Sunday, June 6, 2010

Parenting Brings Out the Philosopher in Me

My mom often tells people (or so she tells me) that her greatest accomplishment in life has been me and my brother. Now, while I have to admit that Greg and I are two strapping, responsible, respectful, big-hearted men, I've always felt very clear--and mom, if you're reading this, don't take this the wrong way--that I needed more than children to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Believe me, Jackson was the absolute epicenter of my life for more than 10 years, until he had to make room for Sarah to share that epicenter. More recently, of course, he's had to skooch over even more for Max. But when I'm on my death bed (and please, whoever decides these things, make it a comfy one), merely having been a father won't give me the sense of fullness I'm hoping for.

I was thinking about this recently as I drove around doing errands with Max in tow. The way everyone responds to him, you'd think the stroller contained Michelangelo's David, and in a sense, I suppose it does. Every baby really is a work of art. Regardless, I started asking myself, what does a person have to do for his life to be considered a success? Does he have to be remembered and beloved beyond his family, friends and loved ones? Must he invent something that changes the world? Weed out evil wherever it exists in the world? Raise money to build schools in third-world communities? Take in homeless pets?

I asked Sarah what she thought, and her first instinct was to say that someone who achieves happiness is a success. But that's too easy--there are plenty of terrible people in the world who achieve happiness without any chance of being considered a success in the final analysis.

Is it as simple as treating others with kindness and respect, and being mindful of everything that's flowing around you? Spreading love to those you touch, and accepting the love of others in a deep and meaningful way?

Hopefully, you didn't continue reading this post in the hope that I was going provide an answer, because quite frankly, it's not possible. Success is an awfully big word, and with so many people doing so many things and living their lives in so many ways, there has to be more valid definitions of success than just about any word in the English language.

What I do know is this: If I were to die today, I'd consider myself a success in some regards, not so much in others. I think I've learned to be a good husband and father who's willing to acknowledge and try to address his flaws. I also have managed to build a life that allows me to rule my own schedule, and that in itself is worth more money than I could ever imagine making. But I've also demonstrated a penchant for having big ideas, and even starting to execute them--but never seeming to finish them.

So there you go, I've worked it out. If I want to ultimately consider myself a success--and really, in the end, whose approval do we need more than our own?--I need to become a better finisher. Yep, I'm gonna get right on that. Once I usher Jackson into adulthood, navigate Max through childhood, figure out how to be the best husband I can be to Sarah, and finish updating all the remaining elements on our house, that is. I certainly hope this success thing is all it's cracked up to be.

Now that I think about it, Jackson and Max have given me a big head-start. My mom has had it partly right all along.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Max, the Emerging Person: We Must Be Doing Something Right

Right before our eyes, a little personality is forming. Not that we didn't expect that--kind of hard to keep your child a completely unformed infant. But the speed at which it happens is surprising even for this experienced parent. Every day, Max seems to expand on his understanding--and ability to interact with--the world around him.

One day he starts really being amused by things, laughing and smiling at anything that causes him pleasure. Then he's suddenly reaching out to try to grab things, sometimes bouncing so excitedly he seems to want to get up and run after whatever he sees. At this pace, it won't be too long before he's taking dictation and making dinner. But I jump ahead. Currently, he's pretty focused on noticing things that escaped his senses earlier--people eating, light switches and fabric textures are all capturing his attention throughout the day. This is especially apparent on the changing table, where his contortions to grab at the light switch or to feel the wall or to grab the clothes we're preparing to put on him make the simple act of getting his diaper on seem more like making mid-flight repairs to a fighter jet.

He seems to enjoy pretty much all forms of play, within reason, and when we leave the house, he bewitches all who see him with his big blue eyes and bouyant smile. This causes us no end of entertainment. Mom singing and dancing to goofy 70s tunes? Check--big smile. Dad shifting and contorting his body in all manner of movements? No problem--he loves it. Big bro Jackson, making silly faces at him? Nirvana. Our neurotic dog, Q, standing in the corner, staring at a blank space on the wall? Hilarious in his eyes. And the TV? Forget it--he's mesmerized by even the most banal HGTV fodder.

But let's be fair--lots of babies are wonderful when the big people are making an effort to entertain them. But what separates Max from the pack is what he does when we're NOT making him the focus. This is one good-natured baby. Kitchen needs cleaning? Put him in the bumpo seat and watch him happily follow our movements around the kitchen. Take him out to restaurants? This is where he really shines, sitting happily in his car seat for 90 min, even 2 hours, while we enjoy a leisurely meal with family or friends. Yard work day? Not an issue--stick him in his activity center (we call it his "office") and he'll happily spin around, grabbing and pushing and chewing on the built-in toys, occupying himself for an hour or more.

And then there's the reaction to the group dynamic. This is where lots of babies have problems with anxiety as new faces enter the picture and over-stimulation lurks around every corner. This past weekend was a big test on this front--Sarah's and my parents were both in town, and we attended my niece's first b-day party, meaning lots of family members and friends were poking, prodding, holding, ogling and generally wanting a piece of Max. Naturally, he seemingly has no problem with this, being handed from one person to another, even being fed along the way, and never missing a beat. We know the stranger anxiety period is coming--it's as inevitable as death and taxes--so we're enjoying this malleable little person as much as we can before he turns into Chucky and makes handing him off a lot more difficult.

Truthfully, though, Sarah and I don't really fear the whole stranger anxiety thing--we fully expect Max to continue to be interested and energized by any and all stimulus for the foreseeable future. We've made a point of encouraging this flexibility by not shielding him from noise and chaos, and now both of us have the sense that this is going to be a ping-pong ball of a kid, bouncing enthusiastically from one source of entertainment to another, eager to interact and learn, regardless of what's going on around him. Then again, if we do find ourselves struggling with him some day down the line, we can always sequester him in our bedroom and put on the latest episode of "House Hunters."