The Halloween before Oscar was born, I went to a party on the west side. In Los Angeles, there is a deep cultural divide between east and west. I am an Eastsider. The west coast, I like to say, doesn’t actually begin until La Brea Boulevard. So I’m in foreign territory, a man with a baby due in five months. I was not yet aware of the cold civil war raging among my generation about parenting style. But I was deep in the heart of Intense Parenting Country.
A woman at the party was following her two-year-old around and theatrically bending over to advise her in Spanish (she was not, as far as I could tell, a Spanglophone by birth, so was most likely drawing on a semester abroad).
“I only talk to her in Spanish and my husband only in English,” she said to me, unprompted. “I hear you have a child coming.”
“I do,” I said, “very excited. A little nervous.” My heart sank as this sentence left my mouth. She immediately began licking her Explainer chops.
“Oh, there’s nothing to be nervous about,” she began. I had fallen right into her trap. I had already promised myself I would never be one of those parents at a party who can only have half-second long conversations because they’re staring at their kid [editor’s note: I am indeed now one of those parents…], and now the queen of such parents had me in her clutches.
For the remainder of the night, she made me her pupil. Her child became more of a CPR dummy than a human being, used for various demonstrations about good parenting she had devised.
Surprisingly, this woman proved incredibly helpful. But not for the reasons she intended. In the spirit of George Costanza, I made note of each of her pearls of wisdom and silently vowed to do the opposite.
And in so doing, I may have stumbled upon a key to Oscar’s ease with transitions (although it bears mentioning, any cause and effect between parenting style and child personality cannot be proved and is utter bullshit).
As she buttonholed me on the couch that night, her daughter kept throwing a toy on the ground, and she kept immediately retrieving it and handing it back. The kid clearly enjoyed making her mother retrieve it, and this misplaced power was corrupting their relationship before my eyes. Nonetheless, with a sly grin, she warned, “you’ll lose hours of your life to the Gravity Game. She drops things, I hand them back. She drops things, I hand them back. ¡Aqui tienes, mi amor!”
And thanks to this woman’s pedantic personality, my immediate thought was fuck that.
I vowed in that moment, whenever Oscar dropped something, to not react, to never pick it up, to never take on that role and to move on. And that’s what we did.
Kid’s are pretty klutzy and they drop shit all the time. I’m no scientist, but to immediately hand it back to them seems to make you Problem-Solver in Chief, and create a dependence that will be traumatic (and may take a lifetime) to undo. It grants them a power over you that creates a probably unhealthy server/client relationship.
It also insinuates that loss can be attenuated. Loss is fucking hideous. And inevitable. So the only thing we can ever do is build up our tolerance. If we create an environment where little mister butterfingers drops his spoon and it’s like “welp, no spoon anymore, use your hands,” then he can practice getting over shit like that. If we step in an fix it every single time, there will inevitably come the time we can’t, or shouldn’t, and if he has no practice, it will be that much harder on him.
Not ever handing things back might just build an ‘easy come easy go’ mentality that helps when it’s time to go to bed, to get out of bed, to get in the bath, to get out of the bath, to give up the pacifier etc. It may even help with coordination, as he’s got to improve his grip game if he wants to keep playing with something.
You may be thinking, what about the heartless moment when he’s begging to get something back and you just stare at him, not complying. But guess what, if you start early enough (from birth), that just never happens. He just moves on, because that’s always been what’s up.
Now of course, no one’s theory about a particular way of doing things resulting in a personality trait in one’s kid can ever be proven. All such “science” is simply part of the Terrified Mommy Industrial Complex. So for the love of god take this with a grain of salt. But it may have had a positive outcome for Oscar, and it definitely saved us some tears and back pain.