Friday, September 20, 2013

A Mock-Up of Parenting: Part the Last, where we wrap things up.

(Continued from Part the Third)

I came up with all this based on my limited experience, but even more based on my conversations with and observations of other parents. There are some parenting heroes who are juggling 4 muddy tennis balls while listening to Spanish radio, and I don’t even feel worthy to be in the same room with them. After watching them and listening to their wisdom, the advice I’ve gleaned breaks down into a few areas.
First, get people to support you. Other parents, your extended family, close friends—people upon which you can rely and with whom can be disturbingly honest.
Second, remember that you can always catch up on those episodes (what’s going on in the world) later when you have a minute to breath.
Third, let go of the idea that your life is your own. Really, this is good advice even if you don’t have kids. The things you have to get done or you wanted to do with your day—or life—can be subtly onerous whether you have kids or not. The sooner you let that go, the happier you’ll be overall.
Remember, keeping the kids alive is job #1, and sometimes you can only get one job done.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Mock-Up of Parenting: Part the Third which attempts an explanation

(Continued from Part the Second)

Some of you are thinking that I’m crazy. This can’t possibly be what it’s like. However, there are some parents out there who are reading this and thinking “That’s how I feel every day!” Let me break it down in hopes of making the example more accessible. Watching the show is keeping track of general life—what’s going on in the world, how your extended family or friends or church is doing—that sort of thing. The music represents the various mental challenges that your kids throw at you during the day. It isn't constant, there are breaks, and sometimes they do things for which you already feel equipped. Sometimes they do things that are so foreign it messes up your whole day. The tennis balls represent the attention and physical effort you have to expend while watching kids. Finally, the reason you are doing this on a day when you have other things planned is two-fold: children slow down the progress of almost every other endeavor even—and sometimes especially—if it isn't directly about them; and parents, as much as we love and claim we are willing to sacrifice for our kids, often hold on to the idea that our life is still (selfishly) our own. This overtly causes frustration and subvertly may cause us to feel that our kids are getting in the way of us leading our own lives.
Now, the immediate area where I know this example breaks down is with the concept of the treats. The treats are meant to show how the love and adorableness of children can make the challenge of raising them worthwhile. A simple treat does not completely represent how profound that can be. It is really one of the main things I think keeps many parents sane. When you are in the trenches, you cling to it because you know it’s true, even when it doesn't feel true.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Mock up of Parenting - Part the Second: where we add complications.

Then you decide to have a second kid. Add a tennis ball.
Things get harder. When you have help, it’s still not that bad. You divide the work and after some adjustment, things go pretty well. When you don’t have help, you end up initially having to go through the episode twice, temporarily memorizing the songs you hear the second time through. That’s not too bad, because you get a treat both times, but it’s frustrating to have to wait on those tasks you want to get done. However, eventually you may still be able to adapt so that much of the time you can get through the process in 1 sitting.t harder. When your spouse is helping, thisnever, you will improve.

hange suddenly, perhaps because it is a new season.
Then you have a third kid—add a tennis ball.
Now, even with your spouse’s help, one of you is minding two of the tennis balls. Without help, you’re trying to keep 3 balls going by yourself and still catch the entire plot and all the songs. The number of times it takes to successfully make it will go up dramatically. You’ll be regularly frustrated that you aren’t getting anything else done.

And remember, this is if you just have averagely difficult kids.
If you want to see what it is like to have an above-average difficult kid, or a kid with some legitimate special needs, there are a few things you can do to simulate that in this experiment.
Choose a radio station with a style of music you don’t follow. For me, it would be country music. If you start to get used to that style, switch to another station.  If I ever got so used to country that it started to get easy, I’d switch to jazz, for example. For very challenging kids, choose a Spanish channel (assuming you don’t speak Spanish.)
You could also get 1 (or more) of the tennis balls wet. Not only does that make them heavier and make them bounce less effectively, it also makes them messy. Again, for an added challenge, instead of clear water, use something like Kool-aid, or the liquefied cheese from a macaroni box, or mud.
In all fairness, there is the chance you’ll have very easy kids, which would be like listening to a playlist of all your favorite songs instead of a random radio station, while watching re-runs of your favorite TV show.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Mock-up of Parenting - Part the First where we detail the tasks involved

Before I had kids, I had taken care of kids. I’d watched older friend’s kids, babysat, done church childcare, and various other kid-care activities. Based on those experiences, I thought I’d be a pretty decent parent.
What I have now discovered is that none of those experiences really prepared me for being a parent.
Due to this realization, I’ve been trying to think of a way to explain to someone who doesn’t currently have kids of their own what it is like being a parent. While all my illustrations fail in some capacity, I have an idea I think is getting there.
First, pick a day where you want to accomplish something that isn’t related to childcare. This task or tasks should take several hours to finish and be something that you want to finish on that day, preferably. It could even be a series of projects, rather than one big project, as long as you have it in mind to try to finish a large number of those projects within this single day.
In the morning of said day, turn on your television and queue up an episode of a show you like that has some plot. Sitcoms aren’t ideal, since they are mostly episodic and can be watched fairly mindlessly. News is a little better, but still not ideal, as knowing what happened on the previous episode doesn’t impact being able to watch future episodes. This should be a show that has a multi-episode plot, and where it is at least somewhat important or beneficial that you be familiar with previous episodes. Turn the TV up to a level where you don’t have to strain to hear it in any way.
Then get a radio with speakers—no headphones. Turn it to a music station. It doesn’t matter what kind of music station—feel free to choose a station you listen to regularly or that plays music that you already enjoy and with which you are somewhat familiar. Turn that radio up to a few decibels less than the TV.
Now get a tennis ball.
Start your show and turn on the radio. Then choose a point on the wall and start bouncing the tennis ball against the wall. The ball should not bounce more than once on its return trip, and it should not rest in your hand for more than a second.
You have several goals. First, at the end of your show you should understand what happened in the episode well enough to be able to immediately go on to the next episode. Second, you need to be able to recite all the names of the songs that came on the radio while the show was on. You may write them down as they play, if you like. This may sound hard, but remember a lot of radio is commercials and talking. You don’t have to remember any of that.
If you have a spouse who is at home with you, your spouse may help. One of you can write down songs, while the other bounces the ball. At the end of the show, you may commiserate on the plot to make sure you have it all down.
If at the end of the show’s length, you have accomplished all these things, then you get to reward yourself, first with some sort of treat – ice cream, chocolate, whatever – then by starting to work on the tasks you wanted to accomplish that day. If you fail at any 1 of these things, you get the treat, but you don’t get to go onto your tasks unless you try again with the same episode. If you fail at any 1 thing a second time, give yourself another, smaller treat, then try again. A third single failure—a tiny treat, try again. Fourth time, no treat, try again, etc.
If you fail at any 2 tasks, you get no treat that round. Try again.
This is what it is like to be the parent of 1 average child for 1 day.

At first, you may make mistakes. You won’t be able to remember all the songs. You’ll drop the tennis ball or hold it too long or it will bounce too many times. Maybe you won’t remember some key part of the show. However, on your second time through the same episode, you’ll do much better. Probably because you will know the plot and can almost ignore the TV, focusing on the radio. If you have a spouse helping, you almost definitely will succeed the first time, and then you both get treats.
As you do it more and more, with different episodes, it will get easier. Your multi-focus ability will adapt, your muscles will get used to the motion, and your memory will improve. You’ll feel like a success.
Now, occasionally, the plot of the show will get extra detailed, or it will change suddenly, perhaps because it is a new season. That may throw you a bit, but you’ll recover fairly quickly. New music will come out on the radio, so occasionally you won’t catch the name. Once in a while you’ll have an unlucky fumble with the ball. Overall, however, you will improve.

Then you decide to have a second kid. Add a tennis ball.