Guest Post: Kristen Herrett on “Raising Daddies”

Kristen Herrett of St. Monica’s Bridge graciously allowed me to repost her sensible and valuable essay about her letting her sons play with baby dolls.  I especially liked the line:  “I want them to understand that sometimes we make mistakes, but our love is never a mistake.”

Raising Daddies

by Kristen Herrett

The images in this post are of my sons. With a baby doll. I posted them on Facebook a few weeks ago to mixed reviews. Most thought they were cute. A few privately messaged me to take them down and stop letting my boys “play with dolls.” The pictures remain and my boys still have access to the doll.

When I became a mother I had certain ideas of how I was going to raise my children. I would venture to guess most mothers do. I quickly found out that some of these ideas I had did not exactly fit my temperament, my mothering style or my kids. I was all about babywearing. My babies, not so much. I thought co-sleeping would be great…but I wasn’t doing any of the sleeping part. Other things, like breastfeeding, were great.

I never set out to raise my children in a “gender neutral” household. And really, they don’t live in one. Yes, when Jeff is home he cooks, but that’s because he is a chef. And I do wear pants. And for a time, I worked while he stayed home with the children. And there have been occasions where emergency or budget have dictated one of my boys have worn a pink pull-up or had a pink pacifier. But, for the most part, boys are boys and girls are girls here.

Shelby has a few “baby” dolls. She sometimes shows interest in them, mostly does not. Real babies hold no interest for her until they are able to sit up. It is only then that she sort of “gets” that this thing that mommy is carrying constantly is a human being. We keep the baby dolls out and praise her when she shows interest, not because it is a girl toy, but because she is behind with her social interactions and encouraging a positive association with infants is important for her to learn.

The phenomenon of the boys and this baby doll is a recent thing. It has only occurred after my brothers began spending time with my best friend’s new-born infant son. Joey likes to “practice” holding the baby so he can hold Baby Ryan and his soon to be born cousin Baby Bella. He also practices how to feed the baby and give it a paci when it cries. He has named the baby “Will” after his brother. For Will, he wants to imitate his big brother and he needs to practice being gentle around babies for sure!

I do not for a minute think I am confusing my boys or emasculating them. After all, they don’t want to wear dresses now and have proclaimed that Barbies are for girls. But I realize that some people very much view it that way. So, I will go ahead and explain why I haven’t ripped the doll out of my boys’ hands.

I am raising children. Some day, my boys may very likely become fathers. I want to raise them to be good Daddies. I don’t want them to fear their children when they are newborns. I want them to approach the task with some kind of confidence. I want them to understand that sometimes we make mistakes, but our love is never a mistake. I want them to be able to support a wife who has difficulty breastfeeding and be able to comfort a crying child. We forget these things are not necessarily traits we are born with. I’ve watched many a father struggle and wish they could have just observed their dads doing some of the parenting things they find themselves doing, let alone been encouraged to do them themselves.

And for the record, my boys do an inordinately large amount of wrestling, shooting each other with water guns, fighting, playing Thomas and rooting for Penn State and Carolina’s football teams.

Parenting is a very difficult task. One that no matter how many books you read you can never fully master. I’ve chosen to try to expose my children to learning through doing. And right now, my sons seem to be proponents of attachment parenting (we say Joey is co-sleeping in the picture above). Will they continue as adults? Who knows, there is a lot of time between now and then…in the mean time I hope and pray that I am raising daddies who will rise to the task of fathering their children in the best ways possible.

You must remember this

I spend a lot of time thinking what it must be like to be one of my kids.  Before you say, “Oh, you’re such a good mommy!” it’s not really like that.  If anything, I’m all the more culpable for being so mean sometimes.  I actually can really, vividly imagine what it’s like to be, for instance, so so upset about someone saying that “Catsy Cootsy Tatsy Wootsy” is a stinky name for a robot — and yet I still say, “Oh, don’t be so silly, who cares?  You stop crying and clean up this room.”  Even though I remember what that’s like.

Anyway, I was thinking about those strange, stranded childhood memories that stay with us.  We say, “When I was little, we always used to sit under the lilac tree and play farm using fruit snacks for animals” when really that only happened one time.  Or our entire sixth year of life is represented by a memory of a maple seed helicopter that someone drew on with green marker and put in our hair.  Probably something else happened that year!  But that’s all we can remember, is the helicopter.

I just wonder how these memories stick.  Why?  I drive down the same country road four times a day, five days a week, with the four little ones strapped into their dank car seats.  Sometimes we chat, sometimes we listen to music, sometimes they yell and kick at each other, and fight over the last of the graham crackers.  But most of that time, they’re just looking out the window.

I glance back and see those dark, placid eyes drinking in the golden leaves, the endlessly unfurling stone walls, the occasional thrilling squirrel or cocker spaniel as we rattle down the road — that familiar landscape that ought to be so soothing and reassuring, and the perfect, idyllic setting for a whole year of comfortable childhood memories.  There’s even a funny plaster bull in somebody’s yard.  That would make a nice memory!

But I know perfectly well the strangeness inside a child’s head.  I remember that simmering stew of comfort and confusion, tedium and alarm, affection and sudden spikes of dread.  And I remember all the adults trotting along so callously, so bafflingly unaware of all the terrible dangers in the world, the savage mysteries that grown-ups pretend are nothing at all, just a shadow, just a plastic bag caught in the wind, just the sound of the house settling.

Some of my children are worriers and brooders, and I understand them.  I can tell them, “It’s all right — it’s all right.  You’ll grow up, and you’ll see that the world is not so terrible.  There is a way out of this dark hole, and there is so much to look forward to.  Just hang in there, and you will not always be a child!  You can do it.”  But that doesn’t help them now.  They don’t know what I mean, and they don’t realize that I understand.

I wish I could choose their memories for them.  When I’m feeling up to it, I try and bulldoze them over with poignant, satisfying experiences, so that they’ll have something good for when they grow up.  And really, I know it’s not for their sake — it’s for mine.  It’s so they can tell me, “Remember when you used to sing that song you made up while we were waiting for the eggs to scramble?” and I can say, “Oh, yes, you were such a difficult child . . . but I made you happy, didn’t I?” and they will say, “Yes, Mama, and we appreciate that.  You were a good mother.”

Ridiculous.  That is not what will happen.  When they have their own kids, they’ll wonder why I couldn’t have been nicer, why I had to be so critical, so capricious, so impatient and embarrassing.  They will love me, but it will be love with exasperation, accomplished with fortitude.  I know that whoever my children will turn out to be, it will be because of their own experiences, their own personality, their own genetics, their own little portions of grace that God chooses for them.  So very, very little of who they are will come from me, even though I crack my brain trying to think of everything they will need.

And of that, they will remember – – what?  The time I yelled at them on their birthday; and maybe also the time I made kitten-shaped pancakes for lunch.  Maybe they’ll just remember me brushing their hair.

I hope the time they remember is the time I remembered to be gentle.

 

The five stages of exhaustion

THE FIVE STAGES OF EXHAUSTION

Stage 1: You wake up feeling tired.

You stumble around the house all day, misplace your keys, and go to bed early.

Stage 2: You wake up feeling lousy.

You stumble around, maybe drop a few things, and find it hard to finish sentences. You go to bed early.

Stage 3: You wake up feeling dead.

You fall asleep on the baby while you’re changing her. You give the kids cereal for supper because you’re too weak to lift a pound of chop meat. You go to bed late, because if you don’t get caught up on the housework, someone is going to arrest you.

Stage 4: You don’t wake up.

You walk around the house, make meals, drive to the library, and answer the phone, but you’re not really awake. But you dream that you are, and in your dream, you’re very tired. You go to bed, probably. Whatever.

Stage 5: You wake up feeling great!

Some of your noses are a little numb, and you keep forgetting where your feet feet, but you seem to have outlasted the need for sleep! You’re a champion! There are only a few problems:

~You make a tuna noodle casserole (ingredients: tuna, noodles) and forget to put in the noodles. Your only clue that something is awry is a nagging feeling that supper looks awfully low today.

~You ask your husband to pick up some cereal bowls, and carefully explain that they are to be not ceramic, and not glass, but a particular sort of smooth, non-porous material that is rigid like unto glass, and yet not so breakable. And he says, “yeah, I’m familiar with plastic.”

~You wander around the house searching for AA batteries. You spot a book of matches, and think, “That’ll work!”

~Your husband comments that your new yard has enough space to keep a horse, and you reply, “What we really need is one of those horses with horns. That gives milk.”

~You ask your mother, “Can the kids sleep at your house, or are the rooms too full of cheese?”

Everything in this post is true.

Being tired may not kill me, but no one else is safe.