We've done a lot of driving this summer. Sometimes I feel like my radical parenting impulses are torn in two directions. On one hand I want to be homesteading, showing the kids how to sew and make jam, raise animals, be content playing in the woods and, I don't know, some idealized version of childhood that doesn't actually work with my children. Because the home is where they hit each other with blocks, so my other impulse is to present my children with exciting new adventures. Sans blocks. To that end we find ourselves hopping in the car every day to scoot off to God knows where, some museum or farm or beautiful river where I pretend like I didn't know they were going to swim.
I love adventures. I love the way I can't be distracted by chores and I'm forced to pay attention to my children. Sometimes I play with them in the river or at the museum and it's just fantastic. THIS is parenting! i announce to myself. Sometimes I merely facilitate the transportation of kids, diapers, clothing changes, and one thousand pounds of snacks to and from various exciting locations. On this trip to the river I carried a bag of beach toys, a bag of snacks, the bag with the diapers and towels, the stroller and the dog, and I SHOULD have brought the Ergo with me because Harvey broke down at the end and refused to use his legs to make any forward progress towards the car. And there's everyone, all the thousand tourists and park rangers at the Concord bridge, looking concerned in my direction and asking, "Is he hot? There's a water fountain over there!" As if I wasn't keenly aware that I'm carrying not one but THREE water bottles — indeed that's the reason I can't PICK UP MY SCREAMING CHILD all the stupid bags in my hand. And I just felt like, well, my mother used to say she felt like a "beast of burden" and I wouldn't go that far but I did feel like an ass.
The problem at the river was that the dog was barking because HE wanted to go home. Or sometimes it's the baby crying because HE wants to go to sleep. Or sometimes it's me who's bored because I don't have a smart phone. Because paying attention to my children is lovely but oh my word I do it for many many minutes a day.
The problem is, Harvey has a longer attention span for staying somewhere than anybody else in the family. And Harvey gets to make A LOT of decisions about what we do, but duration isn't one of them. So there are tantrums. Which, I don't know, when my kid is having a tantrum I enter this horrible place of mental redundancy where I think: haven't we done this before? Haven't a million parents done this before? And I have to sit through this AGAIN? Like, why isn't the tantrum problem solved for all humanity?
Which sounds remarkably calloused to the emotional needs of my children. Sometimes I think I'm a working mother in an attachment parent's body.
Once I had my kids at the mall food court (crappy hippy that I am) and there was a kid at the table next to us throwing a tantrum about his meal and his caretaker said, "This is the food we have. You can eat it or not but you need to sit in your seat until everyone else is finished." Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to say, I would say the same thing, but in my head came the phrase, "A thousand little prisoners and a thousand little jailers."
But I got off track. I had wanted to write a post about driving.
We have done a lot of driving this summer, and the thing I notice in between beautiful playgrounds and swimming holes (that we feel very blessed to visit, don't get me wrong) is miles and miles of sprawling suburbs. Another house with another lawn over and over and over again. All made out of ticky-tacky, all watered with underground sprinkler systems. And I've just felt like, Oh God. I've got to get out of here.
I'm reaching a point with the suburbs and the cars and it's fight or flight.
My friend Jo said something so poignant to me the other day. "I feel like my kids are going to ask me, 'Why did you keep driving when you knew it was unsustainable?' And I don't have an answer to that question." It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks, because it's true. Why did you keep ruining the environment, mom and dad? Because we lived in the suburbs. Because you and your brother kept hitting each other when I tried to do stuff in the house. Because you loved new playgrounds and ponds and museums.
Our generation's equivalent of "Why didn't you stand up to the Nazis?"
This isn't really a coherent argument about anything other than my general malaise with living in the suburbs. Which really might just be general malaise about parenting. Betty Friedan wrote in The Feminine Mystique: I ask women about their lives and they give me a list of tasks. Get up, load the laundry, feed the baby, on and on. There is no substance to these women's lives other than their chores. (I'm paraphrasing here because I can't find the actual quote. I don't own the book and google isn't smart enough to deliver it to me based on my vague searches.) Obviously Friedan wasn't a Marxist. Of course our labor defines us. To put it in more obvious terms, our life is pretty much made up of what we do all day. But that's an argument for another day. What I'm trying to say is, I'm starting to feel like Friedan's housewives, with a problem that has no name, and I'm trying to name it "driving" or "capitalism" or "living in the suburbs," when Friedan might have been wrong it might just be that life with young children is sometimes tedious.
Maybe it's just tantrums. Dear Lord, I see where Harvey gets it from.