I have been learning lessons from my son, re-adjusting my perceptions, so that instead of anxious about his antics, they can bring me a sense of calm. My shoulders used to bunch together-muscles knotting into a clenched fist-whenever I heard the crash of a toy bin being upended; all I could envision was the potential mess. I used to take a few unsteady steps backward, an uneasy retreat, when I caught a glimpse of a mud-caked Finn running at me; all I could see was the clean-up. I used to escape from the room when Finn turned on his music, quickly distancing myself from the noise, as he started to screech and gyrate his body wildly to the tune; I could only imagine the impending headache. But all this has changed, well, mostly. He hasn’t stopped doing these things; rather my reactions have slowly been altered.
Those that haven’t tried being a stay at home parent for any length of time are completely clueless-yes I said it-but all those that have will tell you-if you have the ears to listen; it is fucking hard. And if you have heard your spouse or friend utter these words, than feel glad, for those that find it hard are those that are putting out the most effort. It is less difficult when I choose to let the television, or the iPhone, or any other electronic device do the minding –and there are times when this is an absolutely necessity to prevent murder or suicide-but I have resolved to search for other ways to engage, less passive paths to entertain, and a more tactile method to educate.
Every day Finn insists on playing the same games, implores me to push around the same toys, and asserts that we should converse with the same dinosaurs; it seems that consistency rather than variety is the spice in his life. I try to bask in the glow created by the mutual experience, enjoy the togetherness, no matter what the activity. But there are times that I need to avoid situations that are so mind-numbing, that they make me pray for some alone time, so that I can bang my head against a concrete wall.
It is a challenge to get him to try new things, and occasionally the tantrums these suggestions elicit make me feel like the exercise wasn’t worth the headache. But I find that the more inventive I get, the greater the chances are that he will react differently, and the more likely he is to add a fresh line of dialogue to Tyrannosaurus’s lips. I feel triumphant if we make it through a full day without television, euphoric if I’ve managed to coerce him to go outside for a couple of hours before dinner. I find that the lower my expectations are, the greater the mental rewards, and the better I feel at the end of the day.
So out of this came an epiphany of sorts, one that forced a re-interpretation of the facts. At the age of three if he is creating a mess-he is learning; if he is covered in mud- he has been engaged heavily in outdoor play; and if he is screeching-he is interacting with the music. These are all things that he should be doing, things that he needs to be doing, if I want those neurons in his head to be firing effectively. And so I muster as much enthusiasm as I can harness, and help him dump toy bins on the floor; dress myself in clothes that are ratty and worn so that I can join him in the dirt; and I have even learned to let go of my own inhibitions about my inability to sing, and belt out an out-of-tune lyric: because it is these things that are truly essential to his growth.
I have learned to embrace the chaos; learned to love the mess.
But I draw the line at finger-painting with feces. We use chocolate pudding.