Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The “Venus” stage

We’re reading “The Borrowers.” It’s a small, quirky book about a family of three miniature people who live under the kitchen floorboards of an old house. The book was published the year I was born, but I first found it last fall during a trip to New York. The book has chapters, something new for HH, and I have been reading it to him, one chapter at a time for the last week or so.
When I first brought the book home, he wasn’t interested in having it read to him. There is only one illustration per chapter and the subject of little people living under the house wasn’t appealing. So I waited a few months and tried again. He still wasn’t particularly excited at the idea but one night I just launched into the book and when I reached the end of the second page, I asked him if he wanted me to keep reading. He gave me an enthusiastic nod, although I could sense he was not completely sure why he wanted to hear more.
The book concerns the lives and adventures of a father, mother and young daughter who are the sole remaining “Borrowers” in a house that had once known three or four such families living behind the walls or under the floors of the house. One by one, they had been “seen” by one or another of the occupants of the house and decided to move away. One unlucky character fell victim to a cat that had been brought in for that very purpose.
As the story opens, the father of the family confesses to his wife that he too has been “seen” by a small boy who was in the house visiting his sick aunt. The language is a little complicated for HH and every now and then I have to stop to explain a word to him. But otherwise, he is completely taken by the story. More than once, he has asked me if the little people really existed. I told him I didn’t think so but that many people over the ages have held such beliefs. Last night he asked me if Mama believed in the little people.
I told him he would need to ask her himself. He asked me when she would be home again and I told him. He rolled over into his sleep position then reached his hand around his back to find mine. I sat there with him while he held my hand and slowly went off to sleep.
Lately he has had Mama on his mind. It has been our practice to alternate nights with HH. One night I will read to him in English and the next night Mama will read to him in German. It has worked pretty much like that since day one, except for long stretches when one of us was away for work. Recently however our routine has changed. More often than not, after I have given him his bath and dressed him for bed, he will ask for Mama. “But its Papa’s night,” I say. “You can read to me tomorrow.” Then he gives me a complicated explanation about how many times I have read to him and how many times Mama has read to him and why tonight is Mama’s night – period.
After a few nights of this, I ask him if he enjoyed having Papa read to him. He got a wee bit serious and tried to explain to me that the parent from whose belly a child was born, was naturally a little more important to that child. He spoke in the third person and seemed to be making an effort not to hurt my feelings.
A while back, the fact that we were both “boys” and had the same anatomical gear, was something that bound us together. During that period, he would more often than not, prefer to have Papa read to him. That period has passed. It may reappear at some later date, but for now HH is in his “Venus” stage and being with Mama is very important to him. These shifts have been an irregularly periodic aspect of living with HH. At times, he prefers to be with Papa and during other stretches, he prefers to be with Mama. He never really excludes the other parent completely but he does express a clear preference for one over the other. I haven’t read up on this because it seems very normal somehow, like a runny nose or deciding one day that he never wants to eat another egg. But I am curious about it – and I find his awareness of the nature of his early relationship with his mother, particularly interesting.
Living with a five-year-old is never dull and it is frequently joyous. The flip side is of course something that all parents share: Fear. It takes its form in every possible situation from crossing the street to administering a new medicine, planning for the future (that’s the one that keeps me up at night) and generally, to the question of whether I am doing what I should be doing as a parent. Am I making the right choices for this little person? The only down-side to the current situation, is that being the parent on the “”Mars” side of the equation, causes me to think about how I’m doing as a parent. That’s not a bad thing. It’s probably a good idea to reflect on your parenting now and then, make adjustments as needed, and introduce something new into the routine. But at the same time, the loss of your child’s attention hurts a little. I think I’ll have to ask Mama about it.

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Blogger vailian said...

This is funny!
My daughter is now entering that phase (incipient teenage) at which she is embarrassed to be seen with me.
Does wonders for one's self-esteem.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...


I'm sure the stages that await us are just as challenging as the ones we have passed through. I look forward to all of it.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Children relate to parents in different ways at different times in their development; later on, you may find yourself to be the favored parent once again.

In any case, the crowning achievement is the child's happiness, not which parent enjoys more of the child's attention.

11:58 AM  
Blogger cd said...

I discovered your blog today. I just wanted to say that I enjoy it, and I--like you some years ago--have just moved from the U.S. to the Belgisches Viertel here in Koeln, with my German wife.

I'm in the adjustment phase (however long that will last) and it's been interesting and somewhat reassuring to read the experiences of one who's gone before you.

10:16 AM  
Blogger daringtowrite said...

How sweet and sad, but also how lovely for HH that he has a dad with whom he can safely share his thoughts. Then what an added bonus he will have when he is your age, perhaps, looking back on what his father wrote about him. What a gift!

10:03 AM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

thanks for stopping by cd ... I hope Cologne works out for you.

1:42 PM  

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