Crushing the Innocence of Childhood

Posted: March 3, 2014 in Philosophy
Tags: , , ,

This past weekend was a trying one in our house, as both kids came down with stomach bugs and were puking for some portion of the last few days.  Our family is extremely blessed with good health, and we tend not to get sick very often.  We get our fair share of head colds just like everyone else, but in general we’re ok in the “sick” department.

Regardless, it was a long weekend.  Zak, the little troublemaker he is, started it—we woke up Friday morning to his bed somewhat moist (as did he), but no apparent smell of vomit; figured his diaper leaked and that was it.  He walked into the living room, then upchucked a lovely pale-yellowish liquid partly on the carpet, and partly on the dining room floor.  Gross.  Within an hour he had done it again, and ended up at four times total by around 10:00am before stopping altogether.  So, Janine and I both called in sick to work.  Janine, who fears vomit as much as she does death, didn’t want to be anywhere near it, so I was ready with bucket and sponge in hand for most of the day.  Zoe went to the babysitter’s, since she felt fine and we didn’t want her catching anything.

But she did.  Just before going to bed, in spite of our efforts to quarantine her away from Zak, she tossed it all over the basement (McDonald’s chicken nuggets and all), staining the carpet a lovely dark green color (I scrubbed it for about an hour and lightened it considerably).  She continued to be sick until midnight, then stopped puking and was generally fine for the rest of the weekend.  We did wake up again this morning to a pile of puke on her floor, but assumed it was an isolated incident, kept her home one more day, and now she’s presumably good to go.

The inspiration for this post comes from how differently the two kids handled being sick.  For Zak, we had to chase him around with a bucket for those few hours, where Zoe toted hers around on her own.  Zak was scared and confused post-puke, while Zoe was generally positive (albeit a bit surprised).  Zak didn’t really ‘act’ sick, while Zoe allowed the idea of being sick to get the better of her.  And as long as I’ve been saying it to friends and family, the idea of context really played out in a special way with Zoe.

When Zak was throwing up, being the rambunctious almost-three year old he is, treated everything as an obstacle.  The bucket, the act of puking itself, and cleaning up were all things getting in the way of his every-day rambunctiousness.  There was nothing we could do to make it any easier, or to help him understand, because he isn’t old enough yet to understand what it means contextually to be sick, or the ramifications it has on what we otherwise think of as everyday happenings.  Zoe, on the other hand, can think rationally and understand what is actually happening when she throws up.  So my thought was to coach her through the process, to review the sort of vomiting ‘best practices’ to keep in mind to make the whole ordeal easier.  What I found
was that coaching her just scared her more, even though all I was doing was teaching her the context behind what was actually happening, hard truths that she would someday learn with experience.  I was being a guy, giving her an answer, when all she wanted me to do was let her know I was there for her.

In any case, regardless of the perhaps unnecessary fear that I filled her with, she did amazingly well learning how to deal with throwing up: take a deep breath before hand, hold your hair back, make sure you’re 100% finished before backing away from the bucket, etc.  And after every time throwing up, she remarked at how much better she felt—a very adult thing to say (as opposed to being taken over by the fear or confusion that Zak was feeling).  But it made me think about life, and about how parents do whatever they can to cushion their kids from these harsh realities that they will one day have to face.  Well, some parents—not me.  Maybe it’s because my childhood was cut a little shorter than it could have been, but I don’t have a lot of patience for those sorts of things, that ultimately don’t have much effect on the larger outcome of the thing.  Sure, maybe it would be nice to not have to deal with learning the best way to throw up, and instead just have a dad who will hug and comfort her, but the truth is—being sick fucking sucks (and I don’t use that word often in blogs, for the simple reason that there are few things that merit the language).  Vomiting is a very special kind of ‘sucks,’ and I think that in some cases it’s just better to know what you’re in for, rather than bask in ignorance.  One other thing to note: when it comes to illness, death, infidelity, etc., there is no blissful ignorance.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss—but not every time.

I’ve admitted to having unrealistically high expectations for my kids; my wife knows it well.  It’s not about preparing them in a delicate, sugar-coated way for all the murky bullshit that they’ll have to deal with when they get older.  Yes, there are certain topics that are better covered later in childhood.  But in many cases, I feel I’m doing my kids a disservice by not trying to prepare them at an early age for things that, practically speaking, are just good to know.

When I think about my childhood, and about how I imagine my mom would look at her kids and think, “yeah, they did a good job, all things considered,” my hope is that I can someday have the same thought about my kids.  What parent doesn’t want that?  The difference for me is this: suppose someday Zoe meets a boy, falls in love with him (real love—not the ‘kid stuff’), and has her heart broken because he turns physically abusive and hurts her a great deal.  My test as a parent will be passed or failed at how she deals with that situation (among others), which will come from how well I’ve prepared her to deal with the murky bullshit that life hurls at us usually without warning.   What I think separates me from the parent who sugar coats and shelters, is that I don’t just expect her to get through it…I fully expect her to kick its ass, head held high and smiling when it’s over.

Are those unrealistic expectations?  Maybe.  But, wouldn’t that be one of the coolest people you know?  Probably.  Also–Zak isn’t any different, he’s just a few years behind Zoe.  Lucky for him, he has me to hound him and his big sister’s mistakes to learn from…one of the many advantages of being a younger sibling.  I expect excellence from him just like his big sister.

The strategy isn’t as intense as it sounds, because I also love my children a great deal and will not hesitate to show them at any moment, at every moment, just like my mom did to my brother and me.  In the end I know I’ll be proud of them no matter what, because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will be better at life than I am…and I’m not doing too bad.

Thanks as always for reading.  I know the posts have been few and far between, but times are busy right now.  Be well and stay tuned!

  1. Aunt Lori says:

    You two did MUCH more than “a good job” all things considered. You two are incredible young men who have achieved great things 🙂

  2. […] I have gone on record before about how infrequently I will use the “f” word in a blog.  I think that it can be used excessively and shy away from it for that very reason, but like some others (namely, this guy and this guy), I agree that there are scenarios where it fits nicely. […]

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