Friday, July 29, 2011

Nannies first; children second

Why people don't consider [childcare] before they take the very first step toward having a child, Miss Manners cannot image.  Nannies first, and then babies, seems to her the natural order of life.
      -  From p. 122 of Judith Martin's Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children.
When my first daughter was born, people often exclaimed, "Oh, how cute!  I love babies!"  My standard reply was, "Would you love babies Friday night at seven?"  Sometimes they'd just laugh; sometimes they'd say "yes", and I had myself a sitter for an evening out.

You could have expected that I'd lean toward "swapping" babysitting with other parents rather than paying for a sitter.  You would probably guess that my primary motivation was financial -- saving a bit of money.  On those two guesses, you'd be only half right.

We live in a world that is increasingly segregated by age, especially for our children.  Children seldom have a chance to interact socially with adults.  Their sports and extra-curricular activities usually group them narrowly into clumps of kids their own age -- they don't even get to play with kids a few years older or younger than themselves.  I think this segregation impoverishes our children and our society.

I remember when I went to college that I was faced with some really morally consequential decisions.  A big part of the way I made my choice was by thinking, "What would Mrs. Horvath think?"  Mrs. Horvath was the mother of my sister's close friend, but she was also someone I talked to and looked up to in my own life.  I think my choices were more mature because I cared about what she thought as well as caring what my friends thought.

So I've surrounded my children with my own friends, in hopes that my kids can likewise transcend their own age group.  I feel incredibly fortunate for our whole family that my friends seem to enjoy their roles.  Randy is a groundskeeper who sends my boys his old sports and travel magazines.  Kristie, a professional dancer and teacher, invites my teen-aged daughter out for ice cream and earring swaps.  Ximena invites my boys over for pizza and movies and spoils them terribly (I pretend to be horrified, and I'm only partly acting).  My husband's racing buddy Jan (a guy) cheers for my boys at their own bike races, just like they cheer for him.  Amanda and I send our children back and forth between each others' homes for sleepovers and vigorous wrasslin' time.  Linda and Bill's sons are grown, but they invite my boys over for "lego time".  Timmy's dad is taking his son and my boys to a Philly's game on Sunday.  My boys play mostly with people their own age, but they both get special trips out with people my own age, with or without me.

And here's how I know that somehow this strategy is working.  My older son, who's a bit of a ladies' man already, decided to quiz me on how to make himself even more devastatingly attractive to his adoring female classmates.  I upped the maturity of the conversation by asking the boys to think about qualities of my own friends that they like.  (I wanted to keep the conversation FAR away from their own classmates, for obvious reasons).  We batted around qualities like generosity, friendliness, encouragement, etc. with a lot of specific examples.  And then my younger son said, " . . . like Mrs. Achor."  She's a mini-driving mom of several who offered to watch my son occasionally while my husband was in Iraq.  I hardly know her (my loss, obviously), but she looms large in my son's social sphere.

Do your kids have friends who are your friends?  I'd love to hear your own experiences with inter-generational friendships.

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