Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Can we talk?

As a parent to be, I plan on talking to my child a lot. I'm already saying good morning to him/her every day, using my wife's belly button like a phone receiver. I've promised myself that when our child is born I won't speak in the squealish baby talk that most people are wont to do in the presence of a baby. Seriously, is there scientific proof that the baby actually understands you better when you sound like an blathering idiot? Or are they smiling at you because they have gas? I guess I'd better Google that one.

My hope is that my wife and I will create an atmosphere where our child will want to talk to us freely about things. I will do my best to not cringe when an awful truth comes out. I will try hard to not react quickly when I hear something that I don't agree with or can't believe my child would say. It's easy for me to sit here and say this without years of parenting experience behind me, as I'm sure veterans would laugh at my naivety. But I think my lack of having an open dialogue with my parents has made me see how important such a thing can be. And honestly, I should have written 'mother' rather than 'parents' there. Look at that, I totally went against something I just told you I wanted to have with my kid. I'm going to go sit in the corner for 5 minutes and think about what I did.

First, some backstory. My mother has been divorced twice and married three times. She has been the one constant parent in my life, so it's only natural that I would be more open to talking to her about things. She divorced my biological father when I was young (around 10), and married my first stepfather (Chuck) pretty quickly after. Chuck and I didn't get along very well, but he came along close to when I hit puberty and I didn't get along with most people then, so go figure. He and my younger brother hit it off well, having a similar knack for taking things apart and annoying me. So I naturally moved closer under the wing/apron of my mother, who was there to listen to me agonize over all the woes about my budding adolescence. If I needed to talk about girls, she was there. If I needed to complain about my brother, she was there. If I needed to talk about how awesome 80's rap was, she was there too.

One day, things changed. I don't remember the conversation, but I remember being in the car with her talking about something. A response she gave to me using something I had divulged to her earlier was used in a way to get a dig on me. I had let her in on some kind of secret or private thought, something most likely trivial if I were to find out what it is now, but it was a moment of clarity for me. This moment in time made me realize that sharing things with my mother would only allow her to use those things against me at some point.

The funny thing is, I don't know why I didn't see this coming sooner. Looking back on the family get togethers we had, this type of shit happened ALL THE TIME. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas our grandparents and uncle would come over and there would be a non-stop barrage of digs thrown at any and everyone. Sometimes they were playful, other times they brought up subjects that you thought were off limits to other family members. Somehow I never realized this was going on until I moved out of the house and made annual holiday visits. My wife and I would sit there uncomfortably while digs were hurled across the table like mashed potatoes in the food fight scene of 'Animal House.' Everyone traded barbs while I looked at my wife in astonishment and tried to chew my dinner as quickly as possible.

So is that what it means to be loved in my family? Is throwing some resentful dig a way of showing how much we care about each other? I've certainly used this on my friends and my wife on numerous occasions. I used to say that I let you know that I liked you when I did something like that. What a nice guy I was. Care for a nice compliment about how you look? Nooooooo. I'm going to tell you that you looked a lot worse the last time I saw you. What an asinine way of doing things. Excuse me while I hide behind sarcasm and resentment to avoid telling you how I really feel. It's only been through therapy (and lots of co-pays) that I've come to realize that this happens and that I'm just as guilty as my family members. Thankfully I can now recognize that I'm doing it and try to correct myself when I slip.

Ever since we told my family that we're going to have a baby, the lines of communication have been opened much wider than before. The phone calls that used to come only on holidays, birthdays and deaths in the family have turned into almost weekly status updates and real conversations. My mother used to call and quickly ask me how I was, followed by her updates and a check of the weather in our respective areas. It's like we were anchoring a newscast rather than having a conversation. "That's the weather in New York state. Reporting live from Brooklyn I'm Chris. Back to my Mom in studio and a look at who won the game last night." Now we're talking about how my wife is handling the pregnancy, ultrasound results and even a bit about parenting strategies. It's going to take some getting used to, but I like the direction we're headed in.

You know who I have to thank for getting us to this point? Our unborn child. That little lemon-sized (he/she has grown since my last post) little wonder has made it possible to have some type of connection with my mother again. Our relationship has been strained for some time now, and it's nice to see things changing for the better. I'm not entirely comfortable with it yet, because I've grown accustomed to our abbreviated annual calls. But I know that it is nice to see some of the ice between us melting away, and I hope that we can gradually get to a better place in our relationship. Until she makes a dig at my child, and then it's on like Donkey Kong.

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