Parenting in NYC - Referee or Firefighter?
I was in the middle of a storm in the boy’s bedroom and it was that pivotal moment when I didn’t know whether I should embrace it or really start to panic. I felt like the easy option would be to give way to these erratic movements and the whirling chaos that surrounded me. Different forces were coming at me from all angles. Waves surging and crashing. Surging and crashing. I was underneath the water. Rolling, rolling, rolling until I finally came up for air and heard the joyous, contagious and unhindered laughter. There are gasps, belly laughs and that certain variety of scream that cause the “fasten seatbelt” sign to illuminate (although you’re not sure whether you’re suiting up for a ride at an amusement park or aboard Oceanic Flight 815. Any LOST fans? No? Just me?). One boy places a toy platypus on my head. Another one dives at me from the front as I quickly duck and aim my shoulder for his stomach (pro-boymom move, BTW). One tries to grab the platypus from my head and in turn knocks my glasses off so now I'm blind (pro-kid move. Touche). One is arching his back while being held by me and I’m doing everything that I can to be sure that there is no spinal breakage. They’re now working against me as a team and I'm feeling it.
The boys were sharks circling me as I held a ball in one arm and the baby in another. They went from one side of the room, to the opposite one and back again. One was the leader of the pack (Hudson, obviously), following was Wyatt (who, whether he likes to admit it or not, is usually the first follower of Hudson), and behind him was Amos (hanging onto the back of Wyatt’s stretched out shirt and being flung around like a rag doll). I’m sure this segment of their lives started out like any other - one of them had something that another wanted. Toy? Book? Superhero? Game? Who knows, but at this point it doesn’t even matter. What was once a dispute had turned into entertainment. An argument had evolved into a game, and at this point I don’t even care what the original disagreement was about.
I sat on the floor and just watched. I saw three little boys (four if you include Brooks) smile big smiles and laugh big laughs as they literally just ran around the room. One would tackle another, and the initial reaction would be one of anger or injustice, but as play carried on, the “wronged” party would carry on also. We were sitting in their 10x13 room (which seems significantly smaller when you put two sets of bunk beds and a crib in there), and all I could think was that they had everything that they needed in that moment.
There’s not a day that goes by when I wonder “WHAT. THE. HECK. we are doing raising four young boys in the city?” Are we out of our god-forsaken minds? Are we blind to the things that surround us? Are we being selfish? Are we sacrificing our kids on the altar of our dreams? Because if I’m being completely honest, this shit is hard. Raising boys? Hard. Raising two of them? Hard. Raising three or four of them? Harder. Raising them around family? Still hard. Raising them in the suburbs? Yup, still hard. Raising them in the city? Exponentially harder. It’s really, really, really difficult raising 4 boys in the city (Do you get my point yet?), and the guilt that comes with it? It’s real. There are so many things that we can’t do because we live in Brooklyn (that’s a whole other post in itself), but there are so many ways that the boys are forced to use their imagination and play together because of the things they don’t have. They may not have all the new, cool toys and they may not be able to go to places that their friends go. We may not send them to summer camp or enroll them in all of the extra-curricular activities, but they have fun with each other (when they’re not fighting) and it brings me joy to see them being boys in an environment that isn’t necessarily conducive to that. I’m a referee or a firefighter all day long - I’m either settling a dispute or putting out fires. But despite the things we have to do or the things we can’t do because we live here, these kids are happy.
I worry, I worry and I worry some more. “Are they having enough fun? Are they getting outside enough? Am I stifling their boyness? Am I letting them explore, fight and get dirty enough?” I’ve come to the realization that that’s what parents do best. We worry that we’ll screw our kids up because of the things that we do, and because of the things we don’t do. But in that snapshot, when the kids were going wild in their territory, I felt content. I saw that I may not be able to give each of them their own room or their own underwear (What? Your kids don’t share underwear?), but they also don’t know any different. They’re going to grow up in bunk beds and small bedrooms. They’re going to grow up riding the subways more than cars. They’re going to go to school with thousands of other kids of different races and nationalities and I’m glad that that’s all going to be their version of “normal”. It’s going to be their childhood, and they’re going to love it despite all of the inadequacies that I see in my own parenting choices. I may look back on my childhood and wish that my kids could have some of the same things that I had, but I need to remember that their own life is their frame of reference, so as long as they’re happy within that I’ve done my job. And maybe someday I won’t make all 4 of them share a room. Maybe.