This past week I’ve gained some perspective on parenting through our travels, but not because of the traveling per se, but because of the environments where I’ve taken Gabe. In the last week we’ve been in two places: on the lovely grounds of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and in inner-city Philadelphia.
The O’Neill is located on the sprawling green, grounds of an old seaside estate, on the ocean and adjacent to a state park, meaning there’s tons of fields for Gabe to run around in. And, because the O’Neill is a playwrighting conference, there are tons of people around for Gabe to see. But there are only a handful of children, so Gabe gets the run of the place child-wise. However, back in Philly, where we we’re staying downtown, we’ve gone to various play areas—local playgrounds, the amazing Smith Memorial Playground Mansion, as well as to Philadelphia children’s museum “Please Touch” (off topic thought: it’s perhaps the only name that’s both perfect for kids and as creepy as it gets for a place housing hundreds or thousands of kids).
The thing about going to these play zones is that there are almost always other kids of various ages, which is great. I love that Gabe gets to see other children and interact with them. But what this usually means it that the other children’s parents are hovering nearby, watching the kids play, ready to jump in and referee at the slightest provocation. And this is doubly true of kids ages 3-5 when there’s a “baby” also sharing the play space.
The thing is, I think we parents are always watching the other parents, and as the other parents, we’re watching them watch us. So there’s an amazing circle of perceptions going on: How do I perceive my own actions toward my child and another person’s child? How do other parents perceive my actions towards my child and their child? How do I perceive their perceptions of my actions? And so on; all which I find quite stressful. This creates some weird feedback loops where I think, at times, we as parents overreact to our children’s actions.
One example was when Gabe was “playing” with a 4ish-year-old girl on a bus (she was driving) at the Please Touch Museum. By “playing” I mean Gabe was trying to get into the driver’s seat and crawl over her. Anyway, the girl’s father was watching from outside the bus, while I was spotting Gabe inside the bus. She was being very sweet, even introducing herself, and letting Gabe get up close and personal. Now, Gabe is an early walker, and pretty good at it, but being 13.5 months he still has a lot of learning to do. He ended up slipping or tripping and falling backwards and bumped his head. Nothing major, but he was a little upset. But, from the other dad’s perspective, he thought his daughter pushed Gabe away and sent him tumbling. Before I could even say anything he had yanked her out of the bus and was giving her a stern talking-to in a volume that seemed to ensure I would also hear what was happening.
The entire incident was novel to me. I tried to assure him everything was fine and I wasn’t upset—Gabe stumbled. But his perception of the necessary amount of discipline was probably elevated due to his perception of how I was reacting to his daughter bullying Gabe. (ed note: Kyle this is SO true! I find myself making sure I say the exact words I would want to hear as a parent if the tables were turned! But probably not quite to the excess this parent might have done!) But in reality, his reaction was completely overblown in my eyes. I felt bad for his daughter, who was forced to apologize, and for the father, who was probably hoping that he had achieved the right amount of discipline, but had probably soured their day at the museum. So much from one small mishap!
OK, on to the travel update:
After a frantic last two weeks, with lots travel to New York, Waterford, Philly, and back, we’re now (finally) able to rest on the grounds of the O’Neill for several weeks. The travel wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, mostly due to the short-ish trips between cities. Though I did realize how bad travel can be with a few bad strokes of luck: add some unexpected heavy traffic, some thunderstorms, and a kid who takes a short nap and you’re in for a long day. But anyway, that’s all in the past. But we’re not without yet more travel logistics!
Jenny’s been invited to Chicago for a weeklong play development opportunity. But this time our conversation was very different. We decided that it would be best for us to split up, with her going to Chicago alone and Gabe and I going to Maine to be with Jenny’s parents. This would be the first time Jenny would be away from Gabe for more than a day, and the first time in his life she would be away from him for an extended period. She found the thought of this very difficult, even though the decision made sense on many levels, work-related, financial and logistical. So that’s the new plan—we leave for Maine at the end of July and Jenny heads to Chicago, then will catch up with us a week later. She made me promise to Skype 5-times per day, to lessen the separation anxiety on all parties, which is only half a joke (ed note: Feel out your kid – the first time I was away from Jia, she flipped out and cried a lot when she realized I wasn’t really just a video that was pre-recorded – I was live and I was somewhere that was not in front of her! Expect the video chatting may be less frequent than you have planned!). I know it will be hard on all of us, but I know we’ll get through it and we’ll be better off for it.