Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Man Plans, God Laughs

(When I began writing this blog, I really had no idea where it was going, nor did I know that one day I'd have an archive of over 800 posts. I love when a reader takes the time to troll through the archives and comment on something I'd forgotten all about. This is one of those. A week or so ago, while preparing a post on teaching children democratic values, I snapped a few shots of the Pike Place Public Market with the idea that they might help me tell that story, but wound up not using them. I think they make, however, an appropriate accompaniment to this story.)

When our daughter Josephine was born, we were living on the 24 floor of a condo in the heart of downtown Seattle, only a block from the famous Pike Place Public 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 got a little older and 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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Iba said...

Ha! My plan to turn my daughter into a tomboy blew up in my face, too. I dressed her in gender neutral cloths, staying far away from fluffs and pinks and purples. As she grew up, she is more and more a princess; all glitters and all shades of pink possible. That said, she does enjoy climbing tree, play with dinosaurs and do rough and tumble activities with her brothers. :)

rosesmama said...

The boy I was sure I'd have is a big beautiful brilliant girl who hates sports, loves music and dance and loves dressing up. At least I've convinced her to love the outdoors and to be a reader. Ah well, the 'tween years have many surprises in store for me, I'm sure.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Thanks for this lovely post. A nice reflection on parenting, and very true, I believe.

CARRIE said...


MarciaMichele said...

This post brought tears to my eyes, I'm not sure why, but the part about being proud that your daughter was playing with the non-gender specific hotwheels. When you wrote that you realized they were marrying the cars and setting up house, I giggled and felt teary! How amazing that a little story can have this affect...it's probably the former preschool teacher turned Mom of a 4 year old in me. I just love little munchkins and how much they help us to learn about life!!