It is spring here in the Midwest, and I keep telling myself that April showers (and hail, ice, snow, thunder and lightening) WILL bring in some May flowers. Soon. Maybe at the very end of May. I hope.
However, this post is not about our wacky Spring weather. It’s about my older son, H. I post about him a lot. He is my first real live “child of my own” experiment. This may sound weird – an experiment? Partly this is because I have worked with a lot of children. And my real life job is to learn about children. When I was a teacher, I never thought of my students as experiments. I was involved in their lives at school and sometimes their lives outside of school, but my role was to be one of their many partners in learning. I was not the center of their universe and they were not the absolute center of mine.
When it is your own child, they truly are at the center of everything. All other persons and roles are shifted and renegotiated. To me, no matter if they spring from your own body, or they come to you as a precious gift from another mother through adoption, when you have a child, they truly are your greatest experiment. The younger they are, the more they see you (the parent), as the center of their world. Everything that they experience – a caress, a laugh – is in reference to you and to them and the interaction between you. It is magical, and exhausting. It is frankly the most amazing relationship I have ever had in my life.
As kids get a bit older, this referential circle grows to include others: grandmas and grandpas, aunties and uncles, friends, teachers, schoolmates, and so forth. But mostly, until about age 5 or 6, and the start of formal schooling, the reference point for understanding the world is the home and the family. So, how does this relate to April showers?
This week, H decided he wanted to start taking a shower by himself before bed rather than a bath with his little brother, N. Bathtime is a ritual in our house. After dinner it is straight up the stairs and into the bath for a good 30 minutes of play and chatter. My husband and I invariably end up sitting in there too, not only to supervise and prevent drowning, but also to talk with the kids about their days, ask them repeatedly not to splash water out of the tub, and simply be as a family unit. All four of us, in the bathroom, with bubbles.
So when H asked the first time to take a shower instead of a bath, I thought, sure, why not. And he took a shower. Then he did the same again last night. D, my husband, was bouncing back and forth between the shower in our bathroom and the tub in the boy’s bathroom. It was weird. It was disconcerting. It was change.
Now, if you know me, you know that I am not a fan of change. I am pretty much one of those people that would put my kids in ageless bubbles if I could. (I cried when the kindergarten registration letter came for H – how could my baby be 5?). Then again, I really love each new stage of development that they go through (and sometimes they double and triple back and go through again. Example: tantrums). I know that their growth and development as human beings is an experiment and that change tells me that things are happening and I do get excited about this too. It doesn’t make it any less hard, though, to let go of the things that used to be so central, and let them reset their reference points.
In the car this morning, I asked H why he had decided to start taking showers. He thought about it for a while. “It gives me room to think”, he said. “Do you want to tell me what you think about?”, I asked. He was quiet again, and then said, “Star Wars. Maybe I can take a bath again tonight with N”. "Sure," I said, and tried not to burst into tears as we pulled into the preschool parking lot. If he can just grow up slowly, I think I can keep pace.
So what did I learn from children on this one?
My children may be my greatest experiments, but more than that they are their own greatest experiments. And as a parent, it is my job to give them as much room as they need to form their own reference points for the future. That being said, if you hear of anybody selling anti-aging kid bubbles…