I miss Kiley. Taking care of her nine hours a day is hard and sometimes tedious work and I couldn't wait for summer to come and the freedom from all of the responsibility that comes with it. But now I miss her. I still get her one day a week and for now that's enough, but I think about her a lot and my husband and I talk about her a lot. Kiley has become an important part of our lives. Children have a way of doing that – worming their way into our minds and hearts and making a comfy nest for themselves there. I suppose it's a kind of survival mechanism. The helpless, logically enough, need our help and what better way to elicit our help than by making themselves indispensable to our own contentedness. Just as there is such a thing as maternal instinct perhaps there is also such a thing as "infanternal" instinct to take advantage of it. Babies naturally and instinctively take advantage of our natural and instinctive attachment to them to obtain what they need. In fact, if they didn't give back more than they take they could be considered parasitic, like emotional ticks, growing fat on our affection rather than our blood. That may make babies sound duplicitous and scheming but that's okay, they are.
Everyone who knows babies knows that babies are selfish. Perhaps self-centered would be a better term since being selfish requires knowing that others have different desires and needs than your own and choosing yours over theirs. Babies don't know that others have different desires than they do. In fact it is only after a certain level of development is reached that babies come to consider others as being separate from themselves at all. To them, at least initially, we are just another appendage like an arm or a hand and just as they gradually learn to have better control over their arms and hands they also gradually learn to have better control over us. One requires manipulating the proper muscles and the other requires manipulating the proper heartstrings. Both skills come naturally with time and without any conscious thought behind them, it just seems to happen. Fish don't need to be taught how to swim.
Eventually and gradually children grow out of the extremely dependent stage and into the simply dependent stage (my own terms). At that stage, starting at about the age of four, they begin to become aware that others are separate from themselves in the sense that they have different desires, beliefs, and intents about the world. In the psychology racket this is known as "theory of mind" and is an important milestone in childhood development. It allows the child to become socialized to a much greater and more meaningful way as he gradually realizes that others have certain wants, needs, and demands that must be met if a relationship is to be formed. Again, a large part of this "realization" takes place on a subconscious level and, therefore, seems to come naturally. This can be a very satisfying stage for parents. It is at this time that children begin to see their parents as individuals, very amazing individuals, and often transform from demanding though affectionate tyrants to adoring and worshipful dependents. No one will ever love you more than your children when they're four.
In time, of course, the kids grow out of their need for us altogether. They become truly independent and have no further use for the comfy nest that they made in our hearts long ago. When people speak of the empty nest syndrome it's not your empty house that they're talking about. In many cases, however, that transition, known as the "teen years", is so stressful and contentious that the empty nest, when it's finally abandoned, is viewed as a blessing. Maybe teens are programmed, genetically, to become unbearable so that we can let them go without too much heartache. Viewed in that light the rebellious delinquent is actually a godsend and the "good kid", a genetic anomaly, is the one causing the real trouble, abandoning us and breaking our hearts.
So when that perfect teenager brings home another report card with straight "A's" smack him on the back of the head and say: "Hey! When are you going to wake up? I'm tired of having this conversation. I'm warning you; you'd better get with the program! Your not going to be in this house forever you know. If you think I want to cry my eyes out when you go traipsing off to Harvard, you've got another think coming! Is a little consideration too much trouble? Try thinking of someone other than yourself for a change. Is that too much to ask? I've had it with you! Now, get the hell out of here and go make some trouble for me! And if I see those damn books in your hand one more time, I swear to God… And you can wipe that respectful look off your face too, mister! Just you wait 'til your father gets home!"
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