Friday, June 10, 2005


One of the benefits of working at home is that, in the summer, I can be at the pool, boys in tow, by 5:15.

Jonah (3 at the time) liked the water but didn't like to get his face wet. He spent most of his time splashing in the baby pool, playing on the side, or floating along beside me in the big pool. He and I would float and watch what was going on. This allowed me to spend a lot of time doing my favorite pastime: observing the boys.

I was watching the Big Boys on the diving board early last year, just after they had finished their second round of swimming lessons. We had not been to the pool together much, and I had yet to see them on the diving board.

Timothy (6) went first. "Watch me dad!" he yelled. He walked to the end of the board, held his nose, and jumped in. He dropped a few feet from the end of the board, legs straight, arms by his side, eyes closed. Up popped his head, face bright with a smile, and he swam to the side of the pool. Good job.

I was still watching Timothy swim when I heard "WATCHMEDAD!" zooming from right to left. Stephen (4) ran the entire length of the board, hollering and launching himself as far out as he could. Arms and legs flew in all directions as he rocketed through the air. He hit the water in a blur

Oh, holy crap.

When you’ve got just one child, you have a tendency to think that your own kid is typical and representative of the species. What he likes, how he behaves, how he reacts, when he sleeps, what he eats, etc., are pretty much the same as how other kids are or should be.

We were as guilty of this as anyone. Timothy was a pretty good sleeper, a pretty good eater, and responded well to scheduling. He slept through the night at 8 weeks, thanks in no small part to copious thumb-sucking. We'd hear stories of other parents and issues they were having that we weren't. And somewhere, in the back of my mind, I'd think, "They're not doing it right. We tried X with Timothy and it works just fine."

I don't think it was hubris (my parents would probably disagree), but rather inexperience.

Then we had Stephen. Wow. Night and day (we thought). Timothy was quiet, Stephen was loud. Timothy played by himself, Stephen needed other people.

Timothy was neat, Stephen was messy. Two stories. One time, we were eating cupcakes or muffins at the table. I looked up and watched Timothy for a minute. He was pinching off small bits of the cupcake, over his plate, and putting the bits into his mouth. Then I turned to see Stephen, holding the cupcake with two hands, wrapper still on, burying his face in the cupcake to take a bite. Crumbs everywhere, cupcake smeared on his face, he was a mess. Both kids, happy as clams, eating cupcakes in their own happy way.

Night and day.

Second story. My wife took the boys up to visit my sister's family in Richmond. Timothy and Stephen slept in the same bed. One morning, my brother-in-law looked in on them to see Stephen sprawled across the bed, sideways. Timothy was next to him, on his back, covers tucked under his arms, head still on his pillow (Stephen's pillow was nowhere to be seen). Josh said, "Wow. Timothy even sleeps neatly."

Once Stephen came along, we replaced our previous fallacy (all kids are like our one kid) with a different fallacy: kids are binary, and each kid is a mixture of different binary values for attributes just like ours are.

Kids can be neat (like Timothy) or messy (like Stephen). They can be loud (S) or quiet (T), etc. “Our kids are neat and quiet (T), and messy and loud (S). Yours might be neat and loud or messy and quiet. What a wonderful world of possibility.”

Fortunately, Jonah arrived about 16 months after Stephen and blew everything out of the water. Ditto and more so Sam.

New paradigm: kids are who they are. They like what they like and do what they do. Parents can change certain surface features of that, but there's really not much you can do.

Unfortunately, parenting isn't easy. We can’t just throw up our hands and say “Oh, well. He likes to hit other people with baseball batts." It's still my job to define limits and say that certain behaviors are beyond the pale. But I don’t expect all my kids to react to them the same way.

An example: Timothy, Stephen, and Jonah were all great sleepers as babies. Sam wasn't. The tricks that worked with the other three to get them to sleep just didn't work with Sam. He was a rotten sleeper, but he wasn't about to get in bed with us (big rule) and we weren't going to get up and play with him at 2 AM every morning (another big rule).

So when he’d cry, we'd go into his room, lay him back down, and pat his bottom to let him know we were still aware of him. And then we'd go back to bed. We did end up moving him from Jonah's room (Sam's crying would wake Jonah) into Timothy's room (Timothy can sleep through an artillery barrage).

Similarly, current bedtimes. Timothy and Sam go to sleep pretty early. Jonah and Stephen stay up late. Everyone goes to bed at 7:30, but only a moron would try to force everyone to go to sleep at 7:30 (“CLOSE YOUR EYES AND BREATHE MORE SLOWLY AND DEEPLY NOW!”). So while Timothy and Sam are usually asleep by 8:00, Jonah and Stephen will stay up talking (yelling) and playing (jumping on the bed) until 10 or so. But their feet can't touch the floor except to go to the bathroom. We don't care when they go to sleep, but they all go to bed at the same time.

One more pool story.

Another time I had the Big Boys in the water with me and we got to go swim at the deep end, just us 3. Nice. Timothy looks at me and says, "Hey dad, want to see me touch the bottom?"

"Okay," I reply, "are you sure you can do it?" (I really had no idea what good swimmers these guys were.)

"Yeah," he says. So I go under water to watch (visual verification is required by the boys), while he pushes down with his arms, stretches out one foot to touch lightly with his big toe.

His head pops back up, beaming. "Good job," I say. At this moment I'm a very proud water dad.

Without missing a beat, Stephen says, "Watch this!" He dives under the water head-first, kicks his little legs, and swims down to slap the bottom of the pool with the flat of his hand.

Night and day.


At 11:36 AM, Blogger Dignan said...

So who knew you had a blog, dude!


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