Being A Parent is Incredibly Humbling: Mushrooms, Metal & Oreo Cookies


I will admit to a certain degree of smugness with the fact that my kids don’t know who Ronald McDonald is and watch tv or movies only a couple of hours a week. My husband and I have made a concerted effort to fill their free time with play, reading, arts, physical activity and family time that we hope will spark their imagination, strengthen their bonds to us and each other, nurture their budding intellects and in part shape the adults they will become. We resist against the convenience of fast food, Cartoon Network and Playstation, though at times it would certainly make our lives easier. So it continually amazes me when the outside influences seep in where we least expect them and that in spite of our attempts at ‘molding’, they are, even at their tender age, their own people.

Take for instance a recent example where our children’s dietary choices have been unwittingly compromised by television. My seven year old son remarked the other night that he would like to abandon our vegetarian diet and start eating meat. “I’d like to be a carnivore,” he said, “and I think I’ll start with a turtle, a nice, fat, juicy turtle and throw it right on the fire.” It sounded a little sadistic to me, I wasn’t sure if it was eating the turtle or the idea of a turtle in the fire that excited him. The very next day I caught my three year old daughter collecting mushrooms in our backyard in what looked like preparation for a stew. “Don’t eat those honey,” I said, shaking my head “they’re poisonous.” She replied, “But the man on tv did.” It was then that I remembered two nights previously when out of exhaustion, the husband and I turned on the television for them and retreated on our own for an hour. They watched Survivorman on the Discovery Channel. If you haven’t seen it, a guy gets dropped off in some remote local and has to make his way back to safety and civilization relying on his wits and the surrounding environment. Not at all mindless or consumerist but nevertheless, he cooked a whole turtle and foraged for wild mushrooms and our children were influenced by what they saw.

And when my son recently expressed more interest in music, we put a cd player/radio in his room so that he can listen when he likes. A few days ago, I was in the back yard weeding when I heard Night on Bald Mountain, a dark, looming orchestral piece booming from his bedroom window. I went into the house, to his room and found him drawing at his desk, the music playing in the background. It seemed so intellectual, enjoying classical music while he sketched. The cd was a Halloween-themed one my mom had sent him and the only one he had. My husband and I decided that we would give him a box of some of our cds so that he could widen his musical tastes. We gave him about 50 cds of all different genres. He could have chosen another classical artist, or even the eclectic and folky Bob Dylan or 10,000 Maniacs. I thought maybe he would pick something more techno since he seems to like his music fast and loud. Instead he chose Metallica, specifically the song Enter Sandman, and he played it non-stop for more than a week. If you are not familiar with this song, it is not a quaint lullaby. Lyrics, which I now know almost by heart, include lines like:

“…the sandman he comes, sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight, exit light, enter night, take my hand, off to never never land, hush little baby, dont say a word, and never mind that noise you heard, Its just the beast under your bed, In your closet, in your head…”

Peek in his room while he’s playing it and you will see a seven year old version of headbanging and yes, even air guitar. So I am now the proud mother of a seven year old metal-head.

And then there was last week when we went out for icecream. We have a Baskin Robbins walking distance from our house that we go to once a week or so during the summer after dinner. My son is relatively adventurous with his ice cream selections, trying new stuff almost every week, searching for that elusive perfect flavour. My husband shifts between a few select favorites, I usually get the same thing, three child-size scoops so I can get my coconut, chocolate and Daquiri Ice fix, clearly, I cannot make up my mind. My daughter is a predictable chocolate or strawberry girl. So it was a surprise to me when upon entering the store, she went almost hysterical requesting cookie icecream. “That one, that one, that one,” she said in a high pitched dolphin-like squeal, jumping up and down and pointing feverishly at the Oreo Cookie ice cream label. Thinking it was a whim that would make her unhappy once she got a scoop of something other than her usual choice, I asked her “are you sure you want that?” I won’t exaggerate and say she went into convulsions on the floor while her eyes rolled back into her head but it was a pretty close approximation. It was so unusual a choice for her and she has never shown that level of excitement over ice cream in general that I mentioned it to my husband as we sat eating our icecream how weird I thought it was. “Honey, look around,” he told me, motioning all around us. It was then that I saw what I had failed to notice before. All around the store, at her eye level, were signs with Oreo cookies and ice cream on them. There must have been more than 25 sign, placards, hanging mobiles and the like. No wonder she went nuts. Damn you Nabisco for seeking to establish my three year olds brand preferences.

Being a parent is incredibly humbling. So many of the decisions we make are called into question. We question ourselves in late night reflections wondering if we handled something right, were we patient enough, kind enough, tuned in enough. We are questioned by our peers and we question them in kind, dabbling in what I call comparative parenting. Why do they do that, don’t they know they shouldn’t do that, maybe we should do that, oh, I’m glad we don’t do that. Whether its grades, sleep routines, video games, tv, athletics, protectiveness, eating habits, discipline, any number of things, we look quietly to those around us for some clues to what works and what doesn’t. Maybe we also look for validation that we aren’t the only ones that lose our temper, give in too easily out of exhaustion or occasionally desperately count the minutes until their bedtime. We are questioned by our families, many of whom were raised and raised us on a different set of conventional wisdoms. Try explaining to someone who never put their infants on their backs to sleep for fear they’d spit up and choke why it’s the only way we do it now or why your 1 ½ year old can’t have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and you’ll invariably hear the “I did it for you and you turned out fine.” So much of our children’s personalitites, coping skills, sensitivities and interests seem preset. Maybe none of it matters as much as we might think.

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