use your words: confessions of a part-time parent

They turn their tiny noses up at most of what I eat.

I eat coconut chips and turmeric lattes, sautéed greens and tomatoes sprinkled with salt. I try to share. An experiment with some zucchini ends with the zucchini reappearing in the toddler’s mouth after an uncomfortable three seconds where she looks at me as if I have betrayed her. I fetch a napkin, wondering if there was a time I was so averse to anything green, anything strong, anything with…flavor.

My groceries reflect my time with the kids. After a day of serving macaroni and cheese, carrot sticks, my bags don’t include dinosaur-shaped fruit snacks or flavored yogurt. If I shop after a day spent with them, invariably my cart includes black garlic hummus and punjabi eggplant and Gorgonzola piccante so sharp it nearly burns the tongue. I sneak up the stairs, “late,” 9 pm when everyone is sleeping, and I stir turmeric and ginger and honey into hot milk. I sprinkle bright goat cheese onto salads and whisk tahini with olive oil for a dressing. For a midnight snack I sometimes eat kimchi from the jar.

It’s a curious thing, to live in a house with the children that you care for. They depend on me: for a set number of hours each week. I experience moments of tenderness, gently rocking the toddler as she drifts into sleep, and moments of relief: they are not mine. I will now descend into my basement lair and leave the tears and tantrums to someone else.

Taking care of a five-year-old and a toddler, at times I feel impossibly old. No longer the child, I am charged with putting someone else’s needs first, all the time. Their problems are so easily solved, their worlds small. They don’t understand, not really, that I, too, am sometimes scared and confused. That I sometimes long for a hug from my mom. That popsicles and band-aids don’t fix everything.

It’s strange to realize that I am not quite a person for them, or not in the way that I have learned to see people. The complicated interior life. The hopes and dreams. They have seen me cry and their faces don’t change. I wonder what they’re thinking. Empathy, I guess, is something we teach, something we learn.

In some ways, spending time with children is like spending time with people from another culture who speak a language you haven’t quite mastered. They will not understand, or maybe care, about the specifics of your day or just exactly what you think about the book you’re reading. And you, despite trying, cannot express these things. You learn quickly that political debates are out. Quoting The Princess Bride is out. That great pun you thought of, you’ll have to keep to yourself.

So, here, language fails you.

It’s frustrating. It’s strange. If you are really language-oriented, like I am, you’ll wonder who you are without your words. You’ll feel like a paper doll.

And you’ll find that it’s kind of refreshing.

Maybe you kick a ball back and forth or splash in a pool or dance or help cut vegetables for a pizza or play a board game: all things I did with my host family before I attained fluency in French. What I thought about these activities didn’t matter so much. I just did them.

So many times I swallowed that witty comment and I missed the joke and I contributed nothing verbally. And robbed of my words, I found I still existed. I was still appreciated, and loved.

I suppose that it is similar with the children. They don’t know what I feel or think, not really, not usually. But in this case I am not a mute but I am a provider. Of love, of instruction, of fun. Of cheese sticks and open arms and coloring books. Of discipline and library visits and tiny tiny portions of zucchini.

I feel impossibly old sometimes. But I hand them over and head downstairs and I feel young again, the kind of young where I can still be selfish and it doesn’t hurt anyone. The change from my college years is that for the first time, I don’t take this for granted, my freedom.

I can spend an hour on my hair. I can buy new and extremely impractical shoes. I can take my hair and my shoes and a new book to a lounge at a high-rise hotel, and I can sit and watch the sun set, the city a backdrop to my cocktail. And I can do this on a Monday if I want to. I can make last-minute decisions and I can stay up all night. My friends can do the same.

Juxtaposed with the responsibility of caring for the children, though, this stage of life seems for the first time finite. And it’s all the sweeter for it.

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44 thoughts on “use your words: confessions of a part-time parent

  1. Haha I had some great zucchini moments, too 🙂 I love how you describe yourself as a “part-time parent!” I often felt the same way when I was aupairing this past year, as it felt like the boys were seeing and interacting with me more than their real parents. The truth is, there are moments when it’s hard. The language and cultural barrier feel too great to surpass, like how I grew up in a stricter family setting and tend to teach/discipline in a similar way, or how all the good jokes in Frozen were taken out with the translation into French. It’s definitely a weird in-between place, caring for someone else’s children. But once it’s all over, the most we can hope for is that we’ve made an impact on their lives ❤

    Liked by 6 people

  2. This is a very interesting view. First, I would have thought about, how much time and energy you give in such a situation. But you get a lot too. And even the things that really do not interest you, gives something..you are a part of it and you will make experience and learn a lot … very nicely written!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Kijo

    “And robbed of my words, I found I still existed. I was still appreciated, and loved.”

    Awesome. The question of who who are without language is a bottomless one. On one hand, letting go of language is freeing– I worked with people whose language I didn’t understand and found it freeing, rather than frustrating. The brain power required to produce and consume language– and the performance of language we call personality– was used, instead, watching and moving more naturally, less neurotically, in the world.

    On the other hand, there’s this quote from the film Still Alice: “I feel like I can’t find myself. I’ve always been so defined by my intellect, my language, my articulation and now, sometimes I can see the words hanging in front of me and I can’t reach them and I don’t know who I am and I don’t know what I’m gonna lose next.”

    Alice lost her ability to function fluently in the modern world, but was still identifiable to her husband and children. It showed that language has function, and beautiful form, in the world, but is not the foundation of human identity.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I am absolutely overwhelmed by this comment! Wow compliment! Language is definitely always a challenge and absolute enrichment. It is a pity that there are some people who have inhibitions in their language or are not motivated enough to learn them.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Kijo

        You are right. Now that I think about it, it’s a bit radical. A lot of writing celebrates language and reason as foundations of human civilization. Our current civilizations perhaps, but that is always changing. Might we some day have a post symbolic future? I can’t find much literature on that.

        For now, we enjoy language. It’s delicious. Potent, dangerous, but delicious.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. World affairs would be lame without language. But I think in “small” coexistence it is certainly not the most important. This also includes behavior, body language and a feeling you have for others. We say “they understand themselves blindly” .. when two people have the optimal fit …. I would prefer to say, “the understand themselves mute”.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This struck such a chord because as of now I’m a 24-year-old child and my mother still probably has these thoughts. On the other hand, I feel that way about my mother, that at times we are speaking completely different languages and there is no solution to a problem. We bounce back, but I wish there was a middle ground sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jacquelineannemarielarkin

    Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing! I’m also a huge fan of your blog’s title, which was reason enough for me to ‘follow’. Looking forward to reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This post confused me a bit.

    Although I enjoyed the beginning when you wonder if you’ve ever been a picky eater (I dare to say: “yes”?), and the end where you sit with a good book observing the sunset, the overall middle was … weird. I am glad that the kids make you feel happy about being an adult, because that is not always the case. Sometimes they can depress us when we notice how old we really are.

    You seem to be somewhat upset about kids not being as eloquent as you. That’s… rather… umm… normal? Did you expect to have a rational political debate with a 4-year-old (or whatever the kid’s age)? And empathy. Yes, we learn how to express it with age, but it does not mean that kids do not have empathy at all. You mention they have seen you cry… Did you expect them to sit you down and ask you why and offer you a warm beverage? We (adults) are supposed to protect them (kids). Kids should be kids. Being an adult lasts longer than being a kid, and it isn’t always better than childhood. So don’t try to turn them into adults, yet.

    Often times, I think I would like it if I was a kid again. I do enjoy my freedom to do whatever as an adult, but being so happy, care free and innocent as a child has its advantages…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      This post is a musing about the fact that I am now firmly in that adult stage. And it’s strange sometimes, to realize that. Every single day, my natural self-interest and selfishness battle against what is best for the children I take care of. It’s hard and it’s character-building. I wrote this as a honest reflection on that, and on the fact that I am currently in a sort of liminal state.

      I am aware, as a full-time teacher and childcare provider for several years, that adults are to protect (and teach) children. This is certainly not an “adults versus kids” post. As I state in the post, I am interested in how people can relate apart from language- such as in shared time, in cooking or playing together. Maybe sometimes we assign language too much importance. I believe your claim that I seem upset about “kids not being as eloquent” as I am is thus unfounded.

      As you state, there are certainly advantages to both stages of life. I guess right now I’m interested in the cut off. When exactly does a child become an adult? Is it an age, a life event, a state of mind? It’s fun to ponder.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. In my opinion people can relate apart from language in all situations, where something is to do (like cooking, playing games,clean up, go for a walk, bicycle…) So not the message as words is the important thing, but the action you are doing. My children learned like this french. They started without speaking any word, no lessons, just playing with french kids..it worked well. Hmmm, When exactly does a child become an adult? I would say it is a state of mind.

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    2. I have not understood that the text should show that children have some kind of deficiencies to improve, right? That it has been more strict in your own childhood and with better behavior,… well, these are quite legitimate questions of upbringing. But these are rules of coexistence, which also applies to adults. Children can always remain children and should do so. And also not all children are equal, even siblings, who have enjoyed the same education are completely different. Children hug and comfort you. They do not understand why you’re sad, but they feel that you’re sad and that’s enough for them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. this last comment I wrote in response to the comment from floatingboat, but was somewhat misleading, apologized, I always have problems with the translation…and misunderstood some things. I just wanted to say, that kids may not being as eloquent as adults, but they can be are very sensitiv in feelings, and it might be, that they sit down and ask you why you are sad and offer you a hug..

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