Too Much Attention or Not Enough…

Most, if not all of us have heard the phrase “even bad attention is still attention.” This has been used to explain the delinquent behavior of youngsters possibly since the first humanoids started walking bipedally.  “Mog act bad… Mother of child not give proper attention… Must give attention with club.”

Actually, it is more likely to have been attributed much later in the nature vs nurture argument by other patriarchal types, like Freud, who like any good Victorian, blamed all things wrong with a child on the mother. It seemed like a reasonable explanation at the time. Fast forward to modern day. It seems that every single report of criminal behavior at some point focuses the microscope on the childrearing behaviors of the perpetrator’s parental authorities (be they the actual biological parents or not).

Now, I am not saying that the responsibility of molding of our young breed does not actually start with the parental figures. If you believe in tabula rasa (which I do not, entirely), humans enter this world as a blank slate with boundless potential and opportunity for the adults in their life to completely screw up. Yep, I said it. However, as I previously insinuated, I might not buy into all that. Aside from biology and genetics, of which I do not think even the under-rock dwellers can completely discount at this point in scientific discovery; there is the whole “village raising the children” philosophy (thank you Hilary for plagiarizing an African proverb and removing responsibility from satellite families and giving them someone else to blame). The point being that there are a good many adults that have influence over any one child. There are parents, extended family, teachers, coaches, youth leaders, and a plethora of other individuals who come in contact with and have some impact on the experiences of the child. As we all know, we are, at least in part, a sum of our experiences. In fact, sometimes it isn’t even a family member or caretaker that has the most significant influence upon the child. Sometimes it is someone they do not even know, but through the power of the media or the synchronicity of some other exposure to that child’s fertile mind, perfect strangers, fictional characters, and professional athletes and entertainers can have easily as much influence over the development of our young as the parents or guardians who raise them.

So, about this attention thing; I heard it again this morning in some news story or other, probably on a true crime story in the wee hours (thank you insomnia). The most amusing part of the story was the irony that the reporter or writer or narrator never once saw in what they were saying. The tale was one of a modern day “Bonnie and Clyde”. Both of them were ruthless, party-obsessed, and addicted to drugs and each other. I heard the announcer say that the girl was neglected and abandoned as a child, and she found in the boy a willing supplicant who would care for her and meet every whim and wish. The boy, well, this is where I wonder that the writers did not see what they were saying. He was a well-loved child, raised by his mother with excellent opportunities and upbringing. He wanted for nothing growing up.

Ok. We’ve got “Bonnie” who had a crappy childhood, and “Clyde” who didn’t, and they both ended up being horrible human beings cooking, selling, and using meth and stabbing a friend to death with a kitchen knife. Let’s see now… was it too much attention or not enough. Is there some magical correct amount of attention that results in a well-balanced, honest, and successful human? If I could figure that out, I would not nearly be as concerned about paying my bills for a while. What is this mystical, magical calculation of what constitutes “just enough” attention to give a child?

I’ve heard all the old school comments and conjectures about sparing the rod and about how when women stayed at home and were mothers. Don’t even start with me. Seriously, who, in this day and age can afford to be a stay-at-home parent full time? It isn’t even a matter of the excesses or luxuries that make it completely infeasible. Feeding and clothing is only part of the job. What about development and socialization? Then, there is the medical side. The cost of raising a child to adulthood at this time is approximately $241,080. That does not include college, if you desire your offspring to flourish with higher education and future occupational compensation. Also, this is a healthy child with no illnesses or unexpected injuries, and you can just forget about braces or birthday and holiday presents. Besides, it is attention that matters, right? Not the stuff? Even so, what does this mean for the average family? If you consider that the median income of your average American family is around $45,000 per year, that makes one wonder (at least it makes me wonder) how anyone has one child much less more than one child and manages to pay for them, and then expecting a parent to stay home to well… parent? Then, of course, there is the whole single parent situation. In that case, there really is not a choice, unless that parent is independently wealthy or receiving a more than realistic subsidy from state or federal funds.

Now that I have rambled sufficiently long to write myself into a corner, what conclusion can I bring this pondering to? Human beings are a mish-mosh of biological and sociological factors contributing to the best survival of the individual and their genetic make-up to be passed on to another generation. The human organism is indolent by nature. It wants the biggest bang for the least buck, so to speak. How can the least amount of energy result in needs met comfortably and adherence to the maxim “be fruitful and multiply”? What that boils down to is that cute tiny organism that comes into the lives of the individuals who fulfilled their biological directive will probably be mostly well balanced if provided with their basic needs (also providing that the genetic materials contributed were in pretty good shape). As the child grows, as far as I can deduce, the object is to arrange circumstances so far as to make the right choice less painful than making the wrong one. This is where parenting becomes less intuitive that you might suspect for all that the biological drives and instincts are supposedly programmed into all of us. The beauty of a society made up of individuals is that each person is unique in how their chemical and sociological combinations have created their preferences and abhorrences different than many others.

Sorry mums and dads, that means you can’t use one blueprint for all diaspora of your loins. Sucks for you. The ATTENTION required is that you need to know your kid. Know what they like and what they don’t. Know what motivates them and what keeps them from pursuing their best goals, and sadly, know what might be a deterrent from making a choice that would result to their own harm or harm to another. The hardest part is that once you have gotten through the proving ground of instilling some of these notions of what is ideally right or not so much, it is time to take off the training wheels and let them go to make some mistakes, fall and scrape their knees, and learn that the world has a few rough edges that they may bump against occasionally. Preferably, this should initially be practiced when the scrapes and bruises will not result in permanent damage, but will result in some permanent knowledge. A lot of times, this is where parents have the most difficulty. They hang on too long. They fail to give the child a sense of independence resulting in fear of making their own decisions or a lack of responsibility for doing so. It’s not that any parent wants to instill this sense in a child, but it remains too difficult to allow a beloved one to suffer pain, even if less than what they will suffer in future. As hard as it is, parents owe it to these individuals they wrought to provide them the best opportunity for success. The best opportunity, it seems is to pay enough attention to know the child. Spend enough time to make your company as much or more enjoyable than the TV, videogame system, or media stars that might otherwise be their primary interactions. And remember, parents, these are the people who may be choosing your assisted living center!

Wrapping memories…

Wrapping Memories

It was a tradition, always, that my father wrapped the presents. I’d even seen it go so far as for him to wrap his own, cleverly camouflaged in nondescript boxes provided by department stores the year before. I often questioned how the tradition came about, and considered whether his yearly holiday task had started in his tender years. I found myself imagining him as a small boy, rummaging around in the bin of colorful paper and juggling scissors and cellophane tape.

There was no question as to why the tradition continued. No one compared. His skill in fitting the paper. Always efficiently using only what was necessary to conceal the package within. The corners never gaped, and no matter the shape, he managed to create neat edges on all those brightly covered items arranged decorously around the tree.

At some point my independent spirit rebelled and I demanded my share in the holy wrapping ritual. I was graciously allowed to try my small hand at the task. I cannot precisely recall whether my efforts resulted in triumph, but I must not have done too badly as it soon became our shared chore. Not so much dreaded as relished. The time spent together estimating paper and ribbon, drinking hot chocolate or coffee, and listening to Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, Perry Como, or Tennessee Ernie Ford.

The lights that made patterns on the ceiling changed through the years from multicolored flashes the small, white twinkling points. The tradition remained.

And as the time passed, new parts of my life invaded my sacred rite. Frequently working holidays in the emergency rooms, I would cross my fingers and race to the house, not even daring to pray that the pager would remain silent for fear of rousing the crisis gods and keep me from my wrapping with dad. It didn’t always work, but he tried to save me at least one, to keep our pact as the family wrappers.

It almost seems a metaphor now, as I think back. My father wrapped those gifts just as he wrapped our family, smoothing edges, tying loose ends, managing the dodgy elements that would mar someone’s experience. Yep, my dad did that. I never realized it for so long.

Then, he was gone. I remember that first year. I think I put everything in gift bags. It was a cheat. I just couldn’t bring myself to attempt the task alone. And I couldn’t ask anyone to help. Everyone else was suffering the same, well… almost the same grief. We all dealt with it our own way.

Little by little, I found myself stepping back into the position. Never fully. I could never fill those shoes.

So, as I sat in the middle of the living room floor, wrapping presents, the memories flooding  back. It wasn’t the same, sitting here alone and thinking as I fold each corner. Then, I caught myself. That frown. The way my hand folded the corner and I was carful to fold the cut edge to make a smooth edge on the end of a difficult package.

I stopped, stunned for a moment. I looked down at my hands at the nails that were more rounded than my mother’s. I saw my hands, built on a larger scale than most women, but the lines more delicate than would be considered masculine. I saw through the lens of memory my father’s hands guiding mine to fold the edges and place the tape. My eyes clouded. Had I hardened myself so much to fear of pain that I had also blocked the other part of my sacred charge, joy? That was what my dad always tried to protect, even when we moved and we didn’t have a tree or our old vinyl albums or any of the other anchor to the holiday traditions of home half way around the world.

I stared a while longer before returning to my task. I wrapped every gift. I regretted the reduction in number. Sadly, the reduction of individuals in our holiday gathering has changed the way we approach gifting. In years past, the sheer number of people created a mountain of gift offerings under the bedecked tree.

Through the years, those of us left have attempted to replicate the appearance through expenditure (that most of us could ill afford). This was a mistake.

The number of packages or zeros is inconsequential to the love and good will of spending time will of family and friends. Yeah, that’s all kinds of cheesy. I know it. It makes my back right molar ache a little typing it. Regardless, it is the realization that dawned upon me as I tried valiantly to coral the few boxes that were before me to bedeck with festive paper.

I finished my self imposed “chore”. I looked at the packages, arranged beneath the tree to best advantage despite the diminutive number. I realized that I had chosen paper as dad would have. No tags necessary because of the number, but also because of the way the paper and package spoke of the recipient.

I was correct in my anger towards the television commercials that stressed the importance of spending more money. Spending time is what matters.

So, this blog has turned into one of those sappy, emotion-ridden, epistles chastising you, like Ebeneezer to repent your monetary ways and seek the true meaning of Christmas (Ham? No, not ham you fat @#$%). However, that was not the intent of this particular (wordy) first entry into the world of blog. It was to say that this Grinch’s frozen heart was thawed slightly today. In memory of one who quietly loved the season, loved his family, and held it together without ceremony or letting anyone else know it.

May I carry that spirit beyond holidays to safeguard those who are dear to me, and may any reading this have a blessed holiday (with no reservation to any particular faith) and may your new year blessed in every way.

A blog about a few thing I picked up along the way… Hey driver, where are we going?!?