My husband has lovingly (I think?) joked with me for a while now that one day technology would swallow me whole and I'd be left, clueless, trying to figure out how to function in a modern-day society. This is probably true. I'm always the last to upgrade anything and my favorite feature of my car is the fact it plays cassettes. It's not all just being reluctant to change, but what I like to think is as an acknowledgement that everything that came before isn't necessarily bad. When I play some of my dad's old vinyl records that I have stored in my closet, I am hearing the same static, same music that he listened to when he was just a little boy. When I download an MP3 of a song that I liked back in the day, it's still saturates me in nostalgia and memory but it lacks some authenticity. Finding the original cassette or burned Memorex CD with all of it's age spots, scratches and flaws always feels a little more like home, like it's a little more of value. Or I could just be crazy, because I'm not at all ruling that out.
But the definite thing is that the world is changing faster than even I, at not even thirty years old, can wrap my mind around. Small toddlers with their own smart phones or tablets is a reason to boast, to aww, to laugh with unaffected glee. Here is where I'd say "but it makes me cringe" -- except for the fact I honestly and truly don't care how other people choose to spend their money, or how other people raise their children. The "are you a bad parent if you do this?" argument is boring, it's old, it's redundant and it never goes anywhere good. A good parent loves their children and finds solace in their smiles, and does the best that they can -- even if it's not exactly what you would do. So what do I do as this electronic age follows me, striking down aisles in our favorite bookstore to be replaced by shelves of gadgets and beeping, blinking light-up toys? I cope, and do so by throwing every single battery-operated toy Ethan has (except for one) into cardboard boxes and shoving them into the garage.
I think I declare "I just can't anymore" daily -- a white-flag in reference to so much. We live in a place that I love, a place that is part of me and the only place I would ever want home to be, but a place that ranks nauseatingly high on the cost of living spectrum. It's easy to get lost in the glitz and the glamor, I think, when something as supposedly luxurious as a Bentley is merely commonplace and you can think of at least three or four you see on a daily basis. But I've never been into glitz, and I've certainly never been into glamor, and so I embarked on this crazy train way of raising my child to manually push wooden cars around and make his own vrooming sounds. My husband, who has long since been pushing for simplicity and finding the beauty of more in less, was on board with this definitive switch, even when it means starting up an argument with my mother that, no, Ethan cannot have a train table at home because then it will ruin the thrill of spending our magical mornings together at the bookstore playing with the one there. It means you're automatically given a side-eye when you start telling people you are accepting charity donations in lieu of gifts at your son's birthday party. It means that my toddler sits happily on a floor covered in wooden puzzle pieces for forty minutes while I make dinner and hasn't even noticed that the blinking, beeping toys he's never played with are gone, making more room for the blocks we can never get to or the dress-up clothes he's helped me make himself. It means that, no, I really don't care if your child has fifteen favorite TV shows but I don't even know where I'd find the time to let Ethan watch TV, even if I wanted to. I mean, there's a reason why our DVR is always backed up for weeks at a time -- we're just not television people. Right now Ethan thinks the TV is something that plays movies of his Aunt Megan's dance recitals that he dances along to, and I'm fine with that.
The other day at the splash pad, a little boy had brought an arsenal of beach toys: pails, shovels, dumptrucks. Ethan watched longingly as the boy and his mother sat there, acknowledging more than once that these toys belonged to that boy and no one else. Yesterday, I made sure to bring Ethan's bag of beach toys to the splash pad and made it clear that everyone at the splash pad was able to share them. It backfired. Some little boy grabbed Ethan's truck away repeatedly as he was playing with it, refusing to give it back and leaving poor Ethan to stand in the water crying "Ethan's truck!" Eventually the stolen truck was recovered, but during the entire ordeal the boy's mother just sat there with a blank expression, half-watching, half-checking her phone. I give up trying to pretend like I can keep up with the attitudes and the politics of even something as innocent as an afternoon at the splash park, where Ethan has decided today he doesn't want to go because a "baby boy drive Ethan truck." So there's that. Or the fact that within my first two minutes of being at the splash pad, another mother asked me what city I live in and when I told her, asked if I was really going to send my child to the "repulsive" school district he was set to go to. I mean, yeah, I think I'll let him tough life out a little in a school ranked in the top one percent of the country. Bad assery, and whatnot.
My husband and I have fought a lot of good fights together during the eleven years we've been together. If we can survive the melodramatic teenage heartbreak of a long distance school year and falling asleep with a phone receiver shoved against our clavicle and the stereotypical pillowcase soaked with tears and (way too much) mascara, we can survive raising Ethan to be as Kumbaya as his little art-making heart desires. Because this boy blows me away with his imagination, with the way he can line up some wooden spoons and drive a sweet potato "choo choo" across them, with the magic he still finds in a park he's been to ten million times. Growing up, my dad would make some tired joke about letting kids play in the dirt with sticks and I'd roll my eyes -- we all did -- but now that I'm a parent, the whole sticks-in-the-dirt thing doesn't seem so bad. Because, really, there's something to be said about the outdoors and bright sunlight, about exploring nature, about little hands slathered in shaving cream, about sticky hands and blue fingerpaint stained eyebrows. This morning on a walk, my mom's neighbor declared that her four year old had "played enough" and needed to be trained at a highly competitive, academically intense preschool so he can be "prepared for Kindergarten."
So there's that, and the fact I don't think a four year old can "play enough." Or the fact that I think play-based learning is the most vital gift I can give my child who, I'm fairly confident, will still be prepared for Kindergarten and all of the subsequent years of classroom learning even if we're rolling into age two still going on nature walks and collecting rocks to paint. But these "aren't you worried he's going to be delayed?" comments -- too well-meaning to be jabs -- are just another thing I'm going to have to get used to as the oddball parent I always figured I would be, hoarding cardboard boxes and empty jars and egg cartons, toting around an almost-two-year-old with the words "tie-dye" in his vocabulary. Because that's life, our life, and one I'm willing to measure based on his smiles and laughter.