The last one

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

It was sunny today, hot and bright. Much like 9/11/01 and most September days since, being as it is the waning days of summer. The oyster and I went to her first music class this morning and unsurprisingly she got right into the dancing. But while the other toddlers floated like butterflies to the classical flute music, the little oyster dropped her own beat and it was Hammertime. I’m looking forward to our Thursday mornings this fall.

“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

I don’t know yet how we will teach our daughter about 9/11. At two years old, this is simply another day for her and of course it should be at her ripe old age. But how do you teach someone to never forget when there’s no memory of what we’re to remember in the first place?

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

The morning radio show the husband listens to took calls about 9/11. One listener’s 6th grader has an assignment to interview someone who remembers that day. None of those children were alive when the planes went down, none of them remember the silence in the skies for days and days after, all of them know a country at war and pat-downs at the airport. How many have been to Section 60? Who can say.

“I don’t much care where” is a lazy proclamation, not a carefree anthem. When we teach our daughter about 9/11 and Section 60 and freedom and living and making a future informed–even emboldened–by the past but not crippled by it, however we do that, she won’t be able to say “I don’t much care…” because that fatalism is trumped by the vow to never forget. I care which attitude we impart, in all things, big and small.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

It matters to me which way we go. It matters to me that we walk boldly and humbly in a direction, with no guarantee of arrival but an understanding of the admonition to get moving.

“–so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

We can’t always see which way we ought to go from here. When the time comes to teach our little girl about 9/11 and remembering, I know where we want to get to: To an understanding of life in the midst of loss, love and good in moments of terror, redemption in the face of evil. These are lofty goals, I know. But we are going to walk long enough that in the big things and in the little things she understands that the billowing black smoke behind us may always stay with us in some ways but that the end of one thing makes room for something new.

never forget

What goes around comes around…and out the sides

The scene: The Midwest, the suburbs, a two-story colonial, upstairs, a crib. Circa 1986.

The players: The dad, very little me.

The action: The mom says the almost-toddler-aged child is napping and should be down for the afternoon; she leaves the house. The garage door closes; a stench wafts down the stairs to the dad. The dad climbs stairs to find very little me standing in crib, coated in thick layer of my own forcefully expelled excrement. Am very pleased. Am covered from “hairline to between your toes” as the dad tells it for the next almost 30 years. Am deposited into tub and hosed liberally. All garments are disposed of. “Your time will come” also launched as favorite tagline henceforth.

Well, DAD.

The scene: Northern Virginia, the suburbs, a Kohl’s, a cart. June 2014.

The players: Me, the oyster, a cleaning lady with no English, 7 middle-aged women.

The action: We’re shopping for a brother-in-law’s birthday gift and the oyster begins emanating The Scent. Assuming it is a turd and can wait until we choose a tie, we continue shopping. Oyster is unperturbed. Tie chosen, we seek the bathroom for a diaper change. In front of guest services I park our cart and remove the oyster, discovering her to be covered from the armpits to the back of her legs in a soup of her own making. Spillage in cart. Oyster remains unperturbed. I carry her with stiff, outstretched arms into bathroom and flip down changing station panel with one superhero finger. I line changing station liberally with paper towel, which must be pumped from the STUPID DISPENSER one miniscule pump at a time. Four years later, I lay Oyster atop post-consumer padding and begin to strip all articles of clothing. Immediately upon contact with open air, patches of excrement dry onto skin–hers and mine–but Oyster is unperturbed. Now also naked. I have a spare diaper in my purse along with travel wipes, which reveal themselves to be but three in number. Wipes exhausted, toilet paper is required.

We turn now to our players:

Me: Do NOT move. Stay RIGHT there.  <frantically unrolls fistfuls of tp from nearest stall>
Oyster : La laa dee daa LAAA DAA PAPA!
Middle aged women 1 and 2: <stare, say nothing>
Me: Keep staying RIGHT THERE. <more tp>
Oyster: BAAAAA!! WOOF! WOOF! MEOWWW.
Middle aged women 3 and 4: <stand in my way as I try to exit the stall, while jabbering among themselves about who will go first into the handicap stall; hint: if you don’t move, it’s going to be both of you>
Me: <wets tp at sink, scrubs Oyster hind parts, tp falls apart in pills of poop-covered paper> DON’T MOVE. Good job NOT MOVING.
Oyster: MeeeoWWWW. PAPA. Baaaaa. MAMAMAMAMAMADADDY!
Me: No, Daddy’s not here. Alas for me.
<cleaning lady, who watched the whole thing, is now near me>
Me: Hi! Do you have some kind of regular paper towel, like kitchen paper towel? And a disinfectant spray? There’s poop in the cart we were using, out there, and I’d like to scrub it down. Do you have something I should use for that?
Cleaning lady: You want…I stand baby?
Me: I’m sorry?
Cleaning lady: Sorry, no English.
Me: Oh. Hrm. Ok, thanks.
Middle aged women 5, 6, and 7: <stand there as I explain, in vain, to the cleaning lady what I need, and then hustle themselves past; oh Virginia, if you were Michigan someone would have helped me by now>
Oyster: MAMA.
Me: Don’t move. <commences pumping paper towel .35 cm at a time; dampens paper towel in sink> I’m sorry about this, baby girl…
Oyster: Ow. Ohh ho ho oww. Mama.
Me: I know, I’m sorry. <scrubs>
Oyster: Blar blar WOOF WOOF MEOWWWW.

And so I scrubbed her poor bum and legs and back with imitation tree bark until all traces of the explosion were to be found only in the cart we had to tackle next. Fiercely pumping more of the STUPID SLOW CRUNCHY PAPER TOWEL into my waiting hand, I filled the nest with a blue foamy spray that looked like it may kill something, and paraded out of the bathroom with that, my naked child, and a determined look on my face. I scrubbed that cart until the paper towel went dry and to my everlasting surprise, no one from guest services said anything. Nothing about the smell of poop, or the naked child (she had sandals and a clean diaper, so not truly nakie, I guess), or the guest cleaning her own cart with industrial grade chemicals. Kind of feel like that’s a customer-service fail but I’m just the lady cleaning poop off another human, so ignore me. Please. Like everyone else who had two free hands and a set of eyeballs.

The Oyster and I zoomed to the toddler section as fast as that crappy (oh I do love a pun) cart would go and I threw my child into a plain top and bike shorts as fast as I could, leaving the tags on, lest anyone in the entire store suddenly notice what I was doing and confront me. At that point, I would have dared them.

<end scene>

So, DAD. Looks like my time did come at last. I just wish my time had come when we were at home and the bathtub nigh. And bummer for you that you didn’t have a blog when I ruined your day–and my crib sheet–in 1986. 😀

One year in, or, our new strapless high chair

This month makes it one year since I left work and started staying home full-time with the little oyster. You may have noticed the serious decline in regular posting, which should lead you simultaneously to

1) awe of my most excellent and complete dedication to my current life situation and

2) suspicion about how I spent some of my working hours on the Hill

But that’s not for here.

May 2014 finds us surrounded by pregnant friends and neighbors, and I do mean surrounded. I didn’t know it was possible for so many women to all have babies in the same calendar year. I didn’t realize I knew so many women. But again, that’s not for here.

So what is for here, eh? What’s for here is a check-in on the staying-at-home thing, brought to you (obviously) by me. That and an exhortation to other parents to just consider their options. Let’s proceed. I’ll begin with a tale. Actually, it’s a parable, but not a biblical one, obvs. I was going to use fable as my term of choice but since this story is sans anthropomorphic animals and plants, yet still contains a moral, we’re going to use parable.

Once upon a time the oyster was born and started to eat real food. When these days came, her mom bought for the oyster a white plastic high chair with a white plastic removable tray. The chair was $20 and the tray was $5 and both items fit the bill and the budget (three cheers for Ikea).

The little oyster has always been a good eater and to her a high chair is a valued vehicle for partaking of comestibles, not a trap to escape from. For this reason the little girl’s parents never buckled her in.

Until one day her mom did. That day the little oyster choked on some food–the silent, gagging, turning-colors choking and guess what happened? Her mom couldn’t get her out of the damn high chair with the stupid buckle and ended up pounding on the little girl’s back while she sat there, until she gagged up the food. Chewed and regurgitated food went everywhere but the oyster recovered just fine. As her mom cleaned the high chair, the only thing that really made her gag was scrubbing the buckles and straps with their fibers and nooks and crannies. Ew. From that day on, the straps were pulled tight beneath the chair and tied to one another, out of the way.

The little oyster, good eater though she was, would still occasionally miss a piece and her mom or dad would later find some brown banana smashed into a useless buckle, or the remnants of tikka masala* soaking into a cloth strap, requiring much scrubbing.

And then, one rainy Wednesday before lunch, a year into their relationship with the Ikea high chair, the little oyster’s mom had an epiphany:

I don’t have to deal with this. There’s something I can do about this. I would never have to clean around these blasted things again, they would never poke my daughter in her meaty thighs and leave marks on her during lunch, and the high chair would be more comfortable for her, easier to wipe for us, and more sightly, come to think of it, with no straps and buckles dangling underneath like assembly-required dingleberries. Just because these straps have always been here doesn’t mean they need to stay. Eureka!

So I cut them off.

problem solving

The moral of the story is this: Just because something is a certain way right now doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. If you don’t like the way things are, change them. Buying a high chair with straps, never using the straps, and keeping the straps attached for a full year before realizing you can just cut them off and make everything the way you want it is called problem solving. Slow on the uptake, sure, but also problem solving.

In an email to one of my book clubs recently I made a comment about day drinking. One of the ladies, who is expecting, wrote back with an LOL and her hope that I was enjoying a nice, crisp glass of something white. I was. And the windows were open, the grass had just been cut and the scent was wafting in, the oyster was napping, and I was catching up on emails. It’s not a bad life, I told her. She said to be careful, I might tempt her into being a stay at home mom yet.

But my intention isn’t/wasn’t/never will be to tempt any mom into staying home full-time. My intention is to encourage moms and expectant moms to consider their options and also consider that the decision you make this month can be changed. You can cut off the straps if you find they’re worthless, even a year later.

I didn’t leave work right away when the oyster was born. I didn’t plan to leave work at all, actually. I had 9 weeks at home, the last 5 of them working from home. Know what’s hard? Working from home with a newborn. Then I went back to work in the office and it was a delightful break but then it got harder to leave home and then I wanted to be at home with the oyster and then it got a lot harder and I knew I had to be at home with her or everything else in our family was going straight into the crapper, and fast. My heart wasn’t in it, and a paycheck and resume bragging rights weren’t enough to keep me there.

For us, having more dollars didn’t add value to our family. The husband and I had discussed our priorities, set goals in keeping with those priorities, and take steps to meet those goals. So a year ago, we cut off the straps and I haven’t regretted it for a single hour since.

I think a lot of parents are afraid of what people will say or think of their strapless high chairs, so it’s just easier–in theory–to keep the straps on and work around them and clean around them and let them dig into the baby’s legs and gag when they smell like old food and pretend you don’t see the ugliness of the useless things tangled under the high chair seat, as out of the way as they can be while still being there.

I also think a lot of people don’t consider that no matter how long you’ve had the high chair, you can always cut off the straps. It’s okay to change your mind. If you honestly want your high chair to be strapless, you’ll do it and you’ll make it work. Now, next month, a year later, it doesn’t matter. Maybe you’ve planned your whole life to put your child in this high chair and you’ve never considered what life may be like if you didn’t have to deal with the straps and all they require. Well, consider it. And if you find that the straps are useless and you’re only keeping them because you care about what people think of strapless high chairs, do yourself a favor and stop caring. If the straps are in the way, just cut them off.

After laying the oyster down for her afternoon nap I grabbed my book off the kitchen table and did a double take–there was something in her high chair! Wait, no there wasn’t…it was just the empty little slots where the straps used to live. It looks weird. It will take a day or so to get used to. But the straps are gone and I’m not looking back.

 

*Heck yeah my kid eats Indian food. Yours can, too!

Tiger mother

tiger mom

Typically I would read a book, have an opinion on it, and post it quickly in the Books are our friends section of this blog. And for the record, I don’t post every book I read because that would be tedious and a decent number of the books I read right now are chick lit which is generally good reading (I recommend anything by Hester Browne if one needs a solid beach read!) but not generally worth reviewing, even so briefly as I do.

Anyway. The other week I found a copy of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua at a Goodwill. It was $1 and I remembered that the book had fueled great controversy when it was first released not long ago, so I brought it home. For some reason I thought it would be more research-heavy, all “studies show” and stuff. It wasn’t, it was entirely anecdotal and a very quick and engaging read.

Like I said, the book caused a major flap when it came out but I wasn’t really paying attention then. I do remember that Today had Chua on to talk about the book when it was published and that generally speaking, Americans were aghast at the book and its author. Chua stood her ground, and I, as someone who tends to be skeptical if I’m not flat out rejecting something, figured I would largely be on Chua’s side.

Holy tiger mother, Batman. I kid you not, this was my face more than once:

insane shocked

As we’ve established on this blog and in person, if we’re real-life friends, I don’t generally agree with and therefore don’t generally practice typical American battery-powered here’s-a-prize-for-participating-and-oh-didn’t-you-do-so-great-everyone-is-a-winner parenting. The husband and I, by dint of our personalities and conscious decisions, lean toward the less child-worship and more whole-family-focused French way of doing things. On paper side by side with sweeping generalizations about American parents, our Francophile methods can look inflexible or callous. (They’re not either one by any means. Look closer.) But compared to Chua’s tiger mother methodology, we’re on track to run a veritable Pleasure Island over here.

I could go on for days about this book and I highly recommend it to anyone who, well, anyone. It’s quick and it sheds interesting light on cultural differences that I bet most of us have encountered in some form. One thing Chua insists is that all parents want to do what’s best for their children, “the Chinese just have a completely different idea of how to do that” and that’s where I disagree with her the most. Obviously she’s right, Chinese and Western parents do have a different view of how to do what’s best for our children but I think a more serious difference can be found in what we think is best for our children. Without understanding first what we believe is best for our kids, how we accomplish it is a moot point.

And also:

whaaaat

I would rather you think I’m stupid than my daughter think I’m rude

Want to see the opposite of high maintenance? Look above.

Want to see the opposite of high maintenance? Look above.

A few weeks ago the little oyster and I were at a friend’s house for lunch. While the moms talked over meal prep, the little oyster sat on the floor in the kitchen, mesmerized by the speed with which our friend’s two-year-old moves. As the oyster’s nap time drew near, we still hadn’t eaten. Soon the whirlwind two-year-old, approaching nap time, and new setting were all too much and the oyster burst into tears. I picked her up. There was no reason not to–she was in a new place, tired, overstimulated, and I’m her mom; the only thing she needed was to be held.

“You learned a long time ago that Mommy doesn’t pick you up every time you cry,” my friend said toward her son, around me and the oyster. I bit my tongue.

As we ate lunch and chatted, the oyster sat patiently in the high chair, patting the tray. I handed her a chip to chew on, thinking she would just lick the salt off. When I heard it crunch between her gums, I realized that wasn’t the best idea I’ve had and collected the pieces. It was now an hour past her nap time and I had just robbed her of a fun experiment. Understandably, she burst into tears.

“Ohhh boy,” my friends said, “you can already tell she’s high maintenance. Throwing a tantrum over something like that…”

A few things here. First, I bit my tongue again. Second, I insisted we really needed to get home for her nap. Third, the only reason I didn’t reply to either of these passive-aggressive judgments on my parenting is because it’s not worth arguing with people who think–and then speak–like this and because I’d rather have other people think I’m stupid than raise my daughter thinking I’m rude. Your opinion doesn’t matter. Hers does.

Anyway it’s a lot easier to turn the other cheek when you know that you are right.

Yep, I said it. I’m right. I’m parenting my daughter the right way, I’m raising her the right way, and I’m modeling the right behavior for her. Right for us, that is. All the time? No, of course not, by God’s daily grace I’m parenting right, not parenting perfect. I will never tell you that you need to do things our way but I am saying and will say over and over again that this is the right way, the right way for us. I simply don’t care how you do it.

This week I read this blog post that looks at a different angle of the Mommy Wars, the practice of moms crusading against other moms in an effort to prove that their way is the best way of doing things for their kids–or any kids–and not only is their way the best way, it’s the only way, and your way is at best dumb and at worst irreversibly crippling your child and the world for generations to come. The blog post talks about how moms tend to judge other moms because we aren’t confident about the choices we’re making for our own families. Well-written and no doubt it resonates with a lot of mothers out there.

I may be judging the way you do things if by judging you mean observing your activities and deciding in my head that yes, my way is better for my family. I think it’s lame that we tell kids and teenagers to ignore what everyone else thinks and just be yourself but when it comes to raising another generation, moms crap their pants and curl into balls of insecurity and self-doubt. What an example to set. It’s de rigueur to simply encourage these moms with soft words but sometimes a wake up call goes a long way. Get over yourself, mom! There’s no crying in baseball! Chin up, shoulders back, now get out there and stop being a whiner! (Oh that was fun.)

Raising my own child leaves me no time to intelligently critique–much less comment on–the way you’re raising yours, particularly when I may only see a snapshot of your day, as you see of mine. The thing is, maybe you’re doing things the right way for your family and you feel good about it. Bravo, me too! Coffee sometime? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re not comfortable or confident in your decision making and you take it out on other people. You’re welcome to throw your insecure little barbs at me, I can take it. Because I’m right for me and my house and I pity what you’re teaching your kids when you do that.

Unless your child is in danger of life or limb it’s not my place to opine on the job you’re doing so I don’t. (I may have an opinion, but I’m not going to share it with or at you, that’s the key difference.) My wordless little smiles and humorless little chuckles at your kid slamming the door repeatedly or jerking your arm out of its socket while you try to have a conversation with an adult can probably be interpreted as vapid; maybe you think I’m not very smart because I don’t comment on your kid’s every move, and a thinking mom would have a comment. You’re welcome to think that because again, it’s easy to turn the other cheek when I know I’m right. I know I’m smart and I know my daughter will know it, too. In fact, there’s no way she could not know it as she grows up. She’ll be smart too, and not just good-grades smart, but the discerning, conversational, thinking-critically smart that intimidates people. I can’t wait.

In the meantime, I also need to raise this smart girl not to be rude. To take her lessons from me, not from the people who bandy about their ignorant opinions all willy-nilly. I need to teach her the value of turning the other cheek and picking her battles. At the same time, I need to teach her to recognize the times when it’s right to push back, to speak up, to defend yourself or others. But using throw away comments on my parenting style is not the right time. People who share their opinions the way my friend shared hers, denigrating my choices to prove that hers are better, aren’t starting a fair fight. And the fight is not fair in my favor, so engaging would be stupid and rude. And smart girls know how not to be rude.

Red, white and nouveau: Our next adventure

photo(44)

She’s ready to jump in. Just look at her, ready to go.

 

I haven’t posted reviews of the other ones I’ve read, but I am a big fan of the recent wave of books on French parenting. Fun fact: The French don’t have a word for parenting the way we Americans do. It’s just life but now you have kids, from what I gather. It’s definitely not an industry (you know how I feel about the baby industry) and it’s hardly the obsession it is here.

I like that. No, I love it. Je l’adore, one might say.

And so while we start to wrap up the Frugal Oyster Budget, I’ve decided on a new mission. All of these books (Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing up Bebe; Catherine Crawford’s French Twist; and Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything, to name a few) are written firsthand. All of the authors have some French connection. Druckerman lives in France and has for some years. Crawford is surrounded by French ex-pats in her trendy New York neighborhood. Le Billon is married to a Frenchman and spent a year there on an oft-questioned whim.

I have none of those things. That’s why this will be fun.

The Frugal Oyster undertaking was/is designed to keep costs down, keep sanity intact, keep piles of unnecessary crap out of our house, and keep our focus on the big picture in our family life. Surprise surprise, those goals line up nicely with the French approach to raising kids. So why end things after 21 months of budget-focused bliss?

This week I’m reading Le Billon’s book, the one about French eating. The subtitle is “How our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters.” Happy, healthy eaters? I’ll take those, thanks. In fact, I could stand to be a happier, healthier eater myself, so why not jump in and bring the whole family along?

And so, with Le Billon, Druckerman, and Crawford paving the way with firsthand experience, I’ll find out if their examples, experiences, and their books are sufficient to make an acolyte. A second generation French-inspired parent, if you will.

The little oyster is eating solid (that’s a loose term) food now and I don’t want her to grow up only tasting bananas and pears. I don’t want to raise a kid who thinks French fries are a vegetable. I want my family not to revolve around the kids. I want my family to enjoy food, together. I want to be a woman who is a wife and a mom and a writer, not a mom who happens to write during naps, if she’s not scraping food off the walls. None of that, thank you. Non, merci.

I think this will be fun. I also think it will be hard, since nearly everything about parenting is culturally influenced and this is the United States, not France. But I’m not particularly impressed with what my generation is doing with kids and I know mostly Americans, so I’m painting with very broad brushstrokes here when I say I don’t really like the way Americans are raising kids lately. I know perfectly well that French children and French parents aren’t perfect and Americans don’t get everything wrong, so please keep the righteous indignation in check.

Still, there is a distinct divide between the two parenting cultures and I think the other guys get it right more often; and I think they get it right more often because the French tend to think holistically (has my child been introduced to a variety of healthy foods?) while Americans address child rearing on a micro level (did my child eat enough omega-3s tonight at dinner?) Writ large, I think the difference is that the French see parenting as an art while Americans see parenting as a science. In science you have only right and wrong answers and getting the wrong ones can stress you out and make you feel like a failure, stupid and lame. In art you have basic guiding principles and interpretation, the combination of which makes the artist and the art.

So let’s try it. Going French in America’s Capital City. Rockin’ le free world. First order of business is training the oyster from the start to be a willing and tidy eater of all foods because that’s what the French expect of their kids and that scraping things off the walls? Yeah, I’m not doing that. Non, merci.

No means no…at least according to mom

Me: I think that for you the hardest part about parenting a daughter is going to be saying ‘no.’
The husband: She’s going to be my baby girl, of course I won’t be able to tell her no.
Me: You’ll have to learn.
The husband: I can hardly tell you no. Have I ever said no to you?
Me: Yes.
The husband: When?
Me: You told me once I couldn’t have a Jack Russell Terrier.

The husband grew up in a family of all boys, and I grew up in a family of all girls. My strong desire to start with a girl is due mostly to the fact that I get them better. That and the marked absence of worms and bugs in many a little girl’s list of interests.*

It’s good to identify your weaknesses and work on them before it’s actually game time. Of course we’ll find other things we need to work on that we didn’t know or realize before having a baby, but knowing that the husband will probably struggle to tell the little oyster no is a good start. Knowing that I will probably struggle to say yes to things she wants makes me think that she will probably live a balanced life, despite her parents’ shortcomings. Figuring out these things in advance means we can go into the game with a plan and play to our parental-team strengths.

Photo evidence: The husband thought the little oyster needed this and didn’t think I would notice if he just added it to the cart.

* I said many, not all. When she was in first grade, the little sister collected beetles on the playground at school and brought them home in the front pocket of her backpack. She was found out when the beetles that were still alive found their way out of the front pocket of her backpack and made themselves at home in her bedroom. I *think* the little sister tried denying that they were hers.

Parlez-vous parenthood?

A few months ago, right after the husband and I found out the oyster is in the oven, we both found and read this article separately, then sent it to one another.

Why French Parents Are Superior

While Americans fret over modern parenthood, the French are raising happy, well-behaved children without all the anxiety. Pamela Druckerman on the Gallic secrets for avoiding tantrums, teaching patience and saying ‘non’ with authority. (WSJ, Feb. 4, 2012)

Although the title is misleading (that French parents are superior is not the author’s argument), the article was fascinating and on a date this week to Barnes and Noble, I stumbled across the book from which the article was adapted, Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, and bought it.

The book’s subtitle, One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, is far more representative of the author’s point and the book is fascinating and useful, particularly to someone who struggles with doing things simply because everyone else is doing them or “that’s just how it is.”

Bedtime story for maman.

Before the siren call of politics lured him away, the husband was a teacher. Thanks largely to his experience attending home school, public school, community college, then private college, and then teaching in public, public charter, and an alternative school or two, his view of education was and is remarkably holistic. Students are unique, individual human beings and treating them first as growing people with different needs and gifts and second as students with test scores is far more beneficial to the person, the student, the class, and society. (Try telling that to the unions.)

This holistic thinking, plus a strong libertarian streak in both of us, has shaped a lot of our early parenting decisions and is a worldview we expect to raise our kids in. Whether or not they adopt it is up to them (see? libertarian) but we will be parenting, building a family, and modeling a marriage that reflect a Biblical and balanced environment for developing.

Kids need boundaries, and we will set them, but they won’t be arbitrary and they won’t be insulated in themselves, they will be intended to set the child up for a healthy, balanced role in the family and in other relationships. From the WSJ article:

“Middle-class French parents (I didn’t follow the very rich or poor) have values that look familiar to me. They are zealous about talking to their kids, showing them nature and reading them lots of books. They take them to tennis lessons, painting classes and interactive science museums.

Yet the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. “For me, the evenings are for the parents,” one Parisian mother told me. “My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it’s adult time.” French parents want their kids to be stimulated, but not all the time. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are—by design—toddling around by themselves.”

The first two lines of the second paragraph are something of a thesis, for the book and for the kind parenting we want to do.

Yet the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this.

The little oyster is a gift, a gift the size of my hand at the moment, and we love it. We want what is best for it and we believe that what is best for it is not allowing it to be the boss in the family, explicitly or implicitly.

Of course it will have needs that need to be addressed before our own for a few weeks and of course it will have more and different needs than we have for even months and years beyond that. But according to Druckerman’s observations, the sleep-deprived American parent, the mom-to-be who panics when she has fish for dinner, the parents who buy stock in the Baby Einstein kingdom so their kids get a leg up (on what?) are largely doing it to themselves. Being peers with these parents, I think she’s on to something.

If my generation was serious about giving decisions a good hard think, we wouldn’t carry credit card debt, we would provide solid marriages and futures for our children and we would vote. But my generation buys into a lot of crap, and over-stimulated, over-purchased, over-read and over-whelmed parenting is one of those things.

So count us out. Do the French have a corner on good parenting? Not necessarily, but if their kids are sleeping through the night at two months and maman et papa are enjoying one another, the family, and a glass of wine after le well-adjusted bebe is in bed, then I say there’s something worth emulating there.

Maybe it’s not French parenting, but it’s thoughtful, holistic parenting for sure, which they happen to do across the (middle-class) board in France. And that’s what we’re after.