Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Climbing the Roller Coaster

It's been busy times in the Darwin household over the last week. MrsDarwin did her first two days teaching at the parish school, and the three youngest kids attended school for the first time in their lives, after having been homeschooled up until this point.  I dropped the eldest off at FUS for her senior year of college. And the second eldest is getting ready to start at OSU next week as a sophomore, while the third and fourth kids are gearing up for another year of high school, which includes taking courses at the local community college.

We have four vehicles in the driveway, and we're juggling five work schedules (even the fourteen year old has a job at a country sausage shop on Saturdays) and play rehearsals, music lessons, bible studies, cub scouts, boy scouts, community chorus, and I don't know what all.  It's a busy time of life.

And yet, it has been striking me lately that we are like the cars of a roller coaster, creeping every more slowly towards the peak at which we'll suddenly start hurdling down again.

When we had only very little kids, we were in some ways very busy. People needed diapers changed and food spooned into their mouths, and we had to make sure no one swallowed a magnet or fell off the changing table. But we didn't have to worry about the kids having their own personal commitments and we could talk about adult subjects in front of them or put them to bed and still have hours to ourselves.

At this stage in life, each child has a set of commitments and emotional needs.  I haven't had to change a diaper in years, but there are a lot of other kinds of time investment which come with living in a close community with all of these other humans.

But this will all pass strangely quickly.

It was occurring to me this morning that in five years, our youngest will be eleven and the next youngest fourteen. The thirteen year old who is currently so full of chat will be a legal adult and in her senior year of high school.  And the 21-year-old who is heading into her senior year?  Imagine having a 26-year-old daughter. And the next about to turn 25.  Indeed, it's not unlikely that there will be in-laws and grand kids five years from now.

Ten years from now?  The youngest kid mid-high school and the next youngest in college, while all the rest are our in adult life.

Somewhere in these next few years we'll reach the crest of this parenting roller coaster, moving at an exhausted crawn, and begin to move downwards, slowly at first and then with terrifyingly gathering speed.  The rearing of children which has seemed to take up more and more time as we move through life will suddenly begin to take up less and less, and rather than the busy move through each day with our young charges we'll be watching from a bit more of a distance as these young people launch out into their independent lives.

The roller coaster isn't a bad image, as I'm somewhat excited thinking about it, but there's also a sense of vertigo. Having written this blog since were had only two kids, a lot of our parenthood has been chronicled here, but it seems like in some ways the next few years will see the biggest shift of all, and I both am excited and can't quite imagine it.

Monday, August 14, 2023

A Tale of Two Couches, and Being Worried About Many Things

The Stairwell of (Furniture) Doom

(This is a time capsule post, so at the end of the year I can look back and laugh at myself.)

Last Wednesday we descended on IKEA en masse, in the big van, to buy a loveseat. Our daughter's boyfriend rents our large attic room as a studio apartment, and he'd been wanting a couch for a while, to give him (and my daughter) a place to sit other than the bed. And, rather suddenly, his parents were coming for dinner, so it was a good time to make the space look furnished to an adult level. 

Normally, I would consult Craiglist or Facebook Marketplace for furniture, being of the generation that never bought anything new as a child. But getting things up to our attic involves navigating the attic stairs, a tightly curving passage that has brought many a large item to grief. The last time we tried to get a fully assembled loveseat up there, when our lodger first moved in, it involved six people getting increasingly testy as the couch stuck, gouged walls (we're still missing chunks of plaster), and threatened to jam permanently in the stairwell. The only way anything large gets up those stairs is in a flatpack.

If anyone does flatpacks, it's IKEA. Since the issue was not necessarily price but portability, my daughter and her boyfriend settled on the loveliest settee in the store, a rolled-arm piece in a moody grey-green. We were all jovial as we waited down by the doors for the packages to be rolled out to us, the couch not being in the pack-it-up-yourself aisles. And we were suddenly unjovial when it came out to us in a huge box.

"Maybe it's in pieces inside the box," we said, and we took it home (the van is that big) and opened it. It was not in pieces. It was perhaps the only mostly-assembled loveseat IKEA sells (we had to screw on the legs, but that was it). And we could tell by the measurements that it was simply too big to fit up the attic stairs, legs or no. But it was handsome, far nicer than the tattered loveseat in the living room, and so we did not part with it. My daughter's boyfriend, a good sport, did his best to hide his disappointment. His parents were arriving in three hours.

So Darwin (who was working from home) and I set up shop and did research on how all IKEA's couches are assembled, and came up with a list of five or six that could go through the attic stairs and over the top of the stairwell in flat pieces. I stayed at home and spearheaded the last-minute cleaning and cooking while Darwin and the young man headed back to IKEA, found a full-sized couch that came in pieces (because it was easier to get a disassembled couch than a disassembled loveseat), and arrived home just as the parents pulled up. A delightful evening was had by all, dining and singing and putting furniture together.

That was Wednesday, I say. Thursday morning, I rushed over to my mother-in-law's house to bring her an ice pack (actually, a bag of frozen peas) when she'd fallen and bruised her knees. Darwin was at work, but it was easy for me to help because I was at home.

This is not the way I will be able to spend my days soon, when I will be contractually obliged to be at school from 8-3, teaching. My fears and anxieties about this cycle so rapidly that it's best to just let them wash over me without trying to solve any of them, but I am indeed sorry to lose the flexibility to shape each day to the necessity at hand. At this moment, I wish I were sending the kids to school and staying home myself -- which is exactly the opposite of the way I felt when I first made the choice to teach. As I say, there's no point in reasoning with any of this. 

School starts on Thursday, but my first full day of meetings is tomorrow. We have the school uniforms at little expense, thanks to the uniform exchange, and the school supplies at greater expense. It burns up my homeschooling heart to buy three sets of markers and to write the kindergartener's name on every crayon, though of course I understand why it's necessary. There's going to be a lot of adapting to an institutional setting, if not for the kids, then for me. The amount of new passwords I've had to create in the past week is maddening. 

I'm clinging to the first enthusiasm I had when I wanted more children than my own to have the musical building blocks that will last them a lifetime, and hoping that my first days in the classroom will revive that energy. I'm hoping that at the end of the day, I'll have anything left for my own family, and for the production of Murder on the Orient Express that Darwin is directing, and that I've committed to stage manage. Lots of other people go to work, and some even reenter the workforce after 22 years, and they survive it.

And now we're off to buy school lunch supplies, and tonight is the last round of auditions for Murder, and then maybe I'll sit on my new loveseat before I go to bed and get up early to go to work. 

Monday, August 07, 2023

100 Years of Kids

 At some point over the last month or two, the kids realized that in September there would be a week during which their ages summed up to 100 years. Unfortunately, it was a bad time for a celebration, because by then our eldest daughter would be back at college and unable to attend. So they scheduled a slightly early 100th birthday part for this last weekend. 

I slow cooked 10lbs of chicken with Mexican style spices and put out quantities of Spanish rice, refried beans, and tortillas. Various friends brought food and drink, and I made a large cake and picked up candles in the shape of a 1 and two 0s. Forty or fifty people came through the open-house style event, bringing together the different spheres of our lives: church, theater, the kids' friends, etc.

Even without this particular reminder that we have 100 years of life experience that have sprung from our marriage, I'd been thinking about the next generation lately. Our eldest is heading into her senior year of college, and we have one more in college and two in high school. Going into parenting, you imagine all your children being just like you and your spouse. I'd pictured the kids all reading the same books we enjoyed, taking the same approach to school, and having the same ambitions for their careers.

Instead, the thing you realize as a parent with many children is how staggeringly different these humans can be. We do not simply reproduce ourselves. We produce these completely independent and very different people, whom we sometimes struggle to understand, despite how much we love them and want to know everything about them.

So far, no one seems "just like us" when it comes to favorite books or academics or talents, but instead we find ourselves with people who have a great many interests and abilities which only partly overlap with our own. We are our own crowd, not just in numbers but in variety.

As I watch the kids working their way through school and taking their first steps into working, and try to nudge them in directions that seem like they would be most conducive to being able to support a family, I do worry at times. We've managed to work our way up to making much more than either of our sets of parents have. Will the kids be able to do as well in the career world as I have?

It's natural to worry, because we want good things for our kids.

But there's also a hierarchy of goods. I find that the things the kids have most consistently picked up from us are the things we do as a part of a community, which for us ends up meaning Catholicism and community theater. All of the kids, thus far, seem to have made these things very much their own, though as in all other things they each approach these activities in their own way. 

Perhaps if I'd made my career or my reading and intellectual interests the center of family activity and conversation all the time, those would have been the things that the kids had picked up most from us. But if it's a choice between those and the connection to faith, morals, and arts which they have instead picked from us, I think the path we're on is the better one. 

And clearly, 100 years is not nearly long enough to spend around such excellent people. Although the fact that they rack up another communal seven years to their total for each twelve months by the calendar underlines how exhausting it can often be to serve as the axle from which so many different spokes go out, watching these people grow into their adult selves is one of the best ways I can think of to spend my life.  Here's looking at you, kids.