Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Parent Trap

I was on a boat recently.

Sitting next to me was a woman, probably in her early 60's, with one of those chihuahua type dogs that you have to carry around.

She was talking to the dog like one would to a baby or toddler.
At one point the dog, who was balancing precariously on her lap turned to give her one of those looks that small kids give you when they want something.
The woman understood this signal (as indeed I did, to my utter amusement).
She took the dog in her arms and placed it on her chest just like you would a baby.

In this position the dog was facing me.
The look on its face said something to the tune of 'mission accomplished'.

The whole thing made me laugh out loud.
The woman did not seem surprised at my laughter and she joined me in laughing.
The dog was playing the role of 'baby' very well and the woman was playing the role of 'Mum' equally well.
Down to a tee.

And before long, I found myself playing the role of 'Auntie'...
Cooing at the dog, asking Mum its name, its favourite foods, etc.

Ever since my hamster collapsed from exhaustion with all the spinning it sometimes does, there seems to be a new one rising out from the ashes like a phoenix.
And this new one has babies on the brain.


I realise now that the only ages where I did not have a 'baby substitute' of some sort were my teenage years. From birth to around age 11, I had a teddy bear. And since my mid-twenties I have had a similar 'cuddle-bunny'.
And my bed has never been empty since ;-)

And during 'the gap years' I was at the peak of my babysitting career.
For real babies and children, that is.

There was the 5-year old boy I was piano teacher to for a while when I was around 15. But as his Mum (a neighbour) was a single Mum who worked two jobs, I was also his babysitter for long periods of time. This was the first non-relative I was 'responsible' for, and I took my newfound role very seriously indeed!
I studied my young protégé intensely. He was exceptionally bright, and very musically talented, and already at 5, I could see that he was capable of becoming a better pianist than I could ever aspire to should he choose that path in life.
Sadly neither he nor I actually became pianists, but we shared a common passion.
This boy was my first 'baby'. I felt a real connection to him.
He was, like me, an introvert. So we connected in ways only introverts know how. In silence :-)

At 17, I was asked to fill in for a (maternity leave) music teacher at the Catholic elementary school allied to my high school (by virtue of 'sharing' some of the nuns from the local convent), for their end of year concert. To my surprise, I found I was far more interested in relating to the kids than preparing them for their concert.
And I was prouder than any parent at said end-of-year concert when they pulled off a great (singing) performance with me accompanying them on the piano.

What I find fascinating now is that I was far more interested in the younger age groups than the older ones (I had to work with several classes/age groups).

I find it fascinating now only because I notice more and more the way men relate to youngsters. And how much it differs from how I relate to them.

With a male friend, I once went to visit an older cousin who had teenaged children. At this cousin's house at the time was her younger sister, who had babies/toddlers.

I ignored the teenagers and made a 'bee-line' for the babies. My male friend headed in the direction of the teenagers never to be seen again.
During the course of the day I joined my friend and my elder cousin (as my guest I felt obliged to ensure he wasn't isolated) carrying one of the babies in my arms.
I made the tactical error (I now recognise it as such!) of offering the baby to my male friend, and watched in amusement as he almost recoiled in horror :-)

I now realise I was treating him as I would a female friend.

I always remember a scene from the British equivalent of 'The Bachelor' many years ago where 'The Bachelor' was asked whether he wanted children.
His eyes lit up as he recounted what he would like to do with his future son - play football, go bike riding, etc.
Sure, he wanted a baby. But he couldn't wait for that baby to grow up so he could do stuff with it.

That made me think.

We are ALL (male and female) born into the 'parent trap'. Kinda like we are all born into 'original sin' according to Catholic teaching.
We all want to be parents on some level. Whether we achieve that biologically or through adoption or through mentoring other people's kids, it's all the same.

On a purely evolutionary level, that is in fact why we are all here. To leave behind our genes before we make our exit from this world.


Whilst women's natural nurturing qualities make them excellent at managing the smallest children, men's natural leadership and adveturous nature makes them ideal for relating to older kids.

So to generalise rather broadly, a woman's domain is the baby, and a man's domain is the football-ready seven-year-old :-)

This is why where dog ownership is concerned, men have the big bulldog/German Shepherd types whereas the women have the baby-like chihuahua types.

Not to say that men can't relate to babies or that women can't relate to older kids. That would be absurd.

But I almost made this mistake myself.
In my friend's refusal to take a baby in his arms, I was (needlessly, looking back) confused.
This is a man I knew wanted and liked kids.
And here he was refusing to hold a baby.
That to me was not just confusing, it was a possible red flag.
Because he was a very good friend (cough, cough).

I failed to notice that he was in fact in his element with kids.
They just happened to be older kids.

And I am sure he was baffled that I seemed to be distancing myself from the older kids with whom one could have an actual conversation :-)
Preferring to have a 'non-conversation' connection thing with a baby, that didn't involve words normally found in language.

In related news, I note how Danny relates to his beloved Brody not as some 18-week old, but more like an 18-year old.
And yet Danny sees Brody as his son in much the same way as that little chihuahua was that woman's 'son'.
But a world of difference in how these two 'parents' treated their progeny :-)

I find it so fascinating that everything men and women do can be traced back to their blooming differences!

But, as ever, I still say, Vive la différence!

And when it comes to parenting, I can see clearly now why it is so important to have both. Most people have their mother, so the nurturing thing is a given (though of course it must never be taken for granted either). But the contribution of father has no name. And since it does not appear to have an impact on the immediate survival of the kid, it is deemed unnecessary - undesirable, even.

How tragic.

I for one am glad I learned this lesson now. That's one less mistake I am likely to make in the future.
Sure, I am pretty sure I shall screw up in other ways.
But this is one screw-up I would really hate to make.

Sure, a man can do this:

But he prefers this:

Women want to do this forever :-)


Anonymous said...

"We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

The Navy Corpsman

Rasana said...

.... "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

That is, until we forget them and are doomed to another cycle of ignorance, tragedy and re-learning.

At least I won't shy from holding a baby. :)

Spacetraveller said...

@ Rasana and NC,

This one is a tough one.
How I learned about this particular difference between men and women was nothing short of miraculous, in a way.

I could have made a grave mistake here...

Rasana, does it come naturally to you to hold a baby?
If not, why not tell your gf/SO so she knows not to expect this of you...and then at least she is appropriately well-informed about you...

If however it does come naturally to you...hehe what's your number?

(Just kidding!)

Bellita said...

I really like teenagers and it is because they are capable of doing so much more (and thinking at a much higher level) than other children that I wanted to teach high school. Before I started working, all my mentors were nursery school or kindergarten teachers, and they were all bemused by my preference.

Having said that, now that I have taught high school students, I have a better appreciation for their younger, less rebellious counterparts. Hahahaha!

This post reminds me of a blogger I once read whose reaction to the birth of his firstborn son was to put up as many pictures of father-son surfing excursions as he could find, already looking forward to the day his boy would be old enough for them.

just visiting said...

I wouldn't be too concerned about men not wanting to hold a baby. (Probably scared he might break him by mistake. lol)

I'm going to confess something. I couldn't hold babies either. I avoided babysitting them as a teen, and three weeks before my due date with my first child, I still couldn't do it. My best friend had her baby a month before me, and try as I might, I couldn't hold her baby without heart palpitations and anxiety. Floppy necks scared me. I was beginning to worry that I might not have any maternal instincts. Did I even like babies? Not really.

Anyhow, son number 1 was born with a fairly strong neck. No problems holding, cuddling and bonding. Actually, I went all earth mother with the breast feeding, cloth diapers, homemade babyfoods, and stay at home parenting. Had two more after him. Lol. So, it's hard to say before hand. I didn't have any indication of maternal instincts or inclinations until I became a mom. I get it when Angelina Jolie says motherhood hit her between the eyes. If hubby would have gone for it, I would have gladly had a large family.

Spacetraveller said...

@ Bellita,

"Having said that, now that I have taught high school students, I have a better appreciation for their younger, less rebellious counterparts."

I'm with you on this one!

All my male friens with baby boys were so looking forward to the 'active' phase of the child's life. One of them used to complain that his baby was so boring because he slept all day!

@ JV,

"I wouldn't be too concerned about men not wanting to hold a baby."

See? I only wish someone had told me this a while back :-)

The same guy who thought his baby was 'boring' also accidentally dropped him one day. (Thankfully baby wasn't hurt). He was so mortified. I think it took him a while to even touch that baby again.
Somehow, JV, your story spooks me a little. I'm so into babies right now (and have always been, in fact) I am now worried that I might become the opposite of what I am now when I am actually a mother, and not be capable of bonding at all!
Please tell me it's impossible to 'go the other way' in this context.

Otherwise I won't be able to sleep tonight :-)

OffTheCuff said...

Long ago, my wife was ga-ga over my nephew's* baby children when were young. She seemed disappointed that I had no interest in holding the kyoot widdle baybeeeeee. That didn't mean I don't like babies, as I've never been afraid to hold or play with my own. I just have no desire to play with other people's babies.

Plus, women get all territorial and stuff.

* Her sister is 25 years older than her, so her nephew is actually our age.

Spacetraveller said...

@ OTC,

I sure can understand your wife's disappointment!

You bring up an interesting point: you didn't want to hold someone else's baby, but had no problems with your own (future) baby.

See, this is the thing. As a woman, I will hold ANY baby. (It doesn't even have to be cute LOL). So I judge a man by the same standards (OK, so I now know this is wrong LOL).
But I was thinking, if he ain't holding my cousin's baby, how do I know he will hold his OWN baby?
I'd be scared to 'wait and see'...

So I was thinking, run for the hills...

So easily done...

just visiting said...

@ ST

I'm sure maternal instincts don't go the other way. You'll be a great mom.

In my case, any man judging my maternal instincts before hand would have been running for the hills. My oldest wasn't planned, (antibiotics and birth control don't mix) If hubby and I had been left to plan a pregnancy, I might have over thought my lack of warm fuzzy feelings towards other peoples babies. I probably would have concluded that I'd be a horrible mother, and my life could have taken a very different direction.

Spacetraveller said...

@ JV,

"I'm sure maternal instincts don't go the other way."

That makes me feel so much better, thanks!
I really really hope you are right :-)

"You'll be a great mom."

Aww, thank you! That's such a nice thing to say!

May I ask you?
Are you a first-born or a middle-born perhaps?
I wonder if one's birth order has something to do with one's parenting instincts?
I ask this because as a last-born, it occurred to me that perhaps I have a romanticised view of parenting, even though I did my fair share of babysitting in my teens. The point being that I had no real responsibilities as far as child care was concerned, in my immediate family, as there was no-one after me, so to speak.
The male friend in the post is also a last-born.
I have heard that this 'romanticism' is a particular 'problem' amongst last-borns.
Do you (or anyone else) have any theories on this?
Or am I overthinking this a tad?

Maybe I should go's late here.
Thanks for ensuring I sleep easy tonight, JV :-)

By the way, yay for the antibiotics!!


just visiting said...


Lol. Yay antibiotics!

On my mom's side I'm an only child. On my father's side, the oldest of 14. I didn't grow up with all of them, but enough of them to have a good idea what babysitting was about. Lol.

Spacetraveller said...

@ JV,

You are effectively a first-born then :-)

Hmm, interesting...


dannyfrom504 said...

I know i'm good with kids, I hear it enough from patients as I check in their kids for Dr's appointments. It's interesting how women react when they meet Brody and his well trained, goofy ass.

Still not sure I want to be a parent though. Brody's enough.

Anonymous said...

just visiting said...

"I wouldn't be too concerned about men not wanting to hold a baby. (Probably scared he might break him by mistake. lol)"

Exactly so. I was terrified of breaking my newborn infants. Not to mention, I was raised on a farm where all the baby animals looked like small versions of their parents.... not 90 year old, bald, toothless and wrinkled versions of their parents. At my eldest son's birth, I said something that no mother ever forgives:

"What the hell is wrong with him!?!?!?!"

I got better, but for the first week, I slept OUTSIDE the house.

The Navy Corpsman

P.S. I'm QUITE sure maternal instincts only get more developed once a woman gives birth. Just don't go overboard and refuse to let anyone else touch your first child.

P.P.S. Danny, just imagine teaching your son how to hunt, how to relate to the forest around him, how to call a turkey... I could go on, but I'll just get all mushy. I assure you, and Spacetraveler, enough of your character comes through the internet, I have no doubts about your or Spacetravelers ability to become a parent. Mebbe we should get you stationed in France?

The Navy Corpsman

Spacetraveller said...

@ Danny,


What if Brody wants a little brother or sister?

@ NC,

"Mebbe we should get you stationed in France?"


Brody will be none-too-pleased with this idea!
I am sure he loves being in any case he has his new chick there!
(Brody is my ex, don't you know...)


dannyfrom504 said...

ST will make a great mom, trust me. She's one of the good one's.

Spacetraveller said...

@ Danny,

Thank you! Very kind thing for you to say :-)
I hope you are right too!

dannyfrom504 said...

I'm rarely wrong. Especially about knowing a persons heart.

You're one of the good one's.

Spacetraveller said...

God bless ya Danny!