I have a confession to make. My son is dancing around on his tiptoes naked from the waist down, way too close to the television, going “pew, pew, pew!” while playing video games. He’ll be four in four months, and this scene is not anything I ever imagined.
If you’re like me, before you had kids, if you have any, or, if you don’t, but have ever entertained the idea of what kind of parent you’d be if you did, you might’ve envisioned yourself as the type who set strict limits on TV and devices (the only “device” we currently have besides our laptops is a PS4, but it’s THE device), and was so fully engaged with your child; reading, sculpting dinosaurs out of homemade dough, or playing in vats of quinoa, or what-have-you, that your child wouldn’t even know what the TV or console was, let alone have a desire to play with it.
I thought I’d be like that. But let me tell you, there are days.
Like today. Like most of this weekend. I’ve been sick, and have told myself that in order to get the rest I need to recover for work on Monday, I have to let my son entertain himself and leave me the heck alone. The problem is, my son doesn’t like to entertain himself in the form of quietly contemplating vividly illustrated books of Grimm’s Fairy Tales or creating elaborate scenarios with his spaceships and aliens. He wants to play video games.
This is a habit we created. When we began potty-training, our son wasn’t big on sitting on his potty, even after we’d adorned the frog-shaped chair with his name and stickers, and christened it the “Michael Jackson Frog Prince Throne,” after his favorite singer (what person on Earth can’t get down to “mama se mama sa ma ma-coosa?”) My husband cleverly downloaded a few kid-friendly, easy-to-play games on the PS4 to lure him into long sitting sessions until he’d successfully deposited his business in the potty. We were amazed at how quickly he caught on to the games and was playing them as well as I might have when I first picked up a controller. The problem was, after he learned how to use the potty, he still wanted to play video games, so much so that he would tell us he had to potty when he didn’t, and proceed to throw a royal fit when we told him it was time to stop. After a month or two of this, we pulled the plug on the game system completely, even taking the system off the entertainment center and hiding it upstairs in our bedroom. His behavior changed, and he was able to use the potty without the games. He still insists, however, on using the potty only in front of the TV in the middle of the living room, often telling us he needs “privacy,” which, if my husband’s home, it means “go in the bathroom, Papa,” but if I’m around, privacy means, “sit directly behind me in the recliner while I make a big stinky poo, Mama.”
At the end of this week I was hit with a whopping bad cold that had been going around in various strains at my workplace. Because my husband and I work opposite shifts, having no outside childcare (too expensive, no family nearby), and because he doesn’t have the type of job that easily allows for time off, my husband has had to leave me here with my son all day while he pulls his usual double-shift. As any parent can tell you, the recovery process from even a small sickness really drags out when you’re expected to play with a toddler all day. It’s the dead of winter and we’re kept inside from the cold and snow, and because my husband and I share a vehicle and don’t live within walking distance of anything that interesting, my son and I are home-bound.
I told myself I would get some writing done today. Having a child in the house, especially since I’m alone with him so much, has really diminished the time, energy and concentration I need to be able to write. Earlier this weekend, I caved to my son’s request and allowed him to play games while I got some much-needed rest. As expected, when it was time to quit, we had the mom-kid equivalent of a knock-down, drag-out fight that left both of us in tears. Was it worth it? In the short-term, it probably was. And it’s probably worth it right now, as my son, now in Marvel underpants, under a blanket on the couch, asks me questions about the game he’s playing in his angelic little voice that pitches up so high at the end, and I respond to him with monosyllabic affirmations. I know full-well that there is a fight coming, and it’s hard to imagine right now as I look as his sweet little face–bright blue eyes and shaggy dark-blonde hair, all contentment and immediacy.
Not only did I need to take it easy today, but I needed to get back to something that makes me feel human, and feel like myself–which is writing. It’s something every parent has to do sometimes. We sacrifice so much time and energy, if we’re being the best parents we can be with the reserves and resources we have, on a daily basis, but at the end of the day, we’re people too. It’s difficult, striking a balance between self-preservation and devotion to our children. But right now, as I look across the sofa to him, him with his finger up his nose, and blow him a kiss, I know that the amount of time we’ve spent cuddling and being quiet together without a screen lit in the whole house, and the time we’ve yet to spend, is so much more significant and lasting than this small chunk of time I’m taking solely for myself today.
I want my son to grow up remembering me being an individual, with interests and pursuits. For now, it’s okay that he’s lying on the couch playing video games. Besides, he’s getting really good at using a carbon-powered mining beam.