Surfaces and Limits


In my (brief) experience, being a parent is a kind of an organic, natural thing. By that I mean even if you don’t know anything (I didn’t) or read many books on the subject (I read one, and it was aimed at dudes and wasn’t really serious (for the record, I wanted to throw Dr. Sears out the window even though I’m a hippie)), you really figure it out as you go along. As it turns out, the figuring-it-out-without-knowing-what-the-hell-you’re-doing thing is actually where a lot of the fun of being a parent comes in. It’s like chess (only fun) where you have to consider your next move in the context of it being your next move and the context of its potential results in the future. It’s the kind of thing where you maybe lead with your gut (maybe your soul, if that isn’t just too much) instead of your head.

For example, I didn’t need to read any books or have any discussions on any terrible parenting message boards to know that I will never let my kid cry it out, ever, for any reason. I don’t judge those who do, but it just isn’t for me. I won’t put him on a leash in public (I saw one the other day and I admit I see the appeal, but no). I don’t do time-outs. I didn’t force him to undergo any completely unnecessary medical procedures but you’re damn right he’s vaccinated. I don’t understand the point of juice. I figure he’ll potty train (I don’t even know if they still call it that. That’s old school. Tell me they don’t call it potty learning now. Or elimination education.) when he’s ready, someday. He’ll get rid of the pacifier he uses for sleeping tomorrow — er, someday.

(Sidenote: Do you ever wonder about Ben when I go on and on about “I” when I talk about parenting? We pretty much always agree on everything (I know, annoying) but I say “I” here because I’m really writing only about myself and I think it would be presumptuous to lump him in and say “we.”)

Then something like this happens.

artWe’ll give Soren some markers and a piece of paper and for a while he colors on the paper but then he’s all woohooooo my artistic expression cannot be contained by your silly and arbitrary boundaries, authority figures! I am a young boy who must draw and draw free!

Pop quiz:

What would you do in this situation?

  • stop the drawing before it got to this point
  • instruct the child on proper drawing procedure and surfaces
  • scream and/or drink vodka and then write an ALLCAPS-LADEN BLOG POST ABOUT THE INCIDENT
  • make the child clean it up
  • spank the child
  • express your displeasure verbally and/or through a series of disapproving glances or clucks
  • admire the child’s creativity
  • clean it up yourself?

Much of parenting is walking a tightrope between raising a sheep-like, rule-following, chickenshit conformist or raising the kind of kid who will grow up to be incapable of gainful employment and relegated to attempting to make a living as a blogger or lifestyle guru or whatever similar shit people will be doing when our kids are adults. Of course, most of us would prefer to avoid both of these tragic outcomes and instead raise kids who grow up to be just as self-actualized, intelligent, and thoughtful as we fancy ourselves. Am I right? We want our kids to grow up to know the rules and follow them when absolutely necessary but also to know when to bend or break the rules, or when to advocate in favor of or fight for new rules altogether.

In the above situation, I tend to admire the child’s creativity and clean it up myself. I know what you’re thinking — I’m well on my way to raising a kid who will grow up to be, what, Honeycrisp Darling, lifestyle guru and peddler of the Radical Self-Love Vibrator, yours for the low cost of $100US.

Here’s the thing, though. I think rules are important and you have to learn to follow them. But sometimes, you’re too young to know what the rules are and it’s going to take a while for you to learn them. Soren doesn’t yet reliably understand that paper is for drawing and the table isn’t. I suppose he could reliably know that if I were interested in micromanaging his marker experience, but what would that look like? Would I have to say “No!” every time his marker touched the table? When it continued to happen, would I have to take the markers away? What would he learn from that? “I shouldn’t draw on the table” or “Mom’s mean and doesn’t let me have any fun” or something else?

I don’t have answers to these questions and to me, the end result of washable marker on a table is harmless enough that I don’t stress about it and might even take a picture. I think it’s possible to not care about drawing on the table now and to have the eventual goal of teaching Soren that as a general rule, we draw on paper and not furniture.

I guess if I had to sum up my philosophy on this sort of thing, it would go something like this: I believe that children are inherently good and should be allowed to explore their worlds freely as much as it is possible and safe to do so.