No Hovering

Posted by: , December 3, 2009 in 11:34 am

afterbirth 11 No HoveringThe other day I was shuffling through selections on my daughters new CD trying to find the song she wanted to hear. “No–uller one!” she kept saying. Why am I doing this? I never ordered my parents to find the proper song to go along with my mood. I never ordered my parents to do anything. I was afraid to speak to my dad until I was twelve, and even then it was only to ask for a “point of clarification” for something he ordered me to do.

Another unsettling thing is that my daughter has her own CD collection. And the children’s music on these CD’s is filled with political ideology–I finally found the song she was looking for, and this is how it went.

Hey na-na, hey na-na. Hey na-na, hey na.
The Earth is our Mother,
We must take care of Her.
The Earth is our Mother.
We must take care of Her…

She’s two. Can you at least wait until she is five to indoctrinate her into the Democratic party? I know she’s headed that way–she is growing up in New York City. Just relax a little–you’ll get her in time.

I want to give her a little balance. My Manhattan born friends are all racked with insecurities and neurosis. I grew up in a very conservative home, and I turned out fine–perhaps there is something to that.

If you’ve ever read any parenting blogs or magazines, you’ve probably read about “helicopter parents”, parents who are constantly hovering over their children, trying to make sure their world is free from all danger and stress. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. I see them everywhere–like the parents in Central Park. “Honey, watch out! The grass–it’s sharp!” That’s right. Sharp grass.

My mother used to tie me to a tree in the backyard. That way, I could play outside unsupervised. I would run around in a 15-foot circumference to the tree like a dog. I usually stayed taught at the end of the rope, but sometimes I would run around and around, eventually coiling myself tightly to the tree. I’m lucky there were no large birds-of-prey in Massachusetts–with the rope strung tightly around me I probably looked like one of those roulade roasts Alton Brown prepares on the Food Network. Eventually, a passerby would happen upon me and help me unwind. One day, my mother decided to let me off the leash. Her only instruction: “Don’t go in the street.” For a while, I went right back to the half moon shaped trench I had worn out in front of the tree, where I felt most at home. Then at some point I broke out on my own, completely forgetting my mothers dictate.

My mother came out on the porch when she heard a car horn honking. I was sitting in the middle of the street, there was a big Chrysler in front of me, and the driver was leaning out the window making a “shoo!” gesture with his hands. This apparently callous behavior by the driver was entirely unremarkable–it was the 1970’s and children were by and large seen as pests, not America’s most precious resource. As my mother tells it, upon seeing her, I walked up on the porch where she was standing arms akimbo in the doorway, and passed by her into the house. I returned moments later with the rope and harness and handed it to her.

My mother likes to tell this story, with that image of me handing back my leash as the punch line, an example of my precocious nature. But as a parent now, I think the more illuminating part of the story is the earlier part–in the setup. In taking me off the leash, my mother was willing to role the dice, and see if I lived to tell about it. You can hardly accuse her of being a helicopter. But there was a lesson to be learned: I would not again go in the street.

What if the experiment did not end well? What if my mother stepped outside to find me lying on the road with a Michelin tire tread across my forehead? What then? Well, there would be a silk purse from that sow’s ear as well: she had five kids, and the other four would learn a valuable lesson. You can bet that at my funeral, as my little casket was being lowered into the earth, my mother would turn to my brothers and sisters and say, “Do you see what happens when you go out in the street?”

Bottom line is, this non-interventionist method worked. I turned out fine, as did my siblings. I would like to emulate my parents today, but I can’t completely resist the culture at large–after all, this is a world in which gangly pre-teens still have to ride in car seats. (Have you seen these Baby Hughey-like monsters, riding down the highway strapped into a tiny booster, playing Doom on their Sony PSP? The boy has five o’clock shadow–let him use a seatbelt.)

So I put the song on the CD, and even sang along with it, doing the hand gestures with my daughter.

Hey na-na, hey na-na. Hey na-na, hey na.
The Earth is our Mother,
We must take care of Her.
The Earth is our Mother.
We must take care of Her…

But I want to give her an alternative to the indoctrination. I know she’s not going to be raised as I was, but I want to make sure she gets a little balance in her life. So I wrote this, and I read it to her before she goes to bed.

Dear Agnes,
The Earth is not your real mother. Mommy is. You know Mommy… she’s the one who feeds you, and gets you dressed, and cleans up your throw up? If you vomit on Mother Earth, it just sits there.

Mother Earth is also completely indifferent to your suffering. Just imagine if you were alone in the woods, and you came upon a Hyena. Would Mother Earth rise up between you and the hyena to protect you? No. Mother Earth would sit and watch as the hyena ate you. What about Mother Earth’s friends, The Trees? Would they be willing to help? No. They would stand idly by, their boughs blowing in the breeze, as if this were the most pleasant thing that they had ever seen. “Look–a little girl being devoured by a hyena… Sure is windy today.

But your real Mommy and Daddy won’t let that happen. That’s why we’re here. To protect you from her–Mother Nature. Just imagine if Daddy didn’t build a house on her to keep you safe? Or go out and hunt pheasant everyday to feed you? Or dig underground for fossil fuels to keep you warm? …None of which Daddy actually does–but he’s somewhere in the chain of command. Goodnight Moon.

So balance, I believe, is the key. Perhaps I’ll be able to strike a happy medium–go along with the rest of the world, but offer some resistance. I may not be constantly hovering in my helicopter, but I’ll be there. More like one of those golf cart security guards that do laps around the parking lot at the mall. I’ll keep a look out as best I can, and if I miss something, I’ll be around again in twenty minutes.

Afterbirth Stories

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