There are kids in my life. Lots of them. And they belong to lots of different people.
A few weeks ago, I was Auntie Ali for a whole, full, glorious three days, and I enjoyed—nay, cherished—every moment I got to spend with Marissa’s (now) one-year-old(!) son, Jack. When we arrived at her house from Hobby, her husband, Calvin, walked Jack outside to meet us. As if he recognized me from another life (or maybe, however improbable, from the last time I saw him when he was just seven weeks old), he smiled at an old friend, and toddled up to throw his arms around my neck. I melted. It was one of the happiest moments of my recent history, to feel the pure, joyful, and completely genuine love of a child. Maybe I remind him of his mother, which wouldn’t be completely surprising, as she and I grew up together during that oh-so-important rite of passage they call college. Sure, we’re different—she’s a professional and wife and mother of one and a half (due in November), while I’m an unmarried, career-obsessed part-time artist and dogmom—but we’re both kind, loving women with big, light-colored eyes and blonde hair.
Spending time in Katy (west of Houston, proper), was refreshing. In addition to bouncing Jack on my knee while we were going-to-town-to-get-some-butter, and watching the ridiculously elated expression on his face when I dipped him upside down (when before-we-got-there-we-fell-in-the-gutter), I got to spend time with Marissa Jo, nine-month-old daughter of Marissa’s long-time friends Brooke and Joey. The last time I visited, Brooke was eight months pregnant, and having the opportunity to kick back and have a beer with Brooke while watching the little girl she was growing all that time was both amazing and rewarding. Marissa Jo and Jack adore each other (see below), and they’re fortunate (both parents and kids), to have built-in childhood playmates and friends.
It also was also wonderful to feel heat and humidity during an appropriate month for heat and humidity to occur (it’s not 70 degrees in Portland as I write this), and great to be around people who have known me longer than the people I live with. Marissa and her family are like a part of my family, and I hope, sincerely, that our friendship can withstand the tests of time zones and physical distance, so that I’m “Auntie Ali,” when Jack goes off to Florida State. Marissa, the practical woman that she is, told me that “he’ll probably go to a Texas school,” but I can dream. Besides, who doesn’t want to go to college in Florida?
On to mommies. My dear friend, Marissa, is an amazing mommy. And this is why: she adores her son, and respects who he is. He’s one-year-old, but his parents respect him. She doesn’t run to catch his every fall. Her brilliant words to me (which are so very much my Marissa) were, “to let them fall, in a controlled environment.” This didn’t entirely resonate with me at first, although I agree with the philosophical underpinnings. With Joe’s son, Travis, I’m very much the oh-my-God-don’t-do-that person. The bright and shiny BE CAREFUL person, who in every way, limits the development of a child who needs to explore his boundaries in a physical and intellectual world. I highly suspect I’m not the only woman in Travis’ life who reacts that way. I’ll give myself a little credit though, because I’m not his parent, and if he breaks a limb, it’s pretty incriminating. When I’m with Travis, I’m a careful mommy.
But I’m not his mommy, so I wonder, constantly, what kind of mommy will I really be? When it’s my own flesh and blood wobbling and tumbling—will I run to catch their every fall? Will I shudder at the thought of a rickety wood-and-rust playground at the neighborhood park? I don’t know. I like being the spoiling auntie and the fun-nanny-come-stepmother, but with so much practice, will I really know what to do with a child who’s mine, entirely? My answer to that is a firm no. I’ll have no idea.
Who actually has any idea? Our best reference is our own upbringing, which, for better or worse, makes us into the very same big people who eventually decide we’re mentally sane enough to bring more little people into the world. We, as big people, think our job is to protect them—which is not entirely untrue—but our jobs, really, are to prepare them to succeed on their own someday without us, with succeed as the operative word. This sounds scary, but I know more adults whose parents failed them in that one very important little way than I care to count. And these adults let life get the best of them.
Which brings me back to my point. Kids should fall, if for no other reason, than they should learn how to get back up. Reality is like a a few shots of tequila with the worm in it. It punches you in the stomach, and leaves you curled up in bed the next morning, wondering if life is really worth living. It makes you place blame—who was the asshole that invented that stuff anyway? Can I sue him? Can I sue him for full custody and alimony?
Shouldn’t we teach kids how to drink responsibly, rather than telling them not to drink?
For me, personally, I’m going to let Travis break dance recklessly around the hardwood coffee table. Because he likes to dance, and because I owe it to him.