Monday, March 31, 2014

Reasons to Keep Your Toddler Around

Welcome back to The Brilliant Book Club, a collaboration of five parent bloggers. To learn more about BBC, read this post or follow us on Facebook, G+ or Twitter with the hashtag #BrilliantBookClub.

And don’t forget to read what my co-founders Lauren, Jessica, Sarah and Stephanie have to say about this month’s book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior. Links to their posts are below.



I did not want to read All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior. I have, in truth, grown a bit weary of the upper middle class navel-gazing and over-analysis paralysis in the parenting department. I didn't liked Maxed Out at all, and while I found the essays in The Good Mother Myth well written and thought-provoking, I confessed to not being susceptible to that particular myth.

I related, instead, to the author of the recent humor piece in the New Yorker whose lede was: "A recent study has shown that if American parents read one more long-form think piece about parenting they will go fucking ape shit."

Amen.

But I am so glad I didn't skip this one. Because I love it.


Jennifer Senior's new book is beautifully constructed: interviews with everyday people, compelling social science research and resonant references to literature, both fiction and non-fiction. Her pages are filled with lines from the likes of Milan Kundera, Michael Ondaatje and C.S. Lewis. Senior's own prose is simple and evocative with lines as beautiful as, "The rain comes down harder, turns to hail; it's the kind of windy-wet downpour that twists umbrellas into buttercups." It is a pleasure to read.

The book is divided into three sections: babies and toddlers, early elementary school children and adolescents. I regret that with my move last weekend to the not-quite-suburbs I was only able to get through the chapters on babies and toddlers. But since that is the extent of my hands-on experience to this point, I might have confined my opinions regardless. (Self-justification: check.)

I enjoyed the first two chapters on autonomy (loss thereof) and marriage (changes to) following the birth of a new baby. There is no book on earth that can prepare you for Hurricane Newborn. Not only for the unbounded love you feel for your creation but also for the shifts in life's mundane details: leaving the house in the morning with your sanity intact can seem a Herculean (and humbling) task.

Senior offers a lot of social science research that resonated with my experiences, notably the study that found the level of sleep deprivation "enjoyed" by new parents can compromise performance as much as being drunk. I also appreciated the insightful section on the oft-discussed division of labor between partners. (I will reserve those points for another post discussing what I learned from our recent move.)

But the chapter that really piqued my interest was the third one, entitled "Simple Gifts," which attempts to answer the question no social science research study has ever fully done: Why, if raising children is so difficult, if it leads to sleep deprivation and diminished sex lives and maddening, inane conversations about putting on shoes... why, then, is it also such a source of joy?

Just another day in paradise with a toddler. On the floor of Home Depot. Crying. Naturally.

This question is less a matter of social science and more of philosophy. Here are three reasons she postulates:

Spirit

Parenting a toddler gives you license to uncork your inner spirit -- the one tamped down by years of functioning in "civilized" society -- and dance like a silly freak, run through sprinklers and play with percussion instruments until your ear drums fall out of your head. No one looks at you sidelong when you slide down a homemade snow hill with your tot. For a couple of years, you have permission to act like a child again. And isn't it glorious?

Love

The unconditional adoration of a toddler is as intoxicating as it gets. It's not that your spouse or siblings don't love you unconditionally; they may in fact do so, just not in the completely unencumbered, unpolluted way that only a child, who hasn't yet lived long enough to judge or be judged, can and does.

To wit, the other night, I went to the door of my two-year-old son's room and listened as he sang a song whose melody and lyrics were all his own. The only words to the song were "Mommy."

Mommy, mommy, mommy ma ma. Mamma mommy mamma mamma maaa.

He wasn't calling me. He was serenading me. For every moment of irrational floor-crying at Home Depot (see photo above), there's also the Mommy song.

Philosophy

Parenting, Senior argues, allows you to take another stab at life's big philosophical questions when your little questioner inquires, "How can we be sure that everything is not a dream?" or "Is there only this place, the place with the sky?" Or ponder questions we once asked but to which we have forgotten the answer in the hurried practicality of quotidian life: "Why is the sky blue?" "What is water?" As Senior puts it, new parents have "a chance, at least for a few years, to contemplate -- and perhaps reconsider -- why the world around them is what it is."


Spirit, love and philosophy. Three great reasons to keep your toddler around. If she has taught me that much in a hundred pages, I look forward to reading what else Senior has in store.


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Please be sure to read this week's posts by my Brilliant Book Club co-founders:

Jessica @ School of SmockIf We Left Kids Alone, Would We All Be More Joyful and Happy?

Sarah @ Left Brain BuddhaAncient Wisdom for Modern Parents: 5 Ways to Make Parenting More Joyful

Stephanie @ Mommy, For RealThe Parenthood Paradox: A Snapshot of Two Mothers