When Your Child Loves What You Love

I’m not really a baby person. When my husband and I decided to have a child, I’m sure he was looking forward to having a baby. He loves babies. Babies smile when they see him make a goofy face. When I make a face at babies, their reaction often ranges from suspicion to terror. Maybe just as animals can smell fear, babies can tell when you’re feigning interest.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t dislike babies. I just don’t usually give them a second look when I encounter them in restaurants or stores. And it always surprised me when others seemed interested in my baby. Being fairly introverted, I was always a little put off when I went out in public with my own baby boy and found that, for most people, babies are like a magnet. Toting a baby around already makes every task take longer, and when you add nice little old ladies who miss their grandchildren to the mix, that quick run to the store to buy milk can turn into an excursion for which you should have brought snacks. Most of those strangers mean well, though occasionally you get someone who makes some thoughtless, slightly insulting comment.

Beyond just not quite getting it when people fawned over someone else’s baby, I found that having a baby is just plain hard work, physically and emotionally. You don’t quite understand the depth of the physical exhaustion of never sleeping the night through for years at a time until you’ve done it, nor do you realize just how terrible of a person you are without sleep until you’ve gone without for too many nights in a row. Plus, like many new mothers, I experienced some level of post-partum depression which, again, you can’t quite understand until you’ve been there. I felt bad about myself for at least a year, which was an entirely new experience for someone who was self-confident to a fault up until then.

Anyway, all this to say that I didn’t grieve as my baby grew into a toddler who grew into a little boy. Each new skill he learned was a relief: Excellent! Now he can walk without me worrying about him falling over and cracking his head on the coffee table! Great! Now I can eat my own meal because he can eat his! Fabulous! Now he can let the dog out and go get me that pen from across the room!

I like having a kid more than I liked having a baby. Every year gets more fun as my husband and I get to watch our boy grow into a smart, silly little guy who makes jokes that actually make sense and informs me as I’m coming downstairs to make his lunch that he already did it.

And one of the very best things about having a kid is introducing him to all the stuff we liked as kids. Books, movies, TV shows, restaurants, toys, museums, beaches, and even entire cities. When everything you love is new to your child, you get to experience it like the first time again. You get to rediscover the emotional weight of your own childhood over again. And lucky for the both of us, that means good memories because we were blessed with good childhoods.

Zach has been excited to play old video games on the Apple 2C computer he still has (with all the big 5 1/2 inch floppy disks that still work after more than 30 years!) and read his favorite series of books, The Great Brain, with our son. He’s introduced him to Gordon Korman books, Voltron, model rockets, model trains, and Pac Man. Together they’ve built things out of wood and repaired things around the house. I’ve been excited to take the boy out to collect rocks, work in the garden, examine insects, and walk in the woods. We watch nature documentaries together and pick up feathers and press autumn leaves. Recently the boy helped paint a bathroom and decorate for Christmas. He loves to cook with both mom and dad. He thinks the movies his parents watched as kids are just as hilarious as they think they are.

One of the things I’ve been waiting to share with my son is my love for the book Watership Down by Richard Adams. I first saw the animated adaptation when I was about his age. I read the book for the first time soon thereafter and read it at least once a year for the entirety of my childhood and a few times as a college student and an adult. I also listened to an audio book of it many times and watched the film again and again, despite the fact that it leaves so much out. Simply put, I was big fan. But the animated movie is really bloody and the book is quite long, so I’ve been holding off introducing my nightmare-prone seven-year-old to it.

Until this week. I had a hankering to read it again myself. I glanced through and saw that the chapters themselves, while there are many, are fairly short. I knew I’d have lots of terms, both in English and in the rabbits’ own language, to explain. I knew the very British style and sentence structure might take some getting used to for him (I’m sure I learned more about language and expanded my own vocabulary immensely just from my repeated readings of this one book). But ready or not, I wanted to get him as hooked as I was.

I gave him a general idea of the content — an adventure story of a group of rabbits that must leave their warren to find a new home, encountering many dangers along the way — and explained that the story could be violent at times.

“That’s okay,” he said. “I’m okay with violence.”

[Pause for mother to be slightly concerned and mentally review all the shows he watches that might be considered violent…Realize it’s all comic-book violence with no blood and no death shown on screen…Feel a little better…Realize that Watership Down may be the most real violence he’s encountered thus far in his life…Remember that he and his father are reading through Judges right now and feel much better about it because this is just rabbits, not people, and it didn’t actually happen…]

See, these are the kinds of taxing want-to-do-things-right-and-not-mess-up-my-kid-for-life thoughts one has as the parent of a seven-year-old.

At any rate, we read the first three chapters last night. And just as I had been as a child who loved to imagine I was various animals, the boy was hooked and has already identified with one of the rabbits: Blackberry. At this point in the story, the reader knows almost nothing about him beyond the fact that he has black-tipped ears. We find out later that he is the most clever rabbit in the group. But it only took one or two sentences featuring him for my son to declare, “I’m Blackberry.”

“You know,” I said, “when I was a kid, Blackberry was my favorite too.”

I put down the book and left the room to get my guitar for his bedtime songs (three every night). When I returned, he was a rabbit. Just as I had once been. And I can remember how it felt to be a rabbit. Timid and nervous and wiggly. Then powerful and swift.

And always a little magical.

What I Learned from a Chatty Iraqi Woman at the Park

Yesterday I met a woman from Iraq at an area playground. A teacher, she was there with a number of young girls and two other teachers. She has lived in the US for 6 years, coming here with her two young daughters after her husband was killed in the war. She was much more talkative than any other Muslim woman I’ve ever encountered, and I probably see Muslim women every other day in the Greater Lansing Area. It may be because she had been living in the US for so long and spoke such good English that there was no language barrier. We talked for perhaps twenty minutes, and in that short time frame she shared a number of interesting things with me.

First, she was compelled by one of her charges to go down a slide. Afterward, she came back to our bench and said, “I probably shouldn’t have done that. I may hurt my baby.” She shared that she was two months pregnant and that in Iraq, when a woman is pregnant, she basically does nothing but sit around all day. “We are afraid that the glue that holds the baby in will come loose. But American women do everything–they work, they run.” I told her that it was my understanding that as long as you had a normal healthy pregnancy, nothing much was forbidden by American doctors except flying in the last month of your term. She said her husband, who has lived in America for 18 years, told her the same thing. “He says, ‘Get out of the house. American women do not just sit around when they are pregnant.'”

Second, she said that her daughters, now both in high school, live with their grandmother rather than her and her new husband. He had proposed to her not long after she arrived in the US and she refused him because her daughters were “still missing their father.” But a few years later, when he proposed again, she accepted and the girls from her first marriage moved in with their grandmother. “I can tell my girls are sad without me, but it is hard for a new husband and wife to live with older children from another marriage.” I found this very interesting. At first, her focus was on her daughters who were grieving, but then they are sent out of her house, as high schoolers, so that she and her new husband can focus on their new relationship. I’m still not sure what I think of this method of not blending families. But apparently, that’s how it’s done back in Iraq.

Lastly, when I asked her if she liked living here she said yes. She mentioned that her neighborhood was very safe, but that she used to live in the area where two men were shot back in May (you may remember me blogging on that incident). Coming from a war-torn country, she was very concerned that she be somewhere safe. But even in her East Lansing neighborhood, she said, there had been a recent break-in and robbery. I told her that there really is nowhere that is safe from all crime and she seemed surprised by this. This seemed so odd to me since she has come out of a situation in which the worst of human nature is on display.

Soon my son retrieved me and I had to leave. I was reluctant to stop talking with this woman and we never even exchanged names. I don’t know that I will ever run into her again. But I wanted to share our conversation with you. She and I are of different origins and different faiths, but we came together on a bench, connecting first through the common subject of children. We chatted, told each other “it was nice talking to you,” and went our separate ways.

I see those “Coexist” bumper stickers all over town. I’m not a particularly big fan of them because they seem to imply to me that we should ignore all of our difference and leave each other alone. But I don’t want to ignore our differences. I want to discuss them, learn from them, and struggle with them–in a civil manner. And I don’t want to leave other people alone. I want to have conversations and strike up friendships.

My short time with this kind, thoughtful, and sweet-spirited Iraqi woman on a bench in an East Lansing park is what coexisting really looks like, and I’m so grateful that she struck up this conversation with me. I will (hopefully) never know the horrors she had to live through, but regardless of that, we had a lot in common. We both love our families. We worry a little about safety. And frankly, we think that perhaps the new equipment at this playground is a little on the dangerous side for small children.

Thinking of how often Muslims in the US probably encounter hostility from others, I hope that my friendly demeanor reinforced a positive view of this woman’s adopted country. After all, one of the foundational principles upon which this country was built was religious toleration (brought to you by the Baptists via Roger Williams…You’re welcome, America). Toleration doesn’t mean that you accept that the religious beliefs of others are correct or that you never debate about them. It means that you don’t let those differences cause you to persecute those not of your own faith. You live side by side in peace.

So who have you encountered lately that broadened your horizons?