13 September 2013

Crafting a Childhood

Now that Abigail has officially reached the age where we as parents can no longer get away with swearing or listening to mix stations on the radio, I'm starting to think more seriously about what kind of childhood I want my daughter to have. She doesn't - yet - repeat what we say and doesn't always understand what's going on, but it's getting clearer by the minute that she understands more than we give her credit for picking up. And I know it won't be too long before she starts to remember things: birthdays, holidays, family vacations. It's got me thinking about the things in my childhood I did and didn't like, the things I envy in Matt's stories, and the things I admire in other people's kids.

I want holiday traditions
Strong ones. And lots of 'em. Matt and I both have our own childhood traditions that I want to repeat in our kids. Like in my family, we always do a thing with lottery scratch-off tickets. You see, my family isn't big into the lottery and my parents rarely ever bought tickets, but every year, my uncle would always pick up a stack of the dollar scratch offs and pass around a handful of change after we opened presents. And for 10 solid minutes, there would be nothing but the quiet, "scratch, scratch" of a nickel on card stock, interrupted by the over-exuberant, sugar-filled child shouting with immense pride, "I won $2!" And at the end of the night, as everyone picked up to leave, parents would be pestered with the traditional, "when can we go to the gas station and cash in my cards?" pleadings. I want that plus more. I want special Christmas-only candy in the stockings. I want to do the whole candy-slipper-St-Nick's-Day thing my husband grew up with. I don't want the wise men appearing at the manger until January. I want candy corn we only eat on Halloween and Peeps that only get purchased on Easter. I want to celebrate Saint feast days for which my children are named. I want to sing carols together as we bake cookies as if we were on Leave It To Beaver. I want to go around the table at Thanksgiving and say something we're thankful for. And when everyone is grown and scattered to the wind, when Matt and I have passed away, when things are difficult, and when my kids have their own kids to raise, I want these traditions to bring them warmth, love, and hope.

I want a old-time influences
Like black and whites movies and musicals. I want Abigail's favorite movie to be Mary Poppins, not Aladdin. I want my kids to know what Louis Armstrong's voice sounds like and prefer Bing Crosby at Christmas. When my kids insult other kids on the playground, I want them to make Shakespeare proud. I want my girls to wear ribbons in their hair and flowy skirts and my boys to wear drivers caps and think suspenders make them debonair.

I don't want fancy toys
Both my husband and I grew up without gaming consoles, and as much as we desperately wanted them, I'm glad we never got them. Even now, as much as I want a Wii of my very own, I don't want Abigail to grow up with one. We both have fond memories of playing Box Car Children, building train cars in the snow in the backyard. We both had the kid of parents who weren't going to fight over the latest and greatest in the aisles of Toys R Us the day after Thanksgiving, and I'm glad. Matt was recently telling me about a study he'd read that found that parents today spend more time doing kid-related things today than in the past, but spend a mere five minutes a day playing/talking with their kids. The rest of the time in spent making lunches, driving to soccer practice, worrying about report cards, making sure everyone gets their teeth brushed. But that sit down and eat dinner while talking thing? That go for a walk and listen to your kid thing? That's disappearing faster than fresh water in a fracking community. Or, for all my conservative friends: disappearing faster than religious liberty near Obama.

There's a bit of good parenting advice I repeat to myself often: If you want good kids, spend half as much money and twice as much time. When those "Toys Only Kids in the 2010s Remember" things go around Facebook when my kids are my age, I want them to stare blankly at the screen. 'Cause their memories are filed with Cops and Robbers, Pretty Princess, and that one wicked-sweet fort dad built that one time.

I want cousins to be like siblings
And I want the grandparents' house to be a place where you're guaranteed to be spoiled. I want girl cousins to be mainstays at Abigail's slumber parties. I want my kids to cry when they have to leave grandma's house. My husband's extended family are so loving and welcoming that the first time I met them, I was ready to propose to Matt. No one made fun of me or told me to quit being shy. I could seriously pick up the phone and call his aunts right now if I needed something. That is the kind of family I want for my kids. I want a big, loving, safe environment that, even if my kids rebel against when they turn 16, they're dying to come back to during semester breaks in college.

I want them to be brainwashed
Nothing melts my heart faster than seeing a little 5-year-old in the pew in front of us at church cross himself when he gets up to run to the bathroom in the middle of Mass. My 1-year-old niece (actually, she's two today!) will see a cross on the wall and tell her mom, "Look! Jesus!" I want nun dolls and All Saints parties and Noah's Ark shape sorters. I want religious ed classes until all my kids age out and then they're gonna be helpers in the little kids' class. I want a house saturated with religious reminders and a deep, solid foundation of Catholic knowledge so that when my kids hit that age where they start to question their parents, they have a real understanding of the true Church. And if the do turn away from Catholicism and they find themselves alone in a difficult situation, I want there to be no hesitation when a Hail Mary pops into their minds.

There are lots more things I want, like a house overflowing with books (Aside: I came up with this idea a few months ago: when the kids are older, we have "Reading Nights" a few times a month where we take $5 to the dollar store to buy random junk food, twirly straws, oversized plastic glasses, then we come home, turn off all electronics, and spend the evening reading. Doesn't that sound fun?!). I want one of those nerdy family game nights. And to take my kids out to lunch, one-on-one on the day they were born each month (so I'd take Abigail out on a mommy-daughter date on the 18th of every month). I wanna talk about our failures over dinner. I want secret family recipes.

These are the things I'm mulling over as we create a game plan to give Abigail, and any possible future kids, the kind of childhood that will help her be the kind of girl God wants her to be.


Amelia said...

I love this post. Many of these things we already do. My kids like Old-Timey movies and music. They actually pretty much hate all modern music and get mad if I put anything other classical on in the car.

And, they are definitely brain-washed. LOL

Other things I want to do, but never really have (like holiday traditions)...we just been in so many different situations at holidays (with family, away from family, with friends, alone), it's been hard to make traditions. Thanks for the reminder that I need to work harder at that.

I wish we had the close cousins thing, but my kids don't have any close cousins nearby and we no longer live near grandparents either.

Anonymous said...

I'm ALL ABOUT the brainwashing! In fact, I so badly want my kids brainwashed that I want all their friends to be the brainwashed nerds with their scapulars flapping defiantly in the breeze as they run around the churchyard!

Your reading night dea sounds fun -it sounds more like Movie Night in our house, which occurs once a month, while reading night/Great Silence/Quiet Reading Time are daily routines. And yes, my kids are so very brainwashed already that when we watch movies (gasp!) we do it as a family, and we watch religious or nature documentaries. The only "movie" movies they've seen are Up and Finding Nemo. And The Song of Bernadette, and The Day the Sun Danced. But that's just us. :-)

Happy Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross!