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Sunday, April 6, 2008

It takes a village idiot to raise a child

It's hard to believe, but my child has managed to survive to the age of nine months. I say that because I do not have covers on the outlets, gates up in the stairwells, or locks on the cabinet doors in my house. It's a miracle that she has survived this long. Then again, at the ripe old age of 33, it's a miracle I have as well. I mean we played with Lawn Darts. Oh, the horror! Not to mention that we didn't start wearing seat belts as a rule until Barbara Mandrell had her car accident. We used to ride around in my parents' Maverick in the front seat with no seat belt. Also, I remember riding in the back seat as well under the age of seven without being in a car seat. On the playground we had huge wrought iron jungle gyms over concrete. There were huge metal sliding boards that could take a layer of skin off your ass on a hot day. We had a suspension bridge that went from the slide to another hill and it wasn't exactly up to code. It made the bridge from Temple of Doom look like The Golden Gate. Guess what? Nearly everything we did as kids back then has been banned or redesigned for safety.

With this in mind, I refuse to be one of those parents that put their child in a bubble. Let me give you a little insight into an average day with the rug rat. She wakes up anywhere between 9:30AM and 11:00AM. We sit her in her car seat up on the dining room table and give her breakfast. It usually consists of a Number 2 Gerber Fruit or Vegetable mixed with some Rice Cereal. Now, until about a month ago, we could just sit her there and walk five feet into the kitchen to grab something. Not anymore, we now clip her in because she can lean forward or climb out. After breakfast we put her on the floor in the living room. All of her toys are on one side of the living room for about five minutes. After that, they're everywhere. We have a couch, a loveseat, a recliner, a coffee table and two end tables in the room as well as the entertainment that holds everything entertainment. She putters around the living room, talking up a storm, playing and having a good time. Most times she crawls over to the two laundry baskets we have as a blockade into the dining room and pulls herself up on to her knees in a praying position. From here she is pretty much stuck. She can't stand yet and she can't go any further. After about two hours of activity, we try to give her a bottle and then she goes down for a nap for two hours. When she gets up another bottle of milk and one of juice and then we repeat the cycle. At night she has her dinner the same way as breakfast and we let her play until she gets a bit cranky and we put her to bed. Ten hours later, we start again. Now, this is probably no different than most itineraries of kids her age. There is just one major difference here. We watch her.

When I say we watch her, I mean she is supervised while she is up and mobile. We don't leave her alone. That's the same methodology my wife and my parents followed. You're a parent. You are responsible for a child's well being. Disney, Nick, and Cartoon Network aren’t raising my kid. I am. Granted, at 10:00 in the evening, when I would like to be relaxing with my feet up maybe surf the net on my laptop, I have to be on the floor playing with my daughter, but I don't mind. For those of you scratching your heads as to why my kid is up at 10:00 in the evening, there's a reason. My wife and I would rather her sleep during the morning instead of the evening. While most people will put their kid down at seven or eight, the kid is then up at the crack of dawn. I leave for work around 7:00 AM and my wife doesn't start working until around 3:00 or 4:00 PM so it makes more sense to have her sleep when we sleep.

What about daycare? As kids, my wife and I were not put into daycare. We were watched by family or close friends during the times when our parents couldn't. Both of us had at least one stay at home parent during our childhood so that wasn't always a necessity. We've been lucky enough to be able to rely on primarily my income for our finances with her income as a private piano instructor as a supplement. There is about a two hour gap in between our schedules that leaves the little one without supervision. My Father-in-law has been a big help and we think it has added years to his life as he was retired and didn't have much to do during the day but watch Young and the Restless. He and my daughter are best of friends and it's made a world of difference in our pocketbook. We both discussed daycare and the possibility of her taking a daytime job and the numbers just don't add up. Besides, while I do want my kid to be exposed to the outside world and eat a little dirt, everybody else's kid is always sick and I don't want her getting sick. My wife worked in a daycare before she got pregnant. It's like a see of green mustaches at those places.

As for childproofing the home, I refuse to go nuts with the outlet covers and such. A coworker of mine has three kids and sometimes he disagrees with my tactics being that he had all three of his kids before I had mine. I asked him if he ever stuck something into an electrical socket and he admitted he did. "What happened?" I asked. He answered that it shocked the crap out of him. "You lived, obviously." I replied. "Did you ever do it again?" He answered, "No." There you have it. First off, why did he have an object sharp enough to put into a socket in the first place as a kid? I never had a fascination with sticking anything besides a plug into a socket, and my parents never let me. We didn't have covers, we had supervision. Don't start calling CYS yet, I do intend to start securing things around the house that can cause injury. We have dropped her crib down a notch since she's been able to pull herself up. Her center of gravity is still in her head and we didn't want her toppling out. But we feel that if we actually watch the child and keep an eye out, there should be no reasons to bubble wrap the house. Granted, she has bumped her head a few times on the floor from falling backwards, but she usually stops crying after a minute and most times she usually checks with us before crying. If we wince or show fear, she knows it hurts. If we laugh or smile, she just has a look like, "Doh! I fell." The family room television isn't on the sturdiest of stands but she's not down there yet. We have a gate for the stairwell, but until she starts to walk, we won't put it up. She has no business over there at this point. Cabinets that have cleaners or chemicals in them will be secured and quite frankly, if my kid is in the kitchen unsupervised, she better be making me a sandwich. Otherwise, I'm not doing my job.

I'm not going to be a big freak about her being a kid, though. She's going to know right from the beginning what is good behavior and what is unacceptable behavior. My wife and I are not adverse about taking the kid aside by the arm and making sure they understand what they're doing is unacceptable and they don't have a choice on whether to start acting right or not. At nine months, she's pretty good out in restaurants. Sometimes it is a juggling act to keep her occupied while we try to eat. At times she can be kind of loud. She talks a lot and has trouble controlling the volume of her voice. It's nothing more than sounds and syllables and I still think it's cute, but I'm biased. As she gets older, she's not going to be running all over the place and will sit and eat or color or whatever while we are out. Sometimes, it's amazing how she can just sit and play with no disruption.

When she gets older, I'm sure I will be ill equipped for relating to her, though. After all, it's the natural order of the universe for kids and parents to speak different languages when kids get into adolescence. My biggest goal will be to try and teach her to not make the same mistakes I made in my youth. I can't believe I took things so literal and made mountains out of molehills when it came to social status. I got picked on just like everyone else, but looking back I would have handled situations so much differently. Is it any wonder Lord of the Flies is written from the perspective of adolescents turning into savages when forced to form their own society? Kids are mean and cruel at an age where most are in-between childhood and adulthood. Everything is in a constant state of flux. Hopefully, I can teach my daughter that every little thing is not the end of the world and she should just enjoy her youth and not sweat the small stuff. The things she will worry over in adolescence will be nonexistent in adulthood. Boys are stupid, girls are evil. Ok, those two concepts extend into adulthood but you get my point. I guess it is fate for every child to not listen to their parents' advice as we "Don't know what it's like." We do, but just 20 years removed. In all, I don't want to be a stranger to my daughter. Even though, "I'm a stupid boy," I hope she can trust that I would never do anything to intentionally hurt her and that I'm always looking out for her best interests.

Of course, this is the time when I wish I could have outlet covers and gates and all those safety features. I'm not too worried about protecting her from the hazards of our home, but once she steps foot outside into the world, I wish I could "evil proof" the world for her. There will be boys/guys that will break her heart and there's no way I can take away that pain in the short term. However, knowing my wife, she'll make sure our daughter knows how to make them feel pain back, literally. I want her to be self aware and in touch with the world around her. Find the flaws in the natural order of things and make her life easier. Realize that the same concepts that ruled the school are out in the real world and as long as you can identify the issues, you can beat them. It's almost like The Matrix. The world is built on a system of rules, no different than any computer system. As long as you know how to exist with those who don't follow them, you can maneuver your way through the shark infested waters of the scum that live out there.

Until that day, I'll be content with changing a dirty diaper and feeding her dinner with one hand while trying to eat my own with the other. At night I still rock her almost to sleep but not quite. I want her to fall asleep in her crib knowing that while I may not be in the room but I'm just outside the door if she needs me. That way she doesn't wake up wondering where I am. "Daddy was here when I fell asleep and now he's gone. He must have left me." I shouldn't ever complain that she requires a lot of attention and takes a lot of patience. After all, one day the roles will be reversed and she'll be waiting on me as I shuffle around in an old man's skin. I just hope she doesn't have to child proof the house for me. That would suck.

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