Feb 27, 2008

The Cat's in the Cradle and the Song's in my Head


Attachment parenting all the way, was the way we went when the kids were young. Then, when they were toddlers I reclaimed my me-time. I went out for a movie almost once a week, or to dinner with friends, or even the occasional night or two away. We hardly ever used babysitters, but my husband realized that a satisfied wife was a happy wife, or vice versa, and he fully supported all of my little escapes.

If the kids ever gave me sad puppy-dog eyes and begged me to stay I felt zero guilt, since I'd worn them in slings, nursed them forever, and let them share my bed for years and years and (in some cases) years. Other moms had a harder time pulling away for these evening escapades. Friends who worked full time. Friends who only saw their children in waking hours (as opposed to our 'round the clock snuggling). But not me. Walking out of the house was one of the easiest things I did.

But now my kids are a bit older. Old enough that I'm starting to see this part of our lives coming to an end. And walking out of the house just got a lot more complicated.

The other night I was dashing out to meet some girlfriends for a late dinner. I hadn't seen these women in two months, especially now that several of us have started to return to work. We try to get together a few times a year.

My nine year old son looked at me and said 'but you always go out, why can't you stay and watch American Idol with us?' and even though he was completely wrong about the *always* going out bit, what he said really resonated. His words may have been 'stay with us,' but what I heard was 'I won't always want you to watch stuff with me.' With his skateboard-length hair and shifting fascination from home and family to local sports teams and school chums, he looked like a kid who was about to be a teenager. The type who might really want me around, but who certainly wouldn't come out and admit it. His posture was already starting to change from enthusiastic youngster to been-there, done-that.

My seven year old daughter climbed into my lap and asked me to stay. She said 'don't run out,' but of course all I heard was 'time's running out.' She still kisses me full on the lips, and almost seems to have a magnet in her that makes her press her whole body up against me, as often as possible. But there's a look that crosses her eyes when something doesn't go her way, and the older she gets the more it seems she thinks I'm the reason these things aren't going her way. And in that look I see the adolescent she might become. And it doesn't seem to be the type who'd rather hang out with me than do anything else.

And of course, like so many things in my parenting thanks to all the little gems that have seeped into my subconscious--when I say 'later' or 'tomorrow we'll do that' or anything along those lines I feel like the lame-o parent we all grew up despising in Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle.

As a fifth grader listening to that song (at any age before turning into a parent for that matter) the dad just seemed so shallow. Now I understand him completely. He's just doing his grown-up things and loving his kid. Adoring his kid, but still doing his things. After all he had 'bills to pay.' What was the guy supposed to do? Go into foreclosure? He had a lot to do, that's why he couldn't play with the new ball. Listening to that song when I was a kid, I imagined the dad was off to play golf, or go whittle in solitude somewhere. Now I'm thinking he might have had to fold the laundry, or take the car to the shop, or return an important phone call from a relative that might end up taking so long it could pre-empt the post dinner board game he'd promised.

*Sigh*

And look at me! I'm not running out to pay the bills, I'm meeting friends for dinner. I shudder at what the young me would have thought if the dad in the song had admitted to preferring something so indulgent to being with his son instead of remaining so vague as to invite all sorts of interpretations. Or malicious grown-up-distrusting misinterpretation.

As a kid, I thought it was great that the son in the song grew up to give the dad a taste of his own medicine. 'Right on, kid!' 'Attaboy!' Now I look at my own kids and think 'cut me some slack,' 'look how much I do for you,' 'I just need to see my friends, please understand.'

So this is where we are now. I'm beating myself up with Harry Chapin. This sort of self-flagellation isn't a first for me. Remember those old commercials where you'd see footage of some adorable girl in a princess dress spinning in a backyard and then the screen would go black and the words 'killed by a drunk driver' would fill the screen? That final frame haunted me so much it was hard to enjoy their exuberant childness, since I couldn't stop thinking 'what if this film clip ends up on one of those ads?' and I'd be flooded with sadness. I'm only just now able to go back and enjoy footage of my children as toddlers, now that I know they've made it this far.

My son is only nine. My oldest daughter's seven. I know they're not exactly on the brink of being teenagers. I'm hoping that 'not now mom I got a lot to do' is pretty far off. But the Cat's in the Cradle's dad's list of offenses began when his kid was pretty young--the son had only 'just arrived the other day' and he was already catching planes--so I guess I'm just wondering if there's still some time to undo some damage while they're still paying attention.

Maybe I should just hunker down in the house for awhile and be soaked up by these children. Maybe the movies that are in the theaters now can wait. Maybe my friends will still have the same fun gripes and energy for me in fourteen years when my youngest is off to college. Maybe we can wait and get together then. We're gonna have a good time then.

48 comments:

Lori said...

Beautiful post :)

MOMentous said...

When I went on a (gasp!) five day vacation without my family a few weeks ago, my eldest said, "Don't worry mom! We have fun when you're gone!" Sigh...
Great to catch up on your writing.

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Anonymous said...

2 and 1/2 year old blog, but here goes~~~ Is it wrong to have friends, I think not; however, why not link family and friends together? I know it is a wild concept, but if you want your relationship with your children (husband, or God) to grow, you must cultivate that relationship. WARNING: Only do this if you love your family and are willing to see family bonds strengthen. ~~Works for me. =) EBW

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