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Mom, Can We Go Somewhere?

 

I am a homebody. Not a recluse or a hermit. Nothing extreme.

Itís just that my activation energy for going out is a little higher than some. Without well-laid plans and enough sleep (proper star alignment doesnít hurt), I tend to default to relaxation activities that take place in my house with my family: reading aloud, playing Boggle, eating ice cream. My birthday and New Yearís almost always end up involving ďhaving a few people over.Ē

Itís not like Iíve been particularly unhappy about this. Itís just for being such a big booster of both the cultural and natural assets of the Capital Region, there are embarrassingly large numbers of things in both categories that Iíve been meaning to explore or participate in ever since I got here and still havenít. Larkfest. Peebles Island. The Schenectady Museum. The list is long.

I was, not surprisingly, nervous about how this tendency of mine would interact with becoming a parent. After all, some of the more common things you hear while expecting your first child are playful yet totally serious warnings about ďenjoying your freedom while it lastsĒ and making sure to go out for dinner and movie a bunch now because it will be a long time until you can do it again, and so on.

In the very early months, it was like that. Going places with baby in tow, especially spontaneously, seemed daunting, and I very often demurred. It takes a while to get into the rhythm of being able to quickly throw together the right combination of carrying devices, toys, teething remedies and spare clothes for a given excursion, to remember whether the diaper bag needs restocking at any given time, and to not fear that an unexpected fit will lead the world at large to question your parenting ability.

But as I develop basic proficiency at some of these skills, Iíve noticed something else unexpected. Iím getting out more. Not more than when my daughter was a newborn. More than before I was parent.

See, my 1-year-old is a social critter, and has always been. This is pretty natural. We are a social species after all. She loves being around peopleóbig and small. She loves exploring new places. She loves picking dandelions and playing with dirt in the community garden.

If we donít get her out of the house at least once a day she lets us hear about it. She points insistently at her backpack. She asks for her friend down the street by his name, which could be a contender for her first word, depending how you count such things.

Thereís just no way anymore that an entire evening can slip by with us all absorbed in our computers.

And, so, suddenly, weíve found ourselves seeing our friends more often. Weíre actually getting to our garden plot more than once a week. Weíve made it to three First Fridays in a row. Iíve walked the trail behind the Pruyn House. We went to the Step It Up rally (on foot). Iím looking forward to a summer full of finally getting to a whole host of things Iíve long wanted to do.

Or course there are limits. I havenít made it to any movies in the theater and few events that would keep us out much past 9 PM. Long car rides are still pretty iffy. Even among the possible options, Iíve only started to make a small dint in my list of things Iíd like to do. But the difference is still palpable.

The idea that parenthood isolates you from the rest of the world and reduces you to a babbling idiot who can only recite Raffi songs doesnít have to be true. In fact, Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept, makes a pretty good argument that such an overly ďchild centeredĒ approach is not only bad for the parentsí brain, itís bad for the kid. ď[A] toddler wants to learn what his people do, he expects to be able to center his attention on an adult who is centered on her own business.Ē Basically, she says, we evolved to spend our childhoods watching and imitating adults (and older children), and itís how we learn, down to subtle things like facial expressions.

I take all parenting prescriptions with a salt shaker, but this point of Liedloffís resonates. (Of course it also suggests less exciting things like making time to take kids along when we go grocery shopping.)

In some ways, itís a less extreme twist on the theme of getting your own life in orderókicking addictions, trying to curse less, going back to schoolófor your kids. If I want my kids to find the world beyond the computer worth paying attention to and to feel comfortable interacting with a wide range of people and exploring a wide range of places, I have to model it. I knew this, but I think I expected it to be one more thing I was struggling to fit in, rather than a natural consequence.

Raising a social human being wonít get my house clean, get me to more movies, or give me time to read more novels. But it does boil down to an iron-clad excuse to get out more. And, apparently, I needed that.

óMiriam Axel-Lute

www.mjoy.org

Check out Miriamís new blog, The Big Questions: The Path to Albanyís First Comprehensive Plan, at: http://metroland.typepad.com/the_big_questions/

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