Breeder Cow: Nick

More and more often I see the term "overparenting" used in the media to describe the incredible involvement modern day parenting seems to require. It's a huge relief to see it being discussed. In my neighborhood I see children getting a lot of attention all the time from not only their families but neighbors and friends. It's really nice—but it's a lot.

I'm a big fan of letting kids figure it out themselves. If they are arguing on the playground, I'll intervene if I think my kid is bullying someone less equipped than them, but I try my best to observe quietly. When moms constantly referee their kids' interactions it makes me tense.

Activity schedules seem to have gotten crazy, too: Gymboree, Kindermusik, baby sign language, play groups, mommy-and-me soccer, etc. Social interaction and learning is a beautiful thing, but so is playing unattended in the mud in the back yard with your cousins. How else are you going to find out you can't eat mud?

The pendulum feels like it may be swinging back in the other direction. It may be a natural cycle, but socio-economics has to be a big part of it. People can't obsess as much over their children if they are working their asses off, either physically not present or too tired to correct behavior and control environment constantly.

Raising children the last ten years has seemed dominated by parental performance anxiety. A lot of the pressure comes from our peers and a lot from self-critique. Am I doing the right thing? Am I preparing them for the future? Honestly, how will we ever know? There was a time preparing for a solid future was getting a bachelors' degree. Knowing kids, we can bust our assess to give them what we think they'll need, and they will still find something to be pissed off at us for when they reach puberty.

Do you remember how great it was to play in the back seat without your seatbelt? Unsafe, yes. Hella good time, more so. Remember taking sips of your dad's beer and how tasty it was? It was a bonding ritual. I saw a mom give her toddler a sip of beer at a neighborhood function about a year ago. Someone looked at her like she was Jim Jones passing out Kool-aid.

People should always look after each other, and children should always be cared for, but I find myself muttering in my head a lot, "Mind your own goddamn business." If the child is not neglected or abused, mind your own business. If your friend is not actively soliciting your advice, best mind your business. If the kid is wearing a pull-up to the park at four years old, mind your own business. Minding your own business means not gossiping maliciously, to be clear.

And here is where it comes back to me and mine, because everything always does. If I hear one more person condescend to me about Ruby using a pacifier I will ninja kick them in the head. Get…the…fuck…over…it. Lord, you would think I tattooed the child on the forehead with the looks I get. I understand the concerns. I've heard fifty versions of the urban myth about her teeth ending up looking like a backwoods fluoride-free hillbilly.

Why the hell does a three year old have to act like a "big girl"? As a grownup, do you really like being a "big girl"? I don't know about you, but having big girl responsibility and social expectations of how I should act sucks. What about fostering the sweet bliss of childhood ignorance? Why are we pressing the "norms" of how we think people should act on toddlers? I'm not talking about a child clobbering someone or poking their eye with a stick. I'm talking about taking comfort in a nipple-shaped piece of latex.

Why, WHY, are people telling me to take this away if it gives her comfort?

Ruby just turned four. She doesn't use nick, as she calls her pacifier, during the day anymore. She's not going to the prom with it. Have you ever seen any adult other than a misguided rapper with a pacifier in their mouth? I know it's dirty. It smells weird and drops on the ground and she'll pop it in her mouth before I can wash it off. If the next pandemic plague spreads through pacifiers I'll eat my words, but it's more gross than dangerous.

I recognized it was inhibiting her speech expression at a certain point, so I cut her off. At first I took it away cold turkey. No nick ever, even at night. She immediately impressed us all with a vocabulary we didn't know she had. Great. She was also despondent. It was heartbreaking. She is always the happiest, easiest child. Sweet does not even describe it. She didn't have a fit, didn't act out: she sat on the couch with the most heartbreakingly hopeless look on her face and did not say a word. At night, she would keen for it about once an hour. I couldn't stand it. I consulted two people, her pediatrician and the child mediator. When I told them I'd cut Ruby off they both said, "Why did you do that?" Like I was crazy. And you know what? I was crazy, because I listened to other people when it went against my intuition.

Most people who cross the boundaries are people who love us. It's their job to cross them. My relatives and my friends are the people who make my hair stand on end the most with their comments about the kids, but I know they mean well even if they don't say it well. The worst violators of all parenting self esteem infractions are the East Coast Jewish Relatives. The most loving people on earth, the family that took me in when my dad and mom got together when I was three, who never mention I'm ten shades darker than anyone else at the reunions, can eviscerate in a New York second: "Oh my GAWD! She's still in diapers!" "A three-year-old has NO BUSINESS using a pacifier!" And my favorite, "You know Renee, every child needs a fahtha…"

The girls and I consider ourselves some of the luckiest people alive to have the Lewis sisters around. They are Ruby and Izzy's "babysitters" but keep us loved and living beyond what the word connotes. They will scold and discipline and hide the pacifiers, and it is the only time I don't mind. They know my kids better than my own family. My children trust them as such. If it were the 60s I'd suggest living on a commune together. They will never mind their own business, and that's fine with me.

Me and Ruby, we compromised on Nick. She got it back at night. She coos to it and sleeps like an angel. More and more often lately, she doesn't ask for it at all. I haven't bought a new one in six months, but I may buy one more pack. I want to have a few on hand so when people ask me with that look on their face why my child still uses a pacifier, I can stick it in their mouth to shut them up.

I say amen to the pendulum swinging back.

column added on 2009-01-03 :: ::

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