Choosing my battles
I get a good night sleep maybe one in three nights, I’m the size of the average car parked on our street, and Louis, my 18-month-old, is going through a phase (please God, let it be a phase) of exercising his will.
But things could be worse.
Louis was yelling ‘no’ while I took this photo. Louis is yelling ‘no’ most of the time, in fact. Even when he means yes. Actually had this conversation earlier:
Me: I have a treat for you. Would you like a treat?
Me: Oh yes you will.
I then blew up a balloon for him to play with – and he did, happily, till it popped. He copes with this better than I ever did. I hate popping balloons. Even now, if a popping balloon is predictable I tense up. It’s ridiculous. Anyway, I then asked Louis if he’d like another one. No!
A minute later he’s standing, pulling out the desk drawer where the balloons live. I’m trying to teach him to nod, or say ‘yes’ or ‘yeah’ or ‘oui’. We almost had a ‘oui’ going on the weekend. But today it’s all ‘No!’
The thing is, I usually know what he means. But I really don’t want to cultivate a mum/baby dialogue that in unintelligible to the rest of the world. So I battle on.
Parenting does seem to be accompanied by the constant question, ‘is this worth it?’ Basically, I’m choosing to fight the battle for actual communication.
It’s not limited to parenting though. All of life, you could say, is a matter of choosing your battles.
I find a lot of my battle-choices are influenced by ideas of duty or what I ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do. Problem is, a lot of these ‘shoulds’ are just plain dumb. They’re a kind of suffocating guilt that can really squeeze the joy and possibility out of life.
I’ve heard of Catholic Guilt, even Jewish Guilt, but do they have Baptist guilt? Brethren Guilt? Interdenominational Guilt? Perhaps I am suffering from a case of good protestant upbringing and pioneer forbears.
From the forbears, perhaps, I get the constant need to feel productive, to have something to show for myself. I like the work ethic, I do, but the naughtiness I feel when I relax and rest, that I could do without.
From the years of sunday school and youth group I have the morals of a thousand stories vying for top billing in my brain. I like the moral compass, I do, but something similar to intellectual integrity demands I accept the world in all its shades of grey, no matter how much better, and in-control, I might feel to label things ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
I read books and articles, advising me on topics of interest: writing, parenting, education, consumerism, marketing, publishing, health and food. Many of these motivate me into better habits, which are great, but I have to be careful that they don’t give me a whole lot of new ‘shoulds’.
I’ve just read ‘Bringing up Bebe’, by Pamela Druckerman. This is a book about French parenting, written by an expat American in Paris. Living in France myself, this is particularly interesting. Luuk read it as well and we’ve since been trying out some of the philosophies and principals, as you do. A lot of the ideas really resonate but one of the things I really like is the observation that French parents are a little less stressed and neurotic about being good parents. Meanwhile, they’re strict and consistent about the few things that are really important. And that’s hard work at the outset. Later, once Louis is used to the boundaries and rhythms of life, it’ll be easier for all of us. Setting up boundaries in the first place, repeating rhythms daily so that they become habits, this is the hard part. But it’s a battle I choose to fight.
Battles I choose not to fight include…
– No TV till they’re three: There’s just no way. I’m not saying it’s good for him. It might even be bad for him. But so are stressed out parents with huge guilt complexes. In small to medium doses, it won’t do him serious harm. I even read somewhere (in ‘Bringing up Bebe’) that watching TV gives him a shared culture with other children and therefore helps socially. I can vouch for this – didn’t have a TV for several years and was always on the out when people started talking about that guy on Project Runway.
– Finishing ‘Sometimes a great Notion’, by Ken Kesey. Luuk loves and recommends this book with gusto. I started reading it last year. I mistakenly feel that I ‘should’ finish a book once I start it. What a load of rubbish. The narrative style really bugs me and I have no interest in any of the characters. Done. Dusted. Back on the shelf. (In fact, it’s in a box, in storage, in NZ. Take that.)
– Perfect housekeeping. Different strokes for different folks, but this is just not a priority in our family. Neither Luuk or I pick up after ourselves with rigor or discipline. If I took on the task of keeping our house to show-home standard I would forever be tidying/cleaning, and would quickly come to resent Luuk, and probably our kid (soon to be kids), for every mis-placed item. Recently, while sweeping the floor, I noticed that a lot of what was in the shovel was Luuk’s hair. For some reason this annoyed me! Silly, I know – he’s not pulling it out on purpose. But if I take housework any more seriously than I already do, I fear for the tranquility of our home and marriage. Priorities!
Worth the battle, on the other hand…
– A bit of childproofing; a bit of learning not to touch. We (read: Luuk, mostly) installed some child-proofing on the desk drawers on Saturday. Louis can reach and yank on these so we’ve left them empty or put some of his toys in them. But our apartment isn’t great on storage space (except, strangely, in the toilet room) and we need a couple of these drawers to keep the clutter under control. I was torn about whether or not to use child-proofing or just teach Louis what he was and was not allowed to touch.
The drawers, we’ve decided, can be child proofed. But he is just going to have to learn that the third shelf on the book case, which he can now reach with ease, is a no-go zone. The books and DVDs will stay right there, thank you very much. There are quite a few places that Louis can reach now. In many of these we continue to keep things he is not allowed to touch. Most of the time he seems to understand what he’s not allowed. When he touches these things I’m pretty sure he’s trying to be naughty – he’s angry or frustrated at the time and seeks revenge.
– Regular journaling. This, I find, is very good for my sanity, as well as my creativity. I have kept a journal, on and of, for a long time, but ever since reading ‘The Artist’s Way’ I have approached journaling as a kind of sacred ritual – to drop the habit would stifle my creativity, and by extension my very existence.
It is a battle to remember (I won’t even play the baby brain card cause I’m forgetful regardless). It’s a battle to do it when I’d rather just scroll through Pinterest (usually the case). And it’s a battle and half if Louis is awake, trying to grab my pen, but I choose to fight for journaling nonetheless. Part of winning this battle has been choosing not to journal on the weekends, unless I want to. And I don’t feel guilty for not journaling (because sometimes, of course, it just doesn’t happen) but I mean to do it every day.
It’s probably good not to have too many bottom lines, too many absolutes, because those are the things we tend to get guilt-complexes about. My marriage, my family, and friends, these are of course high priorities, but so is protecting myself from feeling undue obligations – these are not only bad for me, but poison the relationships.