Diary of a 2-Year-Old

7:15 AM: Hooray, I’m awake! I get to go see Mommy! Time for breakfast! I love breakfast! There’s brother! I love brother!

7:16: Brother pretends to shoot me. SCREAM!!!

7:18: Oh, boy, Cheerios! I love Cheerios!

7:20: I ask where Sister is. Mommy says she’s at school. That’s what she said yesterday, too.

7:26: Brother looks at me and made funny noises. SCREAM!!!

7:30: Mommy reads us a book. Hooray! I love books! I give Mommy and brother kisses.

7:56: I wannanother book! Mommy only read me three books!

7:58: Mommy says I have a poopy diaper. I tell her there are lollipops in my diaper. Mommy cleans me off and makes me sit on the potty. I like sitting on the potty because I get to play games, and I’m good at holding it until Mommy puts me back into a diaper.

8:25: Daddy comes downstairs and eats his cereal. I pick him spicy peppers. He shows me a spider he caught. Brother and I close the basement door behind Daddy; Mommy yells at us to let Daddy get down the stairs before we close the door.

10:46: I help Mommy unload the dishwasher. I am a good helper. I even help Mommy get the broom and dustpan to sweep up the pieces of the glass that fell out of my hands.

11:05: I ask Mommy for a snack. She says no, lunch will be in half an hour. I don’t like lunch! I want a snack!

11:30: Brother runs to the basement to tell Daddy that lunch is ready. I wanted to do that! SCREAM!!!

11:31: Oh, boy, lunch! I love lunch! I tell Mommy she made a good dinner because I get lunch and dinner mixed up.

12:06: Brother and I clear off plates. Then Mommy makes us pick up toys from the family room floor. Bad Mommy! I’m too tired to pick up toys, but when Mommy says that if I’m so tired I should be taking a nap now I don’t have any choice. Rats! Outwitted again!

12:56: I wannanother book! Mommy only read me two books!

1:02: Mommy rocks me in my room. “Jesus loves me…Mary had a little lamb…En mi vida….” She puts me in my snuggly bed. I hate this bed because it’s not my yellow crib, which Mommy and Daddy took apart because I’m a big boy, but right now it feels soft and warm and I cuddle under the blankets with my stuffed animals.

1:07: I had a good nap! I try to visit Brother in his room. Mommy yells that I can’t come out yet.

1:09: Still can’t come out.

1:12: Still can’t come out.

1:15: Still can’t come out.

2:15: Mommy finally says I can come out. Is it TV time yet? I’m hungry for a snack.

2:58: Mommy walks to the bus stop to get Sister. Brother goes with her. I can see them from the window. Now is a good time to find out how many bubbles I can make in the bathroom sink. Huh, look at all the bubbles on the floor! They’re so pretty.

3:04: Sister eats a snack. Is it TV time YET? No, we read a book, then play outside on the swing set with our friends. Mommy asks who made a mess in the bathroom. I don’t know.

4:30: Hooray! It’s TV time! Oh, no, Brother and Sister want to watch Woody Woodpecker. I don’t like Woody Woodpecker. I like monster trucks. I want to watch the monster truck show. Ha, ha, look at Woody Woodpecker tricking Wally Walrus! Wally Walrus is so funny!

4:57: I am bored with Woody Woodpecker, but Mommy won’t read me more than one book because she has to make dinner! I hate dinner!

5:20: Mommy lets me set the table. She has to help me get the plates and forks and knives and napkins and do the drinks herself, but I do everything else! Sister announces that I set everything crooked.

5:30: Sister runs to the basement to tell Daddy that lunch is ready. I wanted to do that! SCREAM!!!

5:31: Oh, boy, dinner! I love dinner! I tell Mommy she made a good dinner.

6:45: My teeth are brushed and diaper changed; Daddy rocks me in my room and sings. “Now I lay me down to sleep…Jesus loves me…When I fall in love….” He puts me into my bed, which I still hate, but is so very cozy with my stuffed animals. He kisses me, then Mommy comes in to kiss me. I’m not really tired, but the pillow feels so good….

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The Haircut

We’re working toward our kids’ independence.

We don’t neglect them, because then they’ll lack the examples and information they need to make good choices.

We don’t smother them, because then they won’t be able to make choices at all–or when they are finally away from our orbit, they’ll go nuts because they’ll have had no practice at responsibility, risks, and decision-making. (Indeed, a neglectful parent and a smothering parent can produce similarly-handicapped children.)

All this to say: We didn’t punish the child who decided to experiment with a new, much shorter hairstyle. A professional will shortly be cleaning up the, er, ragged edges; once this is done, the kid will probably look decent. Technically, this child didn’t break any rules; it is one of the two who are allowed to handle scissors, and we’ve never explicitly told our kids not to cut their own hair. We have since discussed that, in the future, if our kids want a haircut, they must come to us.

My mother thinks I should have punished the child. After all, cutting your own hair! And see how awful it looks! Eek! My husband and I disagreed. We come down on deliberate disobedience, disrespect, lying, and meanness like a ton of bricks. We don’t think that this child’s action falls under any of those categories, although future self-administered haircuts would. As for appearance–hair grows, and all of my kids grow hair very quickly.

There is a larger concern about this incident: The child acted in an impulsive manner, without consulting Mom and Dad. Acting on impulse could be very harmful if, some years down the line, the kid decided to try some weed or cheat on a test. However, this child is very independent, but not especially prone to doing dumb things because they seem like a good idea at the time. I think this was an aberration, and not an indicator of a Disturbing Pattern.

All of these considerations I can turn over in my mind, and ruminate on the best course of action and how it relates to our long-term parenting goals. But in the final analysis, I have a level of sympathy for this kid that is irrational, and based on my own childhood. My parents loved my long hair and told me how beautiful it was. I hated washing it, hated having it combed and brushed, and hated the way it flopped in my eyes and blew about my face. Pony tails and bobby pins hurt. It never occurred to me to ask my parents to cut my hair, because I knew they loved it. In sixth grade, however, after a night spent on an old sailing vessel in very stormy weather (best school trip ever), my hair became so hopelessly matted and tangled that it had to be cut to just above my shoulders. It was wonderful. What a burden had been lifted! How freeing! I wish my child had come to me about wanting an alteration in hairstyle; we would have made it happen.

Parents ought to police the appearance of their children. Most parents agree to some extent–even the most liberal would hesitate to send a kid to school in a bathing suit on a 20-degree day. Most would wash the mud off their protesting children’s faces if they were going somewhere. Our kids will have to abide by our standards, and we won’t allow them out in something we consider immodest, trashy, or otherwise communicating an offensive message. Our standards are arbitrary, as most standards of appearance or custom are, but abiding by these standards shows respect for us.

But within certain limits, we want also to allow our children freedom over their appearance. To guide, but not to smother. My son used not to leave the house without a hat made of a toy sink-bowl, and my daughter used to layer brilliant colors and patterns on until she looked like something in a fever dream. They grew out of it, and generally pick acceptable outfits from what’s available. I am sure that some day I shall look at my grown child’s appearance and sigh, “You’d be so handsome/pretty if you’d just do X,” but I hope that I’ll do so inwardly. After all, the goal here is independence, and not the production of a carbon copy of myself or my preferences.

Fetuswise, or: To Train Up A Fetus

In order for your child to grow up to be a balanced, decent adult, you must actively parent that child. Children do not need to be taught bad behavior, but they need considerable direction in order to learn how to be good, truthful, obedient, and well-mannered.* “The child is father of the man,” says Wordsworth, and the infant is father of the child; many experts have recognized the value of training infants to eat and sleep on the parents’ schedule, and do whatever the parent wishes. By strictly controlling every single aspect of your infant’s life, you will therefore ensure that they grow up to be adults who behave precisely as you wish. 

Although there are plenty of resources for parents wishing to train their babies, there is a dearth of materials available for training the pre-born child. I find this gap disturbing; if training a 6-week-old is desirable, how much better to train the child at 6 weeks of gestation? Get them before they’ve had several months of developing terrible habits, and you will be guaranteed a perfectly-behaved child forever. I offer the following short guide to nipping bad behaviors in the bud–that is, in the womb.

Eating

Newborns have a terrible habit of demanding feeding every 2 or 3 hours, and sometimes more frequently. Pediatricians would have you believe that this is because the newborn’s tiny stomach does not allow it to take in sufficient milk to keep it from getting dehydrated or having a low blood sugar level; they’ll say all sorts of things about jaundice, rapid infant development, brain damage, blah, blah, blah. The truth is that the newborn has been spoiled by 9 months of constant feeding-on-demand through the umbilical cord. The only solution is for you to fast several hours so that you aren’t digesting new nutrients until the time that YOU determine the fetus should be fed.**

Potty Training

Likewise, rather than allowing the lazy little thing to constantly pee and drink its own urine, start your potty training promptly, by only drinking twice per day.***

Sleeping

As every new parent knows, infants are born without knowing that they should be active during the day and sleep at night. Indeed, many a pregnant woman has found that her settling down for the night seems to be an invitation to her unborn child to start practicing soccer or MMA. Aside from yelling “Knock it off and go to sleep!” the mother can prevent this mixup by shining a flashlight into her abdomen during the daytime hours, along with screaming continuously to let the kid know that it isn’t sleepy time (except for duly scheduled naps).

Thumb Sucking

Everyone knows what a dangerous habit this is, and it occurs as early as 9 or 10 weeks of gestation. This behavior can be eliminated with permanent ultrasound surveillance of the fetus and some well-timed pokes to the abdomen to encourage the baby to desist from thumb-sucking.****

General

Make sure to talk to your unborn baby every day. You should emphasize that it was conceived in iniquity and is totally depraved and dead in its sins. If the child isn’t born able to recite the Westminster Confession and several volumes of Calvin’s Institutes, you have failed as a parent. Congratulations on your little bundle of wrath!

 

 

*The foregoing is true. The rest of the post is satire. Although I do indeed believe that children should be trained, this training should be loving, age-appropriate, and postnatal.

**This won’t work. Don’t do it. Here’s some guidance from the National Institutes of Health on nutrition and weight gain during pregnancy.

***Really, really don’t do this; dehydration can lead to contractions, improper fetal development, and other bad outcomes.

****If you’re even considering doing something like this, please get help immediately.

Nice Kiddos

I like our kids. I think they’re generally nice and fun to be around (as long as you aren’t trying to get something done that needs focus). Sometimes they’re cranky or mean or disobedient or stubborn; sometimes I very much need to step away from them; but mostly I like being around them.

I’m not saying this to brag about what awesome children I’ve got, or to insist that my superior parenting has made them pleasant people. Most kids aged 2, 4, and 6 who haven’t been mistreated and don’t have major behavioral issues are enjoyable; it is the nature of children to be appealingly cute, fresh, curious, energetic, sincere, and comical. Our family isn’t undergoing the kind of chronic, severe strain that shortens tempers and makes it difficult to connect pleasantly with one another. In other words, I have it easy right now.

Then why write about liking my children?

It is because they are not simply my offspring, but people.

When parents have children, they are inviting new people to live with them. This is hard to realize at first, when the stranger is a squalling blob who drinks milk, sleeps, and poops. And unlike in any other relationship, a child gestated by its mother is both known intimately and unknown until the moment of birth. I knew my children’s active and sleep times, which of my internal organs they preferred to kick, and their favorite stimuli (one loved apples). We talked to them so that they would be born knowing our voices; we printed out ultrasound pictures that were almost as detailed as photographs; and yet each time I went into labor our excitement was that of people anticipating a new and most important meeting. I met each child placed on my chest both with a sense of recognition and unfamiliarity.

The punch-drunk, giddy love I felt with each child is still buried in my heart, like marrow deep inside a bone, but joins other feelings that have taken longer to grow. Living every day with these little people allows annoyances to develop–why does that kid always forget to close the door?–but so develops also the closeness created by shared experiences, tender memories, and taking care of their needs.

And as the kids get older, it is easier to appreciate their unique qualities as individual people. I can say that this one likes to please; this one considers things carefully; this one has great self-confidence. They are all still very young, so I expect much greater character development as they become big kids and then young adults; also, I am not so naive as to imagine that I am an unbiased observer, and my own descriptions are necessarily limited.

I hope that my children will grow into good, wise, loving Christian adults. It is highly probable that at least one will go through one or more phases of being utter pains in the butt. But as they are, right now, they’re pretty nice.

 

Another School Year Begins

Tomorrow is my daughter’s first day of first grade. I have met her teacher, dropped off her supplies, packed her a thoughtfully-chosen, nutritious lunch,* and checked her bus schedule. She’s excited, and so am I; but I’m going to miss having her around.

I worry, of course. Will she be happy at school? Make friends? Make the wrong kind of friends? How strong an influence will her schoolmates and teachers be, and will they be opposing or aiding mine? I have checked the curriculum, and neither the subjects discussed nor the teacher appears to be about to convince her that there is no God and perhaps she’s really a little boy, but I don’t take anything for granted.

Why not homeschool? I’ve discussed the question before, and I still think that at this stage, at least, public school will be better for my daughter than my own homeschooling efforts would be. This may change at middle school, in which the children tend to transform into vicious, crazed hyenas driven mad by puberty, or maybe before then. I’m always reevaluating.

Whether or not we choose to outsource our children’s education to others, the responsibility for seeing to their learning lies with us–and with them, as they grow older. I must be satisfied that my kids will be learning that which is true and useful, that their talents are being cultivated and their weaknesses addressed, and that they are not being corrupted by their environment.

Learning occurs at home, of course. We’ve kept up with numbers and reading, although she hasn’t been able to write much because she broke her elbow in June; at bedtime, I’ve read her some Narnia books, Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, and Treasure Island (which we’re still on). Her younger brother is beginning to be able to sound out a few simple words and can count to 49 without assistance, and the youngest recognizes some of his letters and can count to 13. And all of them have exercised their imaginations over the summer in a way that makes me quite happy, except for the mess invariably created and grudgingly tidied up.

Summer’s done. I will look forward to taking first day of school pictures, and meeting my baby with a kiss at the end of the day. I hope the year is full of great things for her.

*Nutritious except for the chips, which are the only items I can guarantee she’ll eat. By May, lunch will be whatever leftovers I can throw into her box at 6:30 AM, along with maybe a can of sardines or some crackers.

Take Away the Cuteness and See What Remains

Oh, they’re so cute–my 2-year-old “reading” Klaus Mann’s Mephisto to Daddy (he took out the Nazis and added ankylosaurs and ice cream cones), my 6-year-old flitting about the room in her birthday crown and dancing with her new pink narwhal, my 4-year old clinging to me like a baby koala bear while we read a book. Even when they’re naughty, they’re cute–my 2-year-old getting mad and whaling ineffectually on big brother, my 6-year-old grinning and grabbing my clothes, my 4-year-old taking 15 minutes to clear off the table because he gets distracted every 30 seconds and starts playing airplanes.

Therein lies a problem. Someday these adorable creatures won’t be small and cute; they’ll be big enough to cause real damage if they hit, and instead disobeying a small order they could be sneaking out to drink, use drugs, have sex, steal cars, or get into all manner of Big Trouble. Nearly every delinquent was once a cuddly toddler. When evaluating their actions, therefore, I try to imagine them as surly, smelly teenagers instead of precious little poppets. Would their actions be attractive to me then? How would I characterize them? What sort of moral trajectory are they on?

I do not mean to suggest that I actually regard them as teenagers, accountable in the way that teenagers ought to be; a 2-year-old having a temper tantrum over the color of his cup is normal, whereas a 15-year-old melting down over the same issue is not. Children of different ages have different capabilities, and our expectations should be suited to their age.

However, in dealing with adults who don’t seem to know some very basic tenets of morality functioning, I have come to appreciate more deeply that we should be taking little kids’ shortcomings seriously–not gasping with horror every time they lie or call their sibling a chicken-head, but also not letting these things slide. Some day my children will not be cute–they will be adults, and no one will find their misdeeds adorable.

My visions of the future are not all doom and apocalypse. I think my kids have great potential to be wise, kind, and capable; I see it in them when they comfort crying siblings, demonstrate self-control, quickly grasp a difficult concept, share, tell the truth, help me cook. But they are moral beings, which sometimes means that they are immoral, and I respect them by regarding them as such instead of as Pwecious Widdle Pumpkins when they misbehave. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old we will not depart from it.”

Summer Days, Drifting Away

The two older kids are doing Vacation Bible School this week–their only structured “camp” activity this summer. They seem to be enjoying the crafts, the cheesy videos and skits, and the terrible songs that mostly involve having the children yell as loudly as possible. Spiritual boot camp it’s not, but that’s all right because we attend to their religious education at home.

What other Productive Things have we been doing this summer? We’ve been visiting the library and reading lots of books, my middle child’s taking swim lessons, and, uh, that’s about it, unless you count the art projects we’ve done (which included making cow costumes to get free Chik-Fil-A), or the kids’ 4:30 cleanup of the family room. My oldest broke her arm on the monkey bars, so swimming and bicycling is out. We did take them to a farm park one Saturday, and in August we’re going to meet the cow that we’re going to have slaughtered for us. I wondered if it was enough.

I have to remind myself that it is useful for children to occupy themselves in an unstructured way, for I look around and see other parents sending their kids off to camp, to lessons, to cool and educational outings and parties and wonder if I’m Missing Opportunities for Enrichment. Is it really best-practice parenting to allow the children to do whatever (aside from chores)?

Somewhere about the middle of July, I concluded that yes, we’re doing fine. Our “ordinary” days go fast. Every day the kids make another tent or fort, and they spend hours playing at being a mommy, a daddy, and a baby. (All three fight over who gets to be the baby.) The boys run around; the girl reads or tries to write with her left hand; they run over to the neighbors or invite the neighbors over. They’re using their imaginations and creating their own fun, as numerous experts recommend that children do.

The best benefit is that I began to see my oldest regaining some of the closeness with her siblings that had been lost over the school year. Instead of regarding her brothers as mere nuisances and competitors for my attention, she is having fun with them and enjoying their company. There are still intersibling conflicts–of course–but there are also some sweet times of fellowship between them, and that alone makes it worth while to keep our summer schedule fairly clear.

Finally, as I look back on my own childhood, I note that some of my most enduring memories are of summer days running around doing nothin’ in particular with my friends, and lovely summer nights when the air was still warm and we played hide-and-seek as it was finally growing dark. We caught salamanders, watched TV, played Ship in a Storm, pretended to go to the bank, swung on the swingset, purloined my friend’s mother’s makeup, and hunted for treasure that we thought was surely buried somewhere in the neighborhood.

I do not think that parents who give their children lots of structured activities over the summer are doing anything wrong or harmful. Many of the outdoor camps seem to encourage lots of playtime and exploration of dirty nature, which is excellent. But I also think I need not look to others with a sense of inferiority; a summer spent playing Baby is also a good summer.

A Social Faux Pas

I killed the conversation at a neighborhood playdate the other day. One woman started talking about what a big man-child her husband was–never cleans up, can’t make dinner, etc. Another started in on how her house becomes a disaster if she goes out for a few hours, and she has to make sure the meals are lined up because he doesn’t really take care of the kids. I said “Huh. Well, my husband would make a good housewife if he stayed home with the kids…he’s really good at doing lots of things.” Awkward lull. “But it’s a moot point, because I don’t have the skills to do his job…he’s just good at things.”

“That’s nice,” said one of my neighbors. There was silence for a bit. Oops.

This “My husband is soooo incompetent” theme appears often when the neighborhood moms are sitting around together. I haven’t spoken up before because 1) I want my kids to be invited to playdates; 2) it feels a little obscene to boast about my husband’s superiority when everyone else is kvetching about their husbands; 3) these conversations usually aren’t long enough to be really bothersome, and 4) I generally like these women and don’t want to make them uncomfortable; I am either a guest or a host, after all, with the obligations of a guest or host. In this case, I was in another woman’s home, sipping her sparkling water. 

But I was a little tired of hearing the same spiel from women who one and all live in lovely houses and get to buy lots of things and go out to eat, and then spend time trashing the men who were generally out working while we sat around and chatted. And I was glad I’d spoken up, for the second mother eventually said, “You know, I think it is really stressful for [her husband] to have the pressure of being the provider for our family. I mean, he doesn’t talk about it, but he really feels the weight of it, that if something goes wrong at work then it’s a major thing for our family.” I have heard her express respectful appreciation for her husband at other times, and I know that she cheerfully works at home doing a superb job housekeeping, getting the yardwork done, and bringing in extra income by running an in-home daycare. It was rather surprising to hear her join in the complaining, and she quickly stopped when called out on it.

Women who get together enjoy sharing commonalities of experience. Some of this sharing takes the form of complaining–about the crazy neighbors who like to stick their noses into everyone’s business, about the ridiculous school schedule, about demanding little children not allowing Mommy a moment’s piece. We bond over complaining.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The women at my church group may complain about, say, a hard week with sick children or other difficult circumstances, but they don’t direct their complaints toward their family, and especially not toward their husbands. What I don’t know how to do is to change the culture in my neighborhood. I don’t really want to be a killjoy, nor do I want to pose as superior to the other neighborhood women–God knows I have many faults. I don’t want to tear down my neighbors–male or female. They’re nice folks, and they provide good homes for their children and raise them well and carefully. 

Probably a better way to have redirected the conversation would have been to say something complimentary about the other men. “Well, I love what ‘Bob’ has done with your landscaping,” or “‘Rich’ is so good with the kids.” In this way I would have been signaling that I’d rather hear nice things about them, and wouldn’t have appeared to be bragging.

Well, we’ll see what happens at the next playdate–if I’m invited, that is.

Everybody’s a Critic

I have concluded that a critical scholar of literature is someone who takes a juicy, delicious work of literature, crams it into the grinder of her own prejudices, and squeezes out indigestible and unrecognizable rolls of sausage flavored with dull jargon and the filler of other scholars’ work. (I was an English major in college.) I don’t read or watch material and then crank out essays on feminist post-structuralist social interactionism of what I consume, but I have become a critic, and a very narrow-minded, censorial one at that; think Hays board at their most enthusiastic suppression of boobs, blood, and bad language.

This is, of course, the timeworn transformation of a childless person into a parent who must decide what to let his child watch or read. We’re responsible for the small people forming in our household, and as I have already explained I am a stout supporter of thoroughly indoctrinating little children before they’re old enough to make up their own minds; something’s going to go into those brains, so it’d better be stuff I approve of while I have the power to act as Media Gatekeeper.

But perhaps “approve of” isn’t precisely the right phrase; “tolerate” might be better. My daughter just picked a free book from the library, and I allowed her to select Barbie: I Can Be a Cheerleader even though I think it’s insipid drivel and a waste of pulp, ink, and shelf space. For though I cheerfully admit that her father and I are the dictators of our household, we try to be intelligent dictators, and intelligent dictators don’t manage every aspect of their subjects’ lives. We all know people whose parents’ overzealous strictness contributed to them making stupid, harmful decisions once old enough to escape their home.

Not everything is tolerable. I will not allow my children to read I Am Jazz, or Heather Has Two Mommies, or nonchristian children’s religious books. I will limit material that promotes “You go grrrrl” ideas, as well as books in which boys (especially fathers) are depicted as buffoons needing to be led by wise, strong females. I will not permit books or shows in which the main characters are snarky, disrespectful children. But up to a certain point, de gustibus non est disputandum, and my children are not me. I certainly read and enjoyed plenty of crap as a child, and given that my favorite reading nowadays is usually mystery or fantasy I’m in no position to insist upon only Good Literature. (For an excellent rebuttal, however, see this post.)

But Good Literature there must be, and good television as well. It is useless to forbid that which is bad without providing that which is good, for forming positive ideas is a much better defense against negative ideas than forever saying “no.” And so I am a literary critic, and a teacher, and a librarian choosing which books to stock, and media curator putting on “What’s Opera Doc” (which I bitterly regretted for several days afterward, when the boys would chant “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit” in unison) while wondering how harmful Woody Woodpecker might be. Picking good things to read or watch isn’t merely a matter of reinforcing good morals, but also good storytelling; good characterization; interesting plots and beautiful word arrangements.

The first Good Books I was introduced to were those my parents read to me–Treasure Island, the Baum Oz books, Beatrix Potter and A.A. Milne; P.D. Eastman and Dr. Seuss picture books, nursery rhymes and illustrated Longfellow verse, and a million other stories and poems. It is a delight to be able to share these treats with my children, and as I do my new critical work tends to be a series of short, simple questions: Would you like to read a book about some children who go through a magic wardrobe? What did you think of this story? Which character did you like the best? Did you agree with the author when he said this? What do you think will happen next? Really? I am not sure I agree; can you tell me why you think so?

Truthfully, I think it’s some of the most useful criticism I’ve done, and I’d trade just about any essay I wrote on Chaucer or Pope for my discussions with my children. But then I think: That is unfair. For I come to the task of reading and selecting things for my children with my own experiences behind me, and taste formed in part by the teachers who gave me books to read and then asked me to consider them. As negatively as I characterized the work of criticism at the beginning of my post, amid all the pretentious words and dull hunts for symbols my teachers were asking me to pay good books the respect they deserve by causing me to dwell upon them, and to ask me why they were good. This is worthy, and I am only now beginning to appreciate why.

 

Birthday Blues (My Favorite Color)

My mother always gets depressed around her birthday. This seems to be a common adult reaction, and after a certain point our birthday may serve to remind us that we have increasing frailty, infirmity, and death to look forward to. Counting off another year might also remind us of how much we haven’t done, or that we’re not where we’ve hoped to be.

Children, however, love birthdays. Presents! Cake! Balloons! And they’re a WHOLE YEAR OLDER! They can expect new capabilities and freedoms with each birthday; getting older means increased strength and possibility, not diminishment. A child who doesn’t look forward to his birthday is a sad creature indeed.

As an adult, I have always enjoyed my birthday; it still feels like an achievement to have completed another year and be about to embark on a new one, even though I don’t really accomplish anything merely by existing. On the whole, however, I quite like existing, and it’s nice to remember that I’ve gotten to do so for 37 years as of today. I still get presents, visits and calls from relatives, and a dinner out, and I made myself a nice cake with lots of almonds but no frosting, just the way I like. My daughter made me a lovely paper crown with 37 hand-drawn candles. I am a queen for today, and being the sort of queen that’s got to marinate the chicken, wipe down the countertops, and clean up the family room is actually very pleasant.

I’ll never be a child again, with a child’s wholehearted excitement at the promise of Goodies and Parties to Come. It’s a delight to witness, and makes my children’s birthdays more fun than my own; but children manage to add a special savor to my birthday when they excitedly tape Post-It notes to the walls as “decorations” and try to invite the neighbors over.

Circumstantial happiness is fragile. I have no guarantee of happiness tomorrow, let alone on my next birthday. But for now, I am content and grateful for the many good things in my life, and for the family that loves me–especially on the day I mark the passing of another year.