The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 31, 2007


My kids are different from me — lucky them

We were standing at the top of Ajax Mountain last month watching kids twice the size of my daughter Holly get fastened into nylon harnesses and begin leaping skyward. Called Euro-Bungee Trampoline, this is a popular outdoor activity in Aspen and probably at many other vacation resorts. Kids are harnessed and hoisted about fifteen feet above trampoline platforms; they can then hang, bounce and flip to their hearts' delight.

But Holly is barely five years old and very small, and I knew she would not be interested. "Let's go try the hula hoops," I suggested, bringing her over to the terrace where the youngest children were having hoop-rolling contests.

"I wanna do that," she said, pointing to the bungee harnesses.

"You're still too little, and you'll be scared," I told her.

"No, I can do it," she answered resolutely.

Rather than debate it, I let her get in line, knowing there was no penalty for ducking out at the last moment, as she surely would. But a few minutes later, a staff member was strapping her into the harness. As she began jumping, her face looked as though it would split in half with glee.

She was right, I realized. She could do it. It wasn't Holly who would be scared by the undertaking. It would have been me, at five years old. And I reminded myself once again, as I do so often these days: You're not her. She's not you. She is herself, and she is like you in some ways and very different in others.

It's not that I expect my children to be clones of me or my husband. It's just that I'm always amazed anew when they prove themselves to be completely other. Like when Holly chooses to do something I would have been terrified to try at her age, or when my 8-year-old son Tim proves himself able to figure out some simple feat of engineering that eludes me, such as how to snap open the plastic casing around the outdoor electrical outlets.

These are the more positive examples. There are negative ones too, of course. It's inconceivable to me that Tim will so frequently choose a video game over a book, if given the choice; or that Holly would rather play with a Barbie than draw on an Etch-a-Sketch. How can they make such awful choices? I fret to myself. Video games? Barbie? I can't stand those things!

Yes, the refrain comes back to me, but they're not you.

In most ways, they're vastly improved models over the prototypes from which they came, the prototypes being Rick and me. I still remember being afraid of dogs, horses, insects and people I didn't know when I was five; Holly will cheerfully walk up to strangers to ask for permission to pet their dogs. I shrank from baseballs thrown my way; Tim can execute a double-play.

And yet any time I become too self-congratulatory over their accomplishments, I'm inevitably taken down a notch or two. Tim uses slang I wouldn't have dreamed of using at his age; his hip-hop posturing drives me up a wall sometimes. Holly's most appalling preference right now is for hot dogs. How did I, a vegetarian, end up with a child who eats hot dogs?

I remember once telling a group of other mothers at a playgroup that having my children start kindergarten — as Holly will do next week was a relief because it took some of the decision-making power out of my hands. "For the first time, what they learn and how they spend their time won't be all up to me," I said. Another mother looked at me incredulously and said, "And you see that as a good thing?"

Actually, I do. If my kids have the chance to be different from me, odds are high that they'll do things better. Strange as it might sometimes feel, I need to get comfortable with the fact that they won't always like the same foods, books, games or academic subjects that I do. Someday they might even vote differently from me. There's no need for me to be afraid of their choices. Well, other than the voting.

And watching Holly's profile outlined against the bright blue Colorado sky as she soared joyfully above the trampoline on that hot day last month, I knew that this time in particular, she had made the right choice.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito