Saturday, January 09, 2010

"Mentsch Tracht, Gott Lacht"

When my daughter Josephine was born, we were living on the 24th floor of a condo in the heart of downtown Seattle, only a block from the famous Pike Place Market.

We went to the market almost daily, first in a stroller or Baby Bjorn, and later on foot. I love that place and the former chamber of commerce manager in me wants to provide a tour of the highlights right here, but I’ll fight that urge and instead point you to their website. As my wife eased herself back into her consulting work, I took on the responsibilities of primary caregiver, considering these forays into the market to be a quintessentially Seattle and relatively uncommon way for my uncommon baby to learn about her world.

The mornings were the best, just as the vendors were setting up. It was a little quieter than usual, the street musicians would start later, but there was still enough shouting and banging around to make it lively. The briny scent of the fish stalls mingled with that of the bakeries, the musty underground spaces, and the original Starbucks, forming an ad hoc potpourri signifying a place like no other. I craved the misty maritime air on my skin and was proud that I was exposing my baby to it.  I couldn’t wait for Josephine to get older so that we could share the produce samples being offered by vendors from the edges of their sharp knives. As we passed through this richly textured place, I imagined how the movement, colors and shapes of the market were embedding themselves deeply into her developing brain, shaping it in ways that would later shape her entire life.

One of my favorite stops was the live crab tank in front of Jack’s Fish Spot. I’d park the stroller in front that visual feast, lean back in a cafĂ© chair and watch my girl’s little hands and feet as they seemed to reach out toward those shellfish, and listen to her use her baby words to excitedly “talk” about what she was seeing. I was the best damn daddy in the world. The fact that she would often wind up crying inconsolably made me think she was just over-stimulated and needed a nap. When she started shouting, “No, no, no!” as we approached the tank I finally got the idea that there was something amiss in my idyllic little scenario. Her all-things-sea-creature phobia became so pronounced that we developed special routes through the market in order to avoid the fish mongers – no easy feat in this place more or less known for its fish mongers – and eventually quit going altogether. To this day, the presence of crab or lobster, alive or cooked, makes her nervous.

Who knew?

This wouldn’t be the last time my expectations as a parent would be thwarted by the actual, real live, one-of-a-kind human being I was helping to raise.

I worked really hard to create a tomboy, but from the moment she could express a preference it was for pink, fluffy, and sparkly.

I bought her a Hot Wheels set and was incredibly proud of my bad, non-gender-stereotyping self when she and her girlfriend spent an afternoon playing cars. That is, until I realized that the game they were playing involved all the cars getting married to one another and setting up house under the track.

I figured that, at least, I would be raising an athlete, but while she’s fond of volleyball, swimming and other sports, she’s made it clear that if she’s going to be in front of an audience, it’s going to be as a singer or actor.

This isn’t to say that my big picture parenting objectives aren’t being met. She has a lot of friends, is confident, has interests that compel her to learn, and takes on new challenges with enthusiasm. Now, a decade removed from the specifics of my new parent expectations, I see that she’s exactly where I hoped she would be as a teenager, but seems to have arrived there by a path I could never have plotted for her.

As the Yiddish proverb goes:

Man plans, God laughs.

There is no circumstance where this is more applicable than as a parent. I’m pretty sure god wants us to laugh along with him.

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Deborah Stewart said...

I love it! I love how she chose pink and sparkly and married all the cars:) Hilarious and wonderful to hear that her basic girl instincts were not thwarted by your fatherly (and well intentioned) efforts!

Anonymous said...

Boy am I learning that lesson every day of my life, but I can't help to plan...and He made me that way! lol!

Jennifer said...

Here is one of the best things I've read on girls love of pink and the development of gender identity in early childhood:
love your blog!

Reservoir Dad said...

"That is, until I realized that the game they were playing involved all the cars getting married to one another and setting up house under the track."

That is very very funny. One of the main hurdles I had to deal with - and still struggle with - as my kids got older was to accept that I would never have the level of 'control' that I thought I would. They're new little human beings with their own quirks and strengths and they can talk back and push boundaries and I have to keep reminding myself that I'm their 'guide' for the time being but that we're also a group of humans who are learning to give and take and share the same space together. It's hard work a lot of the time but pretty cool.

Unknown said...

What a wonderful post. It delighted me to no end. I started reading it around noon when our friends were coming over to help celebrate Kaishon's Birthday. It gave us much to talk about during cake eating : ) as we discussed children and genders! See, you are stimulating minds far, far away from Seatle!

Scott said...

Great post! I love that she and her friend married off all the cars. I was reminded of the time that a couple of boys were playing with the dolls in the home center. I went to see what was happening and we were having baby wrestling! Actually, naked baby wrestling. As an adaptation of the proverb: Parent/Teacher plans and kids laugh.

Anonymous said...

About half way through this post all I could think of was "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry", although I prefer Burns' more poetic "gang aft agley".

I'm sure I'll have similar experiences with my son and I "hope" to shape him, but at the same time I'm curious to see the things he becomes drawn to just as your daughter found other passions and things that compelled her to learn. It will definitely be an interesting journey.

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

This is a great post. It's so true isn't it.
I love the proverb...words to live by when raising kids I suppose.

Anonymous said...

I was traumatized in Pike Place to...but that was from culture shock. Actually, all of Seattle was one big dose of culture shock for this small town girl. But we had a blast and will go back someday.
By the way, I tried my best to raise a pick and frilly girl...and I got the tomboy. They called her The Redneck Princess at prom.

Launa Hall said...

I love knowing that your daughter probably read this, and knows how glad you are that she is forging her own path. Awesome. I'm still a little sad for you that she didn't relish Pike Street Market with you, but boy, do I ever get it. So many of my plans were and are turned upside-down by my two children, and I'm a better parent and person for it.

Krys - Baby Massage said...

This is so funny.
I hope "no" was one of her first words. Poor you... trying so hard.