“Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” --Guillaume Apollinaire

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Deadbeat Alert!

Today I am happy that my son has no doubt that his mom and dad will take care of him.

My husband and I are getting ready to send our oldest baby off to kindergarten in the fall.  Okay, one of us is completely ready while the other is struggling a little with the fact that this kid is growing up so fast, but that is a topic for another day.  E-man is the kind of kid who prepares for new experiences by asking questions.  Lots and lots of questions: questions about every aspect of the experience that he can imagine, then some more questions on related topics and usually a few additional questions on topics that could only be related to the original topic in the mind of a five year-old boy.  And after he has had some time to mull over the answers we've given in response to his questions, he has an entire new round of questions to ask. 

As you can imagine, the topic of school is pretty dominant in our family conversations these days.  Here is a recent example of a conversation we had in the car:
"Mom, after I finish preschool, I will go to kindergarten?  And then what will happen?"
"Yes, you'll go to kindergarten.  Then you will go to first grade. When you're in first grade, you will go to school all day every day.  After that you will go to second grade."
"And then I will go to third grade and fourth grade and fifth grade? How many grades does school have?"
"Twelve grades.  And then when you are finished with all twelve, you go to college."
"What is college?"
"Well, it's a school that you go to when you're kind of a grown-up, like Brooklyn [a family friend] goes to college.  You go there to learn how to do the job you want to do when you grow up.  Like I went to school to learn how to be a teacher.  What do you think you would like to do when you grow up?"
"Well, I don't know.  Maybe I could do what Daddy does because I watched him and helped him lots of times, so I already know how to do it. I don't really need to go to college."
At this point in the conversation, a cement mixer drove by, effectively ending any discussion about future college and career plans.  After all, he is a five year-old boy. 

A few days later, the conversation was revisited:
"Hey Mom, I've been thinking about it, and I want to be a dad when I grow up."
Awww, I thought, how sweet!  That is because he has an amazing daddy!
"But I don't want to go to work."
Oh, he is going to tell me that he wants to do fun things with his kids all day long. He is going to be an amazing daddy someday too! 
"I don't wanna have a job, but it is okay 'cause you can just take care of my bills for me."
This kid melts just melts my heart. Wait...what?!? Did he just say he doesn't want to ever have a job and that he expects to live on my dime for the rest of his life?

If you know me well, you know that I am prone to overanalyze even the smallest statement or incident.  Of course I started to wonder where we went wrong. Have we missed teaching some crucial concept?  Would he really be content without working a day in his life?  Does he actually expect to mooch off us throughout adulthood? How do you teach the value of being a self-sufficient adult who can function as a responsible member of the community?  Will my  kid be a deadbeat? (Hmmm...wonder where he gets that whole questioning thing?)  Aaauuggh!

After a day or two of questioning our parenting skills, I came across a news story about a four year-old boy in the Detroit area who died from starvation and neglect.  My initial reaction was anger at the adults in this little boy's life as well as those who were conspicuously absent.  Evidently, the boy's mom passed away, bio-dad lost custody when he went to prison for felonious assault, and the boy was living with an aunt and uncle.  When he was removed from the relatives' home shortly before his death, this four year-old boy was 37 inches tall and weighed just 24 pounds.  The uncle and aunt had to know that something was very wrong, yet they did not help him or get help for him until he was unresponsive, nearly dead. I don't know the specifics of their situation.  Maybe they had too many mouths to feed or, as the old country song goes, too much month at the end of the money.  I tried not to judge, but I cannot help but think that neglect on such a level would have to be willful and not simply an issue of finances. Seriously, how can one human being watch another human being starve to death and do nothing about it?  I was beyond furious with the people who were supposed to be caring for this child.

Eventually my anger gave way to pure sadness when I thought about what little guy must have experienced, or more accurately what he did not experience, in his short life.  My heart ached for this little boy who did not have someone he could trust to meet his most basic needs.  If no one bothered to feed him, I assumed that it must have been a rare occasion that anyone took the time to snuggle this kiddo or read to him or wipe his tears when he was hurt or sad.  I thought it would be a safe bet that no one helped him learn to throw or catch,  helped him learn letters, numbers, shapes or colors, checked his closet for monsters so that he wouldn't be afraid when he went to bed.  I guessed that no one had a conversation with this boy about what he dreamed of doing when he grew up.

That is when I was struck with the realization that...brace yourself, this might be shocking...the worry I was had about my own son's career ambition was utterly ridiculous!  Was I really concerned  by a five year-old's statement that he didn't need a job because he knew he would be taken care of ? Did I actually believe that this meant that he would turn out to be some kind of deadbeat?  Please! If he were a twenty-five year-old  making that statement, yes, there would be reason to worry.  But for the moment, I am thrilled to realize that at the tender age of five, he has no idea what it really means to need, to go without or to be neglected, and truthfully, I hope he never has to learn.  He firmly believes that his dad and I will always take care of him and provide whatever he needs, and for today* I will cherish the thought that he trusts in us completely.

*For today...but twenty years from now, E-man, you should definitely plan on having a job and paying your own bills!

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