“I can’t wait until my child’s old enough to argue with me. That way I’ll know they’re capable of their own independent thought and not just regurgitating what I tell them.”
These words were said by me back in high school, well before I had a kid. Who am I kidding? Back then, I didn’t even have a girlfriend. Both of my sisters had their first kids fairly young, but I was a late bloomer. While their sons are well into teen-dom (the oldest is about to have a kid of his own, making my sister – who insists she’s still in her 20’s – quite a young grandmother), my daughter, Natalie, is barely starting Kindergarten next month.
Even though I waited until I was almost 30 to have her, I never lost my belief that children are among the most oppressed castes in society. They’re expected to talk when spoken to, be silent when told, eat everything on their plate, whether they like it or not and generally be everything we didn’t want to be when we were young. I managed to stay an advocate for children’s rights well into my adult life, right up to about the time I had a kid of my own….
I must admit, as a parent, it can sometimes be hard to maintain my beliefs. I see children running around outside, playing with no adults around and I wonder where their parents are. It doesn’t matter I spent my childhood walking the mean streets of Kennewick with my friends, with no cell phone to call home in case I got in trouble. I keep as close of an eye on Natalie as I can, but there are times when she’s playing outside, I find myself wishing I could just let her play and I could go inside and get something done. Maybe wash the dishes, work on a chapter or two. But whether I’m being paranoid, overbearing or just a good dad, I can’t leave her by herself. I can hang back and let her play, but I have to be there in case something happens. I can’t protect her from everything, but I feel like I have to try. Whether it’s keeping her from throwing her toys over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, trying to stop her from petting the bees so prevalent this time of year or hoping she doesn’t choke on the rocks and weeds she just put in her mouth, it can be exhausting.
Choking on rocks? Did I mention she’s Autistic?
She was diagnosed when she was 2 and at the time, it seemed impossible. Sure, she was a little behind in her language, but she was 2. How could they possibly tell? Now, at the age of 5, I have no idea where she fall on the spectrum, but there’s little doubt she does.
After two years of preschool and our best efforts, she’s come a long way. But she’s understimulated, which has its good points (she loves hugs and kisses) and its bad (she has to put everything in her mouth, even if it’s not fit for consumption). She talks a lot now, but it’s mostly echolalia (parroting things she’s heard from TV or us). Granted, that’s how most kids learn to talk, but she’s five. I thought by now, I’d be having philosophical discussions about the “Why” of it all, as children are wont to ask. Instead, she never questions. She protests, usually by shouting, “Out!” and motioning for me to get away or by stomping her feet and grabbing her ears while singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. But she never asks why.
So many parents tell me I’m lucky, that once their children started talking, they just wouldn’t shut up. I have to bite my lip and remind myself they have a different outlook on parenting than I do. They don’t know what it’s like to wait so long to not just hear their children’s voice, but their thoughts. Their feelings. Here I am, five years in, and I still can’t wait for my daughter to argue with me. Not the flailing around she does when I try to brush her teeth or the biting holes in her clothes she does when she’s having a severe meltdown, but the pure, unadulterated wisdom of a child, telling me what’s what, reminding me I am not infallible, no matter my age.
Even if I do end up having to pull rank on her. 🙂