I had children late in life (sort of) I was 35 when I had my first child and nearly 38 with my second. When I started working in a school I realized I was a generation older than many of the parents. Like most people, I parent based on how I was raised. I was raised in the 70’s. My parents worked. We had babysitters, community camps, we were latch key kids from time to time.
I had a paper route that I inherited from my big sister, so I started delivering papers and collecting money from strangers when I was 7, I was a very busy babysitter by the time I was 9 and stayed busy earning and spending my own money. We lived in the suburbs, across the street from a lower income apartment complex. I spent an enormous amount of time outside with gangs of kids or alone in creeks, dumpsters, alleys, graveyards other people’s backyards where I should not have been and storm culverts under city streets. I was not athletic and did not have any sense, but my parents were busy, I had several sisters close to me in age and that was just how it was for us.
My house was full of books, I read whatever I wanted and sometimes was busted for reading things I shouldn’t (Flowers in the Attic) or never caught (Harold Robbins in 4th grade, oh my!!). I watched TV until my eyes popped out of my head with our babysitter Mrs. Murphy, who was a somewhat tragic figure that was very gentle and patient with us. I was terribly abusive to her, she smoked endlessly in our living room and watched all the game shows on channel 21 in the morning and then all the soaps on channel 21 in the afternoon. I watched Budd Dwyer kill himself on live TV when I was home on a snow day. I read and stared and inhaled smoke and watched soaps and played atari and rode my bike everywhere and fought with kids and collected coins and stray dogs and was a giant weirdo. It was the best childhood ever.
I learned so much. It made up for my Catholic grade school which was so dull I was ready to die. I was always reading a book under my desk and being told to stop, the only person that gave me free rein was the grumpy librarian Mrs. Schupp who was never grumpy with me and would let me have anything I wanted all the time. The two greatest weeks of my school career were 1.) when my appendix ruptured and I was in the hospital for a week and overheard a nurse say I COULD HAVE DIED (this thrilled me to no end and actually still thrills me now since I did not die, it was almost as good as witness to my own funeral a long time fantasy of mine that I loved in Tom Sawyer) and 2.) when TMI had a nuclear meltdown and we were evacuated to Allentown for a week to live in my aunt’s tiny townhouse and I played with her collection of Avon bottles and carousel horses and her awesome crocheted dolly toilet paper covers. Her house had all the good stuff that I longed for with my jealous covetous, too many sisters to compete with heart.
I was never ever ever ever ever going to get married or have children. Never. I was going to be a queen and have all my stuff and a million books and a dog and a convertible and go live in a big city and fill my shopping cart with candy every time I went to the store. And that is exactly what I did until one day when I was 29 I met Mr. Dreamy and realized he was the one person I wanted to have in my life forever and wondered how could I make that happen because I was not an easy person to be around, I was very selfish and ridiculous and chaotic, but I was thin and pretty and smart and had money so that sort of masked what a nut I was..and we fell in love and got married and for the first time in my life I started to work hard to learn how to be good and kind so Mr. Dreamy would be happy living with me.
We were married very quickly in fact…just four months after our engagement. I didn’t want him to change his mind. I asked my bridesmaids to wear whatever they wanted as all eyes would be on me, I arranged for them to picket my wedding at the state capital, Bloggess has nothing on me with her dead animals. I had picketing bridesmaids…as a middle child I wanted to see if people would really really really do anything I wanted on my wedding day. And they really really did, and I loved it. A very special day for me.
Now we lived in DC and worked and were spendy (me) and happy (us) and life went on until everyone started to die, my grandmother, my stepfather, my beloved dog. And I thought. Wow. The only thing that seems to matter is children, perhaps we should have children? And like all normal people with normal mindsets, I reached out to a girl I did not know in real life who I knew from an online community was was super nice and had baby twins and a lot going on and asked if I could bring her meals and help once a week for a year. And she said yes, and I ended up babysitting on Wednesdays for a year and at the end of the year, I thought yes, I can do this, I can have a child.
Mr. Dreamy said, we can have two. I said SURE, we can have 12!
Then I actually had one child inside me growing and I changed my mind back to one, but he talked me into two and now we have our two little freckle faced cuties. And it was definitely the right idea if I had only one child I would still be pureeing his organic food and having two lowered the bar on perfection and now we all just hang out. And I’m permissive. And I value play because I know the only way I learned anything was when I was interested and busy. And school was not interesting or busy. And being told what to do and ask to not touch things or explore makes me cringe for my kids. I assumed that kids would all play the same, no matter what year they are born but sadly this is not the case and if you are middle class and you want your child to play in a world where kids all have homework and tests and tons of private lessons and camps, you have to fight for it, you have to find your tribe and you have to work very very hard to let your kids play. Because it seems so many things are trying to make them sit still and stare.
This is why I fight for children to play, because it is wonderful and it is not as easy to find it as one would think. It is disappearing like our natural world and unless you look very hard, you will miss it. I don’t want people to get hurt but I don’t mind when people make mistakes or are embarrassed or wasteful if it makes a lightbulb come on. I’m still a work in progress myself and I might be wrong, I only have one go at it, but Mr. Dreamy is by my side and he mostly agrees with me so even if others in my life think I am a little over the top (and they are right) this is how I came to be how I am. I am a product of my time and circumstance. How did your childhood inform your parenting?