Thursday, May 31, 2012

The never-knowing

Given sufficient time to pause and reflect on my own experiences, I do tend to think that the good, fun, happy, magical aspects of having small children under the age of five outweigh the bad, unpleasant, frustrating and wearying ones. I wouldn’t trade my lot in life, or a single moment enjoying the company of my little guy and little girl, for anything in the world.

But I can focus on the positive all I want, and accept that it’s all a mixed bag, and none of that makes the difficult parts any less difficult. Lately it seems like the most difficult part is just trying to figure out what the kids are capable of handling, and what is still way beyond them.

Maybe it has something to do with the imminent change of seasons, and the typical summer uptick in socializing potential. I find myself considering possible courses of action, realizing that I don’t know exactly how they’ll play out, and as a result shying away from actually committing due to the paralyzing terror of uncertainty. For instance, there was a good long stretch of my young adulthood where getting together with friends to catch up hinged on picking a mutually convenient restaurant at which to convene for dinner. Now, though, dining out is a much dodgier prospect, as both children tend to get bored and antsy in sit-down settings, in far less time than it takes for a typical waiter to take orders, bring them to the table, and clear away the remains. The good thing about the little girl being only fourteen months is that she, at least, can be confined to a high chair, although in practice that really only limits her to squalling loudly, as opposed to her older brother, who prefers sliding out of his chair and running about amongst the other diners. And honestly, he’ll do that when it’s just the four of us trying to grab a bite out because we haven’t had time to go grocery shopping for proper dinner-at-home components; if we try to have a two-family restaurant excursion, and my wife and I pay more attention to interacting with our friends and less to the little guy, his tolerance for remaining seated absolutely craters.


Or, here’s another fun one: the road trip. My dad lives about six hours’ drive north of us, and my mom lives far enough west to require a multiple-hour flight to reach her. Not so long ago, six hours on the highway seemed like a drop in a bucket, and a cross-country flight was exactly as feasible as budgetary restrictions would allow with nary a thought to logistics. But I have almost no desire to go to an airport and get on a plane with my two munchkins, and try to force them through all the rules and schedule-adherence that would entail. Getting behind the wheel at least creates a sense (however illusory) of some control, in that we can always stop, pull over, take a break, or at the very least plow ahead with teeth gritted as weeping and wailing ensues, without inflicting said weeping and wailing on a whole cabin full of strangers. But the fact remains that asking two small and extremely high-spirited children to remain strapped into car seats for a quarter of a day seems not just arduous but a little bit mean. Alternatively, we could schedule the travel time so as not to steal too many of the kids’ waking hours: drive for an hour or so in the evening, stop for dinner, change into pajamas, keep driving and let the little ones drift off to sleep while we voyage on and on. Fine in theory, but possibly an unmitigated disaster if it doesn’t work, and we’re dealing with driving, parental fatigue and overtired miserable children all at once.

But that’s the thing about the phase we’re in right now: maybe it could work, maybe it couldn’t. There are times (few and far between, but times nonetheless) where the children come to the dinner table hungry and slowly and steadily chew up both food and the clock. There are times when taking them somewhere far from home and returning past their bedtime isn’t any more challenging than remembering to pack the pj’s in the first place. I simply have no way of knowing how to predict a specific episode’s outcome. If my children were a little younger, I’d likely just rule things out unilaterally and without a second thought. If they were a little older, I’d have more confidence that with the proper encouragement/motivation they could hold it together for a restaurant outing or a longish car ride. But they’er very much in the could-go-either-way moment right now, and that’s a drag. Mainly because it makes every possible decision feel like it’s bound to be wrong, thanks to the utter dearth of consistent examples of what works out all right.

So it could be a very long summer, is what I’m saying I suppose. Fortunately it’s one of my favorite seasons, and also fortunately I’m in no rush to see my babies grow up all that fast. If indecision and lost grown-up hangout opportunities is the price I pay for living oh so slowly through these precious days, no argument here.

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