Yup, there’s a problem. And it’s not that our government is slashing funding to NASA, so I had to see ads for Guitar Center before I got my mission control update at the Houston Space Center today (although that did disturb me).
The problem is that there are two wildly different versions about what happened here in Houston today. I’ll share them both, and then you can weigh in.
My Version: I saved up frequent flyer miles to visit a dear friend in Texas. Zach has adored this friend’s daughter since they were both very young. (Remember the kissing incident?) They spend time with us every summer, and we were excited to see them.
While here, we planned a trip to the Space Center and Children’s Museum, and I planned to homeschool one morning. Ezra is home with Dad, painting the bee hive, attending swim camp, and getting lots of “special time” with Daddy.
Interpretation: I am a responsible mother who takes every opportunity to shape and teach her children.
My Father’s Version, Via Email To My Sisters: In case you didn’t know, Tara is taking her kids on a play date in Houston. I talked to her in the airport in Denver. Zachary was in the bar checking on a basketball score. I am not making this up.
He wrote me to ask: How does my grandson know to check scores in a bar?
Interpretation: My daughter is out of touch with reality and raising her kids to be jet-setting, sports-obsessed, winos.
I have to admit that after I laughed really hard, my Dad’s note did give me pause. Not because he was being critical; he wasn’t. Instead, I realized again how different my lifestyle is than that of my parents.
It’s not that we never took trips when I was a kid. We did.
In our station wagon.
That was primarily because even those trips were a financial luxury. But it was also because I grew up in a time and in a community that did not view exposing its children to every possible enrichment experience as a requirement of parenting. Many of my friends’ parents had never been to college and virtually none had been out of the country unless they were in the service. My Dad was an outlier in our community because he taught us how to play chess and woke us up in the middle of the night to look at the stars. Still, it was not in the realm of possibilities for him take one of us out of the state to hang out with a friend for a couple of days.
Instead, we stayed home and mowed the lawn and baked zucchini bread and watched a lot of TV — together.
We ate dinner together, went to each other’s activities together. (Because each kid only had one activity, the rest of us were free to attend.) And we took long trips in our station wagon to see family. We didn’t go on a real vacation until I was in high school, but we spent a lot of time together.
We didn’t need “special time” with our parents because all we had was time with our parents. They came home from work at five-thirty each night and spent their evenings with us. Some years, they were on a bowling league one night a week, but for the most part we were home together. When they could afford to go to the movies, we often went with them – in our pajamas in, you guessed it, the back of the wagon. I’m sure they must have occasionally hired a babysitter, but I don’t remember one.
I think I would go nuts with that kind of life now. But I also understand how my father can see our lives as somewhat alien. And I’m not so blind that I don’t see the cost we pay for our lifestyle. The rushing from place to place, the lack of predictability, and the fact that so much of our lives are remarkable and therefore so little is remarkable. I lament that my kids will never know the slower life I had as a kid.
But I’m not willing to go back to it either. I like eating Chinese food in China, and speaking Spanish with my kids in Costa Rica. So for now, I live with some tension. A great deal of tension, really.
(I’ve been trying to think of how to end this post for a good five minutes now, and realized that I can’t because I am still so unclear about what I’m trying to say. So I’ll just stop here and invite you to share some of your own struggles over how you parent or live in ways that are different from aspects of your childhood that you still value.)