Our kids are so wildly different from one another that it often makes our weekends positively bipolar, leaving neither them — nor us — feeling satisfied by the weekend’s sweet, exhausted Sunday night close. More often than not, weekends are more stressful than restorative, more cajoling than enjoying. One of my and Ben’s favorite sayings is, “If you are always keeping score, you’ll always lose.” Well, given how we split our time in an often vain effort to satisfy the kids’ divergent interests, some weekends I feel like we are the losers: It’s 2 activities for Zoe; 2 for Rhys and zero for us.
Zoe needs constant physical activity. She’s a wild horse, who, left to her own devices, would keep running and running, without destination, until her legs gave out and/or she required a meal — preferably not American in its origin (Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese being her strongly preferred methods of self-fueling). She loves sports (playing/watching) and adventure — zip lines, rock climbing, water slides, a good ol’ traveling carnival roller coaster that could break down at any moment — the more precarious, the better.
Besides reading (and she is an avid one at night and early morning when we are, surprise, unavailable), Zoe has zero interest in any of her belongings or toys. (She is 8 years old and I still occasionally discover unwrapped-yet-unopened gifts from her 6th, 7th and 8th birthdays. Her bedroom is where toys go to die). And if there is no activity at the ready, she goes through a list of classmates/friends asking me “who’s available” for playdates, expecting I have every NYC second-grader’s weekend schedule synced on my Google calandar.
Rhys is a gentle, happy-to-be-sedentary, artistic soul who abhors direct sunlight. He would rather stay inside and build (usually legos, sometimes Magna-Tiles, found objects, bedding, or a combination of all of the above). When we go on sunny vacations, he will take the occasional pool plunge, but would rather lie under an umbrella, converse, build crazy contraptions with whatever legos he has managed to stash away in my beach bag when I wasn’t looking and request virgin cocktails. He loves going to museums and science centers and can entertain himself for hours with pretend-play and toys and being read books to.
Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine they BOTH came from US or have any affiliation, whatsoever, with each other.
Zoe’s idea of the perfect Saturday is a rough-and-tumble soccer match, followed by a trip to a trampoline park, followed by an Indian buffet (She’s a an adamant gourmand and Indian is her favorite cusine.) This would be followed by, oh, a zipline, a quick round of laser tag, and then dinner at an ethnic restaurant with 8 of her closest friends — capped off with a scary movie and a sleepover where no one actually sleeps. (Just writing this makes me tired.)
Rhys’ perfect weekend would involve playing inside in his pajamas until 11am, slowly getting dressed, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saying “hello” to his longtime favorite piece in the European Sculpture Garden — Perseus with the head of Medusa. After a few dalliances in the Ancient Egypt section and maybe a foray into the Impressionists or a look at Medieval armory, we would then go for a languid “fancy lunch” (as he calls it) at the Met cafe off the Sculpture Garden. After that he would want to retire to his home, put on his smoking jacket, draw what he saw at the museum and return to building with his legos or trusty Magna-Tiles. Breakfast-for-dinner (cereal, waffles) would be his final request and then off to bed. I promise you this is not a “humble brag.” This is who he is:
Trying to reconcile their different interests/expectations inevitably leads to one of them complaining or even refusing to leave the house to attend the activity favored by the other. This drives me crazy and usually ends with me frustrated that neither child appreciates the time and effort I put into researching and planning our “free” time — especially if I leave it truly free.
In our concerted effort to not overschedule our children, they are sometimes without plans on a given Saturday and/or Sunday (minus Zoe soccer which will amp up if she makes the cut for a travel team), leaving them to believe we are their entertainers — their clowns essentially. Sometimes we hide in our bedroom to avoid this unfortunate phenomenon and resist the urge to intervene or make play suggestions to them. But eventually a high-pitched scream or the scent of blood draws us out.
I understand the need to “let them be bored” and that philosophy/mantra of parenting in our overstimulated world — I just don’t remotely understand how to achieve it (without wanting to blow my brains out by 6pm Sunday night). When we let them “be bored” they climb all over us, ask us for shit, and fight with each other — verbally and physically, the latter ultimately requiring our intervention given the height/weight differential. When all else fails in terms of getting our attention, one or both attempts to pick a fight with us to create an activity. (I don’t think this is what those let-them-be-bored parenting articles mean when they promise boredom breeds creativity.)
It all just leads to us taking away privileges like television (our one holy respite of the day) and creating more unscheduled time — It’s a vicious, vicious cycle. And a masochistic one.
Playdates where my kids like another family’s multiple, same-aged children (and we like the parents) are an ideal compromise, especially if wine is served. But in a city where a lot of people are busy on weekends with sports, classes and, yup, second homes, these can even prove difficult logistically. Lately, I have started to look forward to Mondays — something I never did or ever ever thought I would.
The one thing we can all agree on, at least in theory, is Friday family movie night. Both kids love the ritual, but Zoe simply refuses to watch what she calls “baby movies,” preferring live-action films filled with mystery, suspense and the odd witch or skeleton — nothing animated or remotely 5 year-old appropriate. Zoe accuses Rhys of being a scaredy-cat but he really isn’t: I just don’t want him getting a glimpse of “Pirates of the Caribbean” (our latest concession to her) and deal with him having multiple frightened, nighttime wakings — which would be totally age-appropriate and totally ruin my beloved sleep.
So “family movie nights” look like this: Zoe locks herself up in our dark den, blinds shut tight and no lights, with one of us straining our eyes to check her film requests against Common Sense Media and usually saying “not appropriate” and having to deal with her disappointment; and the other parent sitting in the open and well-lit living room with Rhys, happily watching “The Incredibles” without a care in the world — except approaching bedtime and wondering why the Chinese we ordered is taking longer than 10 minutes to be delivered (an anomaly in Manhattan).
(CUE: Totally earnest disclaimer in 3,2,1 …)
Don’t get me wrong: I love and appreciate Zoe’s love of adventure and utter fearlessness. She is my daredevil and Rhys my neoclassical-meets-Ninjago lover. I revel in their different personas and the special time that affords me with them individually (I love going to art shows with Rhys and Zoe inspires me to do things I would never elect to do on my own: like snow sled or, say, race down a water slide with 5 strangers holding on to a shared raft for dear life). And of course there are moments of deliciousness with both of them every weekend — and the occasional one that strikes that elusive balance for which we can never quite nail the recipe for, in the hopes of repeating.
But I can’t help but wonder why one of these kids can, for the most part, entertain themselves without endless hooplah and minimal parent involvement, while the other struggles so hard to entertain herself for a half an hour — without at least the prospect of an upcoming activity to look forward to? Free, unscheduled time = frustration time for her — and us. Sometimes I lay awake Sunday nights worrying if it’s a result of my postpartum depression after Zoe’s birth.
When Zoe was a baby I needed to be around people, doing things, keeping busy or else I was depressed and lonely — signs of unchecked (and undiagnosed) postpartum depression. As a result, I was constantly social — out and about, scheduling playdates, and throwing our money away on classes she wasn’t remotely age-approiate for, just so I could see other people. Is that restless, hormone-awry first-time mother the root cause of this restless pre-pubescent?
I mean I take some credit for her love of good ethnic food, having fed her saag paneer back when she was 6-months old: Poor girl was envy-eyeing my dinner as she sat locked into her high seat, hovering over a beige plastic tray scattered with defrosted peas and diced carrots. It was pathetic, and I relented and gave her what I was eating. It was the beginning of the end in terms of her overly-developed palate. (Btw, that was a humble brag.)
But is it nature, or nurture? Are the choices I made back then directly responsible for the qualities in my daughter now that I both adore and drive me totally crazy?
So, happy Monday. (At least to me.)