The View from Down There: A Playground Role-Reversal Revelation

As a working Mama, I am always struggling with the feeling that I don't have enough time to spend with my son. I relish the days I have him all to myself. And even though those days are always kept busy with laundry or grocery shopping or cleaning or appointments or all the other things there isn't time for otherwise, I feel special on those days--like no matter what we do it will be memorable (for me, anyway).

When I was in the midst of making dinner on one such day off, my son asked me to come play Legos with him. I told him I couldn't because I was making dinner. He said, "Mama, why do you always have to work?" I told him I wasn't working, that it was my day off, and he said "No. Why do you always have to work in the kitchen when you're home?"

I was equal parts relieved that he didn't ask something like, "Mama why are you always sitting on your ass doing nothing?" and sad that his impression of me was one of somebody who is always working, especially because the alternative was playing with him, and it didn't seem I'd made time for that.

I wish at least once a day (as I'm sure all working parents do) that I had more time during which I had no other obligation in the world but to be by my child's side. (For the record: I am not, in fact, always working in the kitchen. I wouldn't give myself that much credit. Yes, I make dinner most nights, but a lot of times "make" is a stretch. "Warm" would be more accurate.)

I wish I could spend a week inside my little guy's brain. I wish I could see and process the world the way he does. I wonder all the time how he makes sense of things, especially his family/living situation(s). What does he think is normal and how does he feel about whatever variation on the concept of normal he is living out?

A parent can ruminate regularly about how he or she is perceived by his/her child. We worry about which of their life's events stick out most clearly in their minds. How do they see us? Which of our words are most salient? It's just like a four-year-old to take the very weirdest interpretation of something that was said to him and report it to total strangers. When that version of things comes out--or even when the most accurate and objective version comes out--what will it sound like?

Kevin pointed out that we can actually be seen in Kalil's eyes in this photo, taken by Catfish Moore last year.
A few weeks back I had a rare day off with nothing to do but take Kalil to preschool and then hang out with him the whole rest of the day--just us. We were both craving pizza, so we grabbed one and headed to a nearby park that we had to ourselves for the moment.

On the playground after lunch, my son said we should switch: he would be the Mama and I would be the son. For the next 10 minutes he went around the different playground structures and issued me instructions on what to do. "Climb up here, Sweetie," "Cross this bridge here, Sweetie," "Sweetie, follow me to the slide."

The "Sweetie" struck me; it was punctuating nearly every sentence. First I thought, 'dang, that's kind of annoying...is that really what I sound like?' (I hadn't realized how often the word came out of my mouth.) It was another kind of relief, though. One of the names my Dad reports having been called by his Father was scheisskopf, which is German for "shithead." Of course I'd rather him have a name like "Sweetie" come to his mind.

The other thing I noticed about our little role reversal was how Kalil kept saying encouraging things to me like "you're doing good," and "that's right." I was touched that this is how he saw his role, as the Mama (though I should have asked him a hundred thousand "why's" and made sure to be speaking and demanding attention at all times to give him the full experience of what it's like to be the Mom, eh?).

Struggling that day as I was with the usual guilt about having to work the rest of the week, it was meaningful to me to learn that he sees me as a nice Mama during the time we do have together. 

As parents, we have to pull off a good deal of fake-it-'til-we-make-it type confidence. I am more confident since becoming a mother, for sure. But there's a lot I'm constantly wondering about..a good many decisions I make and then question, especially when it comes to discipline (I think good parents do always think a lot about these things. If we are just skating along thinking we're the best parents on the block, we've probably got major blind spots going on.) So it is reassuring to me to know I'm at least getting this part ok for the time being: he knows I love him; he is absorbing the tenderness I feel toward him, and he is aware that I say positive things to him...things that make him feel good about who he is or how he's doing things.

He's four; his obligations to the world are few, for the time being. If he can know he is loved and supported (along with disciplined and taught lessons as well), we're good for now.

Maybe we should try this role-reversal thing once every couple of years just to check in on each other. I bet I'd learn a lot about how this whole parenting thing is going.

Kevin's Sketch

A Death Rose for Eunice. 

This being came out of the page today with charcoal while the A’s and Dodger’s played on the TV; I started off intending to draw a picture inspired by recurring dreams of great white sharks, then switched to doing a still life of a baseball, but then this emerged spontaneously. It reminds me of a mix of a flower and a bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois), a predatory marine worm that can reach lengths of up to ten feet.

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