Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What's new pussycat

New year, fresh start? Doesn't feel that way. I'm still scrambling after projects started long ago, and now growing urgent. When they reach a stopping place, there'll be others clamoring for attention.

Kind of like your Archies list is eating away at you right now, you know? Best thing to do is just get it out and onto your blog, in my experience.

Which makes it a good time to address one of those leftover questions from The Great NaBloPoMo Topic Solicitation of Ought Seven. (Remember how I promised to answer all of them before the year ran out? Good, I was hoping nobody noticed.)

Eric writes:
Is it really possible to be a responsible parent and not become some brainless zombie ala Dawn of the Dead?

Sorry, was that not the answer you wanted? It might require some qualifications , but I'm afraid that it's not inaccurate as a short answer.

Because parenting -- any kind, not just the responsible version -- is mostly about reacting. Mom proposes, child disposes. Your plans and limits and philosophies are all very well and good, and I recommend you have them (e.g., employ time out rather than spanking, praise liberally and criticize sparingly, read for twenty minutes every day). But those are just the scaffolding -- or in some cases, the guard rails -- for your relationship with your child. Most of what fills up the space you share is the child learning to be itself, and you figuring out how to respond to that.

And that's what zombies do. They just respond. They don't have plans or creativity or free will. They act on instinct.

Most of parenting is like that. Sometimes your instincts will be good and productive. Sometimes you will luck into children that entertain themselves occasionally, giving you space to be your own person. Everything else is a series of instantaneous decisions on how to respond to the stimulus being provided by your child at that moment.

Does that mean that you can't be thoughtful, engaged with the world, entrepreneurial, free -- all the things we value about being adults? I'm constantly amazed at how much adult stuff most parents seem to get accomplished -- they start businesses and blog and write books and learn new skills and volunteer and all the rest. So of course they have some part of their lives where they're not zombies.

But I'll submit that 85% of the time spent in direct contact with one's children is zombie time. There's a silver lining to that cloud, though -- one that provides most of the joy that parents are constantly asserting they get from their relationship with their kids. A lot of what you're reacting to is really amazing, and the zombie response is delight and wonder. Doesn't mean it's any less of a brainless reflex -- but it's one, like the drive to satisfy hunger, desire, and curiosity, that makes life seem absolutely worth all the hassle.


Eric Grubbs said...

Wow, what a great answer. Thanks Donna. Maybe Max Brooks could apply this to his next book on zombies.

Anonymous said...

Bravo. Especially that last paragraph. Zombies unite!

Anonymous said...

I think that this post should be required reading for the new push of folks who think they can still be hipsters and parents, too. Very mutually exclusive ways to be -- even if your kid knows Feist's 1234.

Great description of parenting.