Ruth and Nora parent very differently than we do—it is increasingly uncomfortable as we parent side by side. I am going to sound critical here, although I hope to also be fair: but I want to say upfront that while I disagree with some of their decisions, there is no question but that they are thoughtful, loving, and attentive parents.
There are a number of lines you could draw to differentiate our parenting from theirs. The one that’s got me broody is what I’m going to call What Is Okay? For Joey, most of what he wants to do is okay; I can only think of three rules we have for him so far. He was eight months old when I looked at Mr. Book and said “I think he might be old enough that we can get him to stop hitting us in the face.” Sure enough, after a couple of days of stopping him, saying no, and explaining, he had stopped. The other two have been less successful: “No biting while nursing” has been mostly effective, but I do get bitten once in awhile; “Use gentle touches with the cats” is something he can do when he’s not too tired or worked up, but if he’s manic or worn out, he grabs a big fistful of cat. And that’s okay—he’s a baby—we just move him away from the cat and redirect to something else. In general, we steer him away from things that are dangerous or painful for himself or his targets. He makes up his own games, and sometimes he wants to do things that are noisy or annoying—or just not my cup of tea—but I try to be involved and encouraging, because I want him to learn things and have a good time. I know that not everyone does things this way; my parents are mildly shocked to see me strip Joey down and give him a handful of raspberries, because while he loves it, the mess is incredible. But Joey already seems like a boisterous kid, and I want to let him be that kid—noise and mess both end. We’ll add manners slowly, as we go along, but he still gets to express himself as he is. (I’m thinking a trampoline may be in our future.)
Ruth and Nora are back in the pool, and their letter is online; in it (along with other, positive qualities), they refer to Cricket as “independent, “stubborn,” and “willful.” The letter is, overall, more uncomfortable for me to read than I had expected, but that sentence was the worst. Cricket has a lot of restrictions on his behavior that don’t feel fair to me—I’m not parenting him, of course, or any toddler, but it turns out that I still have a strong opinion. “Cricket was very B-A-D today,” Ruth said several times while we were there. She gave an example: Cricket had been banging a truck against some LEGO, and she told him to stop, because this is against the rules. He did not stop; she picked him up; he bit her.
The boys have very different temperaments: Joey is mellow, funny, and outgoing; Cricket is somewhat volatile, likes people but is slow to warm up to them, and will dig in his heels but good if he sees a power struggle coming. It was only a few months ago that I started to understand that his moms consider Cricket difficult—a casual comment by Ruth opened my eyes. Throughout our visit to the Emerald City, there were small reinforcements of this central ideal—Cricket’s moms were surprised by Joey many times—by his cheerful fondness for their dog, the fact that he shared our meal, that he slept through the night.
I have no idea whether our differences in parenting philosophy have influenced the boys’ personalities; before Joey, I would have told you that temperament is temperament is temperament, and you’re born with the same stuff you’ll die with. Now I wonder whether it isn’t more complicated than that; maybe your central tendencies are the same, but look and are expressed differently in different environments. It has certainly given me something new to feel guilty about: Would Cricket be happier with us? There was one point during the visit when Cricket seemed very like Joey: Nora was pretending to eat his arms and legs, and he was screaming with laughter. Nora is physically affectionate with him, which is great, but she is not the stay-at-home parent.
Brood, brood, brood.