Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Honest and true

What kills me about the Little Man is how honest he is. We have a mini-power-struggle every morning over getting him dressed, and today I asked him, "Do you not want to get dressed because you don't want to go to school?" He looked up at me and nodded, saying "yeah." I said, "I wish we didn't have to go to school, too -- I wish we could just play together all day, every day." And later, when we had our coats on and were (finally!) on our way out the door, he stopped and turned to me with tears in his eyes and said "I don't want to go to school! I want to stay home with you."

I squatted on my haunches to be able to look into his sweet, sad face and held his hands. "Oh, bear, I know how hard it is. It's hard for me too, to be away from you during the day. But maybe in the summer I won't have to work so much, and I can come pick you up earlier, and we can spend more time together." He turned and sat down in my lap, and then asked me to say that again. So I said it again: "You know how it's so cold out now? Well, in a few weeks it will start to get warmer, and then even warmer, and then I might be able to work a little less, and you won't have to stay at school for such long days." He nodded, and thought for a minute, and then got up and we left the house.

I don't really know what he's thinking. I don't even know if it's a good idea to let him know that summer will be easier, since fall will undoubtedly be hard again (unless I can pull some scheduling strings somehow). I just can't stand how long he has to be at preschool (in other words -- who am I kidding? -- daycare) at his young age. On Friday, the day before what for most people was a long weekend, I couldn't pick him up until 5:00, but most of the parents had already picked up their kids. When we got home, Little Man orchestrated this game where he stood up on the "firetruck" (really it's his old crib mattress, which we keep on the floor in the living room for him to jump on -- this image perhaps allows you to imagine the level of domestic elegance we have achieved around here), pretending to drive, and I had to be the kid thinking every firetruck that passed was Mommy and Daddy coming to pick me up, but none of them was, and so I had to cry and be sad. Preferably quite loudly. I have perfected my "loud" cry.

We played this game all weekend. Seriously, just shoot me.

But I am encouraging him to tell me all about it. Tell me how sucky it is. Tell me how sad and mad it makes you. I don't know much about parenting, but I know he should get to feel how he feels, he should get to talk about it, he should get his feelings empathized with, even if we can't change the thing that's making him sad and mad. I know I want him always to tell me about it, even when he's a surly teenager who's telling me about experimenting with drugs in the basement of the neighborhood lowlife. Tell me, tell me, no matter how ugly. I believe in talking. I am much more afraid of the isolated feeling that comes when you can't find someone to talk to about it, than I am of whatever the It is that day, or week, or year -- than I am about any It I can think of.

So when Little Man breaks my heart by telling him that the thing I am making him do is breaking his heart, I try to respect his broken heart. I can take care of mine later.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Only Child?

Well, it's official. My 3-year-old son will be an only child. He was an IVF baby in my late thirties, and we waited until he was 3 to try the rest of the frozen embryos, resulting in pregnancy and miscarriage.
This failure to provide the little man with a sibling has given me a strange new perspective on life. There is sadness, but also relief: we are older parents, not well off, struggling on a few levels, and we were unsure how well we would handle another foray into the weird, wild world of parenting an infant, this time with a preschooler in the house no less.

The sadness is great, though: the other day I saw a friend of my son's walk out of the preschool door holding the hand of his 2-year-old sister, and tears came into my eyes. My little man would have been a wonderful older brother: curious, generous, affectionate. I base this on what, exactly? I ask myself. Well, mostly how he treats the dog: a mixture of delighted affection, irritability, and teacherly guidance. ("This is a bus, doggie," he explained one day, showing the dog a picture of a wildly decorated schoolbus I cut out of a magazine for him. That was the day I first talked with my husband about the sibling question, tears in my eyes.)
Friends with more than one children have that inevitable photo: the first gaze of the older on the new younger sibling in her hospital bassinet. If possible, you want to get the photo shot in the exact moment that the most moving look of wonder comes into the older sibling's eyes: "Who is this new creature in my life"? the child's eyes seem to ask. And, "Did I come out looking all wrinkly like that?" Who knows if that's what they're really thinking, no matter how poetic the gaze. Probably it's more like "Will this creature bother me while I'm playing trains?"
Or maybe not. It's unfathomable to the Little Man that anyone would bother him during such a sacred activity, until someone does and he looks up with a kind of incredulous indignation.

But I digress. The idea that I will never hold an infant in my arms again, or feel her desperate searching for the nipple 800 times a day, or feel the wriggling around in the womb again, makes me clench up to avoid sobbing. But what made me wait so long? Did I secretly want an only child? Did I know myself well enough to know that two children would be too much for me? It may be true, but that doesn't mitigate the grief.

The grief, though, may be instructive, or even creative. Will it make me get back to writing?