6:57 PM, May 21, 2010  
Blogger Liesl said...

Phantom, I am happy to see you being so happy and free. You deserve the freedom and the time alone to do what YOU want to do.

I hope you keep posting, but if not I certainly understand, and am happy for you :)

12:45 AM, June 27, 2010  

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