Thursday, July 27, 2017

Old Friends, New Times

We went to visit my old best friend from college. She is in foreign service and most of the time they live in some far-off country (she's done Taiwan, China, and Kazakhstan). She is now in the US for a couple of years and although I haven't seen her as much as I would like (considering she lives only two hours away), this is the second Memorial Day Weekend we spent together. Last year, they came to stay with us. This year we went to see them and stayed with them overnight.

She is truly an amazing person, a brilliant mind, and my college years were very much shaped by our friendship. I don't feel the same closeness to her as I did back when we were 18. Back then, she was like a sister I never had. Now... things have shifted. Our lives are very different. Some of our attitudes are very different - those differences were invisible during college years, but they are glaringly obvious now. Some of the differences are forced - her life abroad has shaped her, my life in the US has shaped me differently. She doesn't have the nurturing and extremely supportive if a bit too-intense parents that I have. Her father passed away just a few weeks before we started college. Her mom has always seemed a bit on the immature side and has required my friend to grow up and take care of her, instead of the other way around. Her younger child has autism. She is the main bread winner in her family.

Other differences go even deeper. My friend is a lot more ambitious than I am, she is more competitive, more hard-working... also smarter. She is more anxious about children. I see my kids as being pretty tough and assume that most bruises and scratches they acquire are minor and don't require medical attention, whereas my friend really worries about kids hurting themselves. When my daughter dropped a kid chair on her foot, my friend got extremely worried and asked if I thought C's toe was broken.  That possibility hasn't even occurred to me (and after crying for a couple of minutes my daughter ran off to play with the other kids). When showing us around her house, she mentioned she didn't let her kids take a bath in a big bathtub (a beautiful fancy tub in front of a floor-to-ceiling window) - because it's too cold this time of year. At first, I misunderstood, thinking that the water in the tub would be too cold (maybe they run short of hot water). No, it was the air temperature she was worried about and kids getting sick. I mean, I can see her point - there might be a draft from the window, but  I find this hard to understand, especially because they keep their house super-warm and all their windows closed (we perceive it as stifling because we are used to our indoor temperature being at least 15 degrees cooler). I think the extra-warm house comes from her husband who seems to really like hot climates, and he is the one who insists kids wear extra sweaters. But... someone with her education and her brilliant mind - you do not get a cold from being in a somewhat cool room (which would be around 70 degrees instead of 75, in this case). I can understand protecting your kids from being too cold... but I also believe that everything should be in moderation. Including over-dressing kids and raising them in a greenhouse-like environment.

My friend and her husband do an amazing job with their kids. Their son has achieved tremendous progress in just a year - he knows a ton of words and even though he doesn't speak in sentences, he can communicate his needs. He can read/recognize words. He is an excellent climber. He is a happy, cute little kid. He sings songs. The older girl is polite, imaginative, and kind. She is in Kindergarten and is doing great, both socially and with her schoolwork. That said - there are such significant differences in how we approach parenting, including (from our perspective) overdressing kids and having non-stop screen time. I think that's just how they deal with their situation - their daughter watching movies and YouTube videos, so they can get stuff done around the house and work with their son. I believe they make the best of things and make their life work, and keep their sanity, and one also has to consider the intensity of my friend's job (12-hour days are not at all unusual).

So... my point is... different ways of parenting, different ways of doing things - staying with my friend for a couple of days really underlined our differences. What makes me so, so happy - they have a wonderful family, and we have a wonderful family even though our methods are diametrically opposite. And if I will ever again wonder "are we doing this parenting thing right?" the answer is "there is no wrong and right here... figure out what works at this particular phase and go with it. It will be OK." Also, there will always be someone who will think that your way of doing things is ridiculous. Just ignore them.