I sat at the dinner table the other night, looking at my wonderful husband and my two smiling, chatty boys, and I realized something very important: I didn't care at all about what anyone at that table was talking about.
Truly. I could not care less.
But I smiled and nodded as I slowly shut down and mentally walked away.
You see, my older guy has always been a very focused kid. When he went through his Thomas the Tank Engine phase, he was all in. He awoke bright and early each day and spent the majority of his time following me around the house repeating the question, "Play trains mom? Play trains mom?"
Then he loved classical music. He immersed himself in it and insisted he was going to grow up to play the celesta. (No, I had never heard of it, either.) Then it was Legos. Then, Harry Potter. When he likes something, he really likes something.
I found parts to enjoy about each of these stages. We shared his passions, and I was a very willing participant. To be honest, I did get a bit sick of Thomas trains, but I always found some way to make it interesting for myself. I never had to fake it, because I was having fun right along with him.
But now, it's different. Now, it's football.
He could watch games by himself all weekend. He wants to look up stats on the Internet constantly. He gets books from the library and follows both NFL and college games.
Mostly, though, he wants to talk about it. He wants to talk to me about the players and what teams are playing each other next and who do I think will win and do I really think the Seahawks will make it to the Superbowl and can we go and how much do tickets cost and on and on and on.
Frankly, I don't share any of this with him. In fact, I am a feminist and I have a long history of raging against football. When I was younger and worked for a feminist newspaper, I even avoided going to friends' houses for their football parties because I didn't want to help perpetuate the popularity of a sport that glorified macho, aggressive behavior and relegated women to stand on the sidelines in skimpy outfits to cheer the men on. (In case you're wondering, it's pretty pointless to give a speech about cheerleaders being tools of the patriarchy to your 9-year-old. I think I officially lost him at 'cultural hegemony'.)
But, apart from that brief speech, I am trying. I throw the football with him in the front yard. I bought him a Seahawks sweatshirt. I invite friends over to watch a game with us. And, most of all, I try to listen and engage.
Meanwhile, my younger son is currently in the middle of a torrid love affair with anything and everything violent. Right now, guns, swords, ninjas, scythes and any other manner of weapon he can imagine rule his world. When a recent school assignment required him to draw a pretend store that he owned, he drew a "Weapons Store" full of guns.
My first thought was, He spelled the word weapon right!
My next thought was, Great. On the rare occasions that he agrees to do a craft at home, he inevitably draws, cuts or papier-machés soldiers engaged in heated battle. Every. Single. Time.
Again, this is a bit rough for me, but I am trying. I got him a kids’ library book about Lincoln and Gettysburg. I read ninja books with him. We sword fight. We play predator and prey with his animals. I really do try to listen and engage.
So, this brings me back to dinner the other night. We were sitting around the table. My husband and Emmett were excitedly and animatedly discussing the great Seahawks season. Nate (who is a talker) was chatting me up about a game he and his school friends invented that involves earning points for the goriest way of pretending to kill each other. Pretend punches earn you the fewest points; cannon fire, naturally, earns you the most points. (Pirates, take note.)
That was when I mentally shut down. In my head, I was out of there. I nodded and smiled and sprinkled in a "wow," a "cannons, huh?" and an "uh hmm" here and there. But I was gone.
Suddenly, though, I thought back to my dad. I remembered the great surprise on his face when I showed him all of the different stuffed animals I had dressed up and carefully laid out on my bed. He would nod and smile as I showed him each outfit and explained the intricate back story for every animal. I remember him coming down to the basement to watch me practice my dance routine..s over and over. "Great," he'd announce, as he was halfway up the stairs on his way back to what he was actually interested in. I can only imagine the number of times he sat in the front seat of the car nodding as I sat in the back going on and on about friend drama.
But back then, it felt real. I needed that attention, and I needed to talk about what was important to me. And he was there. He was there to listen, nod and smile, even if he couldn't have cared less what I was talking about.
So I guess I am a part of a long tradition in parenting. I guess it's called love.
And sometimes, that means pretending.
Stephanie Olson is a mother of two boys who lives and writes in Seattle. She believes her golden rule in parenting “Just wipe it off on your pants!” will be her epitaph someday. It has gotten us through pretty well thus far! Read more of Stephanie's work on her blog, Ma Swell Vie.