PARENTING LESSONS FROM CHICAGO

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Last week, I traveled to Chicago to do some research for the Baby Time project by visiting with friends and family. I enjoyed the trip immensely, but my only regret was not stopping at Oberweiss for the best ice cream in the country, but unfortunately my dad thinks Oberweiss should be called Oberpreissed.

Here’s a summary of my findings:

- Raising children is difficult / a struggle / a challenge - Life as you know it is changed - You will make many sacrifices - The joy far outweighs any frustration - Life is way better seen through the eyes of your children

Not exactly a mind-blowing revelation. But, within these talking points that all the parents must get on their faxes every morning, I hear the difference in the details from one parent to the next. And, those differences in experience appear to be a direct result of their approach and philosophy.

Overprotective – Results in a constant stressful and helpless existence, following your child around every turn with the loving family mantra of “Watch out!” (No one claims to be this parent, but everyone knows one.)

Free and Easy – Results in a flexible lifestyle, with the freedom to eat out and socialize at will, with the children following you around. Children are rewarded for good behavior, instead of to shut them up. The plus with this approach is a well-socialized infant, but the negative is that if they act up, the outing is over immediately.

Well-Balanced – Results in a sometimes-stressful experience of watching your children screw up, followed by an opportunity to learn from the mistake. You experience the joy of living life almost entirely through their eyes, and then your reward is the anguish of letting them go off to college without you.

Overscheduled – Results in a well-balanced child with lots of extra life experience in sports, music, and other activities. You have the excitement of carting your children around like they are the rich teen celebrity that employs you.

Obviously there are many other approaches, but I had to go to the Cubs game on Saturday.

Through all my discussions, everyone agreed that Jackie and Dan would make great parents. I thank you all for your vote of confidence. On paper, I whole-heartedly agree! Jackie and I are educated and compassionate people. With my abstract sense of humor, and Jackie’s music teacher knowledge, we’d have a very stable and unique spawn. My fear is that if I don’t fully understand the weight of the stress and sacrifice that parenting requires, I might be sorely disappointed when the experience reigns down on me.

Maybe caring for dogs will help. I’ve learned compassion from Sensation, my chow. He’s got a medical problem. Any time his body is stressed, he can have seizures. And the seizures cluster, meaning he’ll have 2 seizures a day for 7 days. For the last year and a half, this happens every 3 – 4 weeks. Unpredictable, varying in intensity, the seizures cause his body to convulse, followed by chaotic confusion, and the need to run outside like a mo-fo to relieve himself (the dogs don’t like to go inside the house, luckily). The drugs calm him (like valium and chlorazopate), and he can sleep for 8 – 20 hours. That is, until the next seizure, which seems to gravitate towards 2am when I return home after an exhausting party at the theatre, or at 5am, or 7am, or 3am, or the middle of dinner. I can’t help but look at him with compassion and ask “Can I kill him now? How about now?”

I know it’s horrible. It shows that I am truly a monster. After all, if he didn’t have a high quality of life, killing him would be the compassionate thing to do. But, when he’s seizing, he’s unconscious, and if this happens 6 times, and then he has 3 weeks of normal living, that seems like he still has an ultimately quality life, right?

I think the key is to be aware of those thoughts. And hopefully, I would never have those thoughts with my own children. Besides, I think it’s better to be conscious of those dark thoughts, than to hide it deep in the subconscious and wake up one day with your car and kids in the lake.

And, a reminder of the biggest lesson from Chicago: how you look at the experience changes the nature of the experience. Parents who decide to enjoy the ups and downs show less stress. Sure, they feel pain, but when they appreciate the mistakes for their lessons as much as the successes, then they appreciate every moment of their lives, and that’s living!