IT WAS ONLY seven years ago but it may as well have been a lifetime. Ms. Sensational was deep in labor, hours away from giving birth to Miss Sensational I. We were finally heading to the hospital, and as we left I grabbed a backpack full of books I’d prepared a few days earlier.
Ms. Sensational and I, assuming we survived the great unknown of childbirth, were slated to be home together for the next several months, and I figured it’d be a perfect time to catch up on reading. But seven years later I think those books are still collecting dust in a backpack, long forgotten in a dark corner of Sensational Manor.
It was at the instant Miss Sensational I emerged into the world that my visions of studious days with a silent, agreeable infant in tow were put to rest. Instead, Ms. Sensational and I began a seven year odyssey of 24/7 responsibility for the needs, wants, caprices, and peculiarities of another human being, regardless of one’s own moods, feelings, condition, or state.
It’s been a grueling seven years, yet as draining as they’ve been I somehow feel like a more complete person than I did before they started. Do I have the same freedom of movement and impulse that I enjoyed prior to the kids joining Team Sensational? Hell no. But I have a focus that makes that “freedom” feel hollow and empty in comparison.
At my worst and lowest points though, even with this focus in mind, I do catch myself getting hung up on that lack of superficial freedom, grasping at the hollowness and trying to hold on to something that isn’t there. Still at my best, I’m able to clear my thoughts and stand on the firm footing that Ms. Sensational and I’ve created between the two of us, realizing the fullness of an existence that moves past “I” and enters into “we.”
But enough of that serious crap! Time for tales of amusing hijinks!
In a world flooded with communications on parenting, Ms. Sensational has lately been encouraging me to throw my own hat into the ring. In a sense, I figure why bother? What could I possibly have to say that hasn’t been said more comprehensively or authoritatively elsewhere? Then again, maybe that’s why I SHOULD bother. There are a lot of folks out there with rules, formulas, and theorems in regards to being a parent. Why not speak up for the anarchic eccentrics among us?
For those who don’t already know, I’m a full-time “homemaker.” While Ms. S funds Team Sensational by touring the Joshi circuit and delivering German suplexes, I’m at home wrestling a broom. But, unlike Ric Flair, I’m not having any five star matches with it.
As such, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time with our kids over these seven years, one-on-one with Miss Sensational I at first, then two-on-one three years later when Miss Sensational II joined the fold.
From the outset of parenting, I really had a single principle in mind. I wanted to avoid unnecessary conflict. This wasn’t based on something I read in a parenting book or heard as advice from others, and it wasn’t even that concrete or mapped-out of a goal, it was just something lurking vaguely at the back of my thoughts.
I was a well-behaved little kid, so the conflicts I got into with my parents or other adult figures tended to stem from what, in retrospect, appear to have been gratuitous power struggles, and believe me, I understand. When confronted by a loud, whining, nagging, demanding creature (and even the best behaved children are this at times), one often feels the need to try and exert control. I certainly can and have brow-beaten with the best of them, but when I find myself in a yelling match with the kids or trying to exert legalistic rules and regulations (barring those involving the safety of life and limb), I start to realize that I’m as out of control as my children are, and our collision of wills results in a frenzy that serves no one.
And so as the years pass, I’ve learned to go with the flow and “be like water” to use an old Kung-Fu cliche. Most of the time children seem to know what they need, and to fight against this is futile. So if you want to wear polka dots with stripes, knock yourself out. If you want to wear shorts and no shoes or socks on a bitterly cold, Berkeley afternoon, be my guest. Don’t want to eat? Well, so long as you’ve at least had the food put in front of you, the choice is yours. Insist on sleeping in the same bed as your mother and I until you’re five years old, or have your father wear you in a sling all day until you’re one? Well, I could glower and say “no,” because I’m the parent and I said so, but ultimately I know the truth: that I’m the parent, therefore it’s my responsibility to take you seriously.
I’m not talking about turning children into overindulged monsters. Many people seem to fear the notion of “giving the child the power” and that a lack of constant limitations and strictures will result in an over-sugared, over-televisioned, wretched infa-beast who won’t get into college. What I’m talking about, and struggling with myself as a parent, is an approach to family life that turns its back on power.
When I’m doing my part to parent my children I’m not running a business, nor a political organization, nor a social club, nor a classroom, nor any other type of institutional setting where power and hierarchical structures are almost always inevitable. What I am doing is doing what little I can to facilitate the growth of a human being, a human being who came into this world as a direct result of the relationship between Ms. Sensational and myself.
Would it be easier to have a puppet that I could control? Or a pet that was obedient? Of course it would. But it certainly wouldn’t be as fulfilling, I don’t think, as watching a human being grow before my eyes, giving it the room it needs to do so, and being challenged by this human being–sometimes in the most unbearable of ways–to change and grow my own understanding of what it means to be human.
So yeah, Miss Sensational I and II have both experienced a rather feral existence growing up. No one is pressured to get dressed in the morning unless there’s a compelling reason to do so. Some days they’ve sat around doing nothing but watching TV for hours on end. They haven’t been bullied or cajoled about toilet training and the like (and yet both have managed to leap that and similar hurdles), there have been desserts eaten without eating dinner first, and so on and so forth.
And to be honest, sometimes I fear I HAVE had a hand in creating a pair of little monsters. Miss Sensational II, in particular, is the scariest of the bunch. The other day at the breakfast table she got incensed at me for some now forgotten transgression, and, with a twinkle in her eye, announced: “I’m going to till you.”
“Say what?” I asked.
“I’m going to till you.” she repeated. “Actually, I’m not going to till you, because I don’t have a gun. But if I had a gun or a knife, I’d till you.”
Then later that same morning, when driving both kids to drop Miss Sensational I off at her elementary school, I was confronted by a sudden yellow light and instinctively slammed on the brakes rather than gunning through. As the car lurched to a stop, the small, rasping voice of Miss Sensational II came from the back seat.
“What the fuck?” she asked, incredulous at the lurching.
Now before anyone jumps to conclusions, despite a strange penchant on my part for combat sports and entertainment, the Sensational Household is a decidedly non-violent, if not non-physical environment. I’ve never even played sports, much less engaged in physical confrontations with others. Honestly, there’s only been one person who, face to face, has made me want to roundhouse kick them to the head in the last seven years, and of course I denied that impulse. We don’t own firearms nor spend a great deal of time discussing them, and the only knives on hand see most of their action chopping vegetables.
As for the cursing? Well, Ms. Sensational DOES swear a lot, so I’ll chalk that up to her.
In any case, it could be said that these outrageous statements come directly from my lack of discipline with the children. They should cower in so much fear and respect before me that they’d never think of saying such things! I’ve given them the power! The child is controlling the parent! I should devour them like Cronus did his children (though we all know how that turned out)! Etc.
Similarly, while Miss Sensational I isn’t prone to quite such statements of violence as her sister, she definitely has a vivid and dramatic imagination when it comes to foreboding scenarios of doom and gloom.
A few days ago I was letting her watch TV after school, and a commercial for ADT Home Security Systems came on. The commercial centered around a vignette where a mother and her daughter arrive home in the midst of a burglary, the pitch being that the emotional/psychic damage done by witnessing a burglar in their home was worse than the material damage from the burglary itself, and that an ADT security system could have prevented it.
Miss Sensational I watched the commercial in all seriousness, then announced to me, “The man broke into their house to get revenge on the daughter.”
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“He smashed the picture frame that had the daughter’s picture in it.” She answered. “He was sending them a message.”
True enough, the commercial had featured a closeup shot of a cracked picture frame with the daughter’s picture inside.
“That’s one of the ways you can get revenge.” She assured me.
Again, you could say that due to my lax attitude when it comes to censoring what she sees I’ve helped raise a child who, at seven years old, already harbors notions of revenge and other sordid acts. If Miss Sensational I is interested in watching or reading something, I generally let her have at it within reason, so if I’d more tightly regulated her consumption to age appropriate material she might’ve stuck with skipping and picking flowers (though to be fair, she DOES skip and pick flowers in between detailing cold-blooded revenge schemes).
However you could also say these children have been given the space to explore themselves, to think about thinking, to try out death threats and to consider revenge fantasies without fear of shame or reprisal.
I can also tell you that in addition to the threats and curses, I have a four year old daughter in Miss Sensational II who takes it upon herself to investigate why airplanes have landing gear, who builds mathematical pattern sculptures with her shoes in her bedroom, who decorates our home with her own artwork (whether we want her to or not), and who volunteers to set the dinner table without ever having been asked to do so.
Similarly, alongside her knowledge of and occasional preoccupation with morbid and sordid affairs, I have a seven year old daughter in Miss Sensational I who spends hours at a time quietly reading young adult novels, who writes her own comic books about her fears of the school “lunch lady,” who recently during a 3.5 mile walk around a local lake talked to me nonstop about her theories regarding why one has physical sensations during a dream state, and who staved off having to get an MRI after suffering a seizure when she was three due to telling her UCSF neurologist that, “I’m not happy with my situation.”
But, much more importantly, I have two daughters who love one another and both of their parents with a rare ferocity. I truly feel more connected to them than I have with anyone other than Ms. Sensational. It’s like each child is an extension of myself, and I of them, and them of their mother and so forth.
I’d like to think that this connection is possible in part due to a lack of self-imposed barriers. Then again, it could all be a delusion and I could be raising Tomorrow’s Sociopaths Today. Who knows.
In the meantime I’ll be looking forward to a cozy Fall season here at Sensational Manor, trying to remember not to lose it with these fools, and continuing to try giving them the space they need to grow. I only hope they’ll take pity on an old man years from now when the roles are reversed. If not, I guess I can always smash a picture frame.