Ever since Becky started morning school this year, I've been having to get her up at six every day to get her ready. Getting up at six has certainly never been much of a habit with me even under regular circumstances, but now that I'm usually up every few hours during the night with my pregnant calls to pee, it has been a bit of a challenge (though sometimes I'm actually up from about 3am onward; on those occasions I'm just sitting in bed waiting for the dawn haha).
Well, Becky takes about half an hour all in all, from brushing her teeth to finally getting her socks and shoes on, but I guess the most time-consuming part of the whole thing is her hair. As you probably know, B's hair reaches to her waist (we cut it whenever she's able to sit on it) and, as her school rightly expects long hair to be neatly tied, I usually spend a fair amount of time doing this.
I'd sit on the toilet lid cover, and she'd stand in front of me while I comb and braid her hair, and all the time we'd be talking about how her various classes are going, what someone at school said or did, or what hopes she has for her future sport meets or class responsibilities. Sometimes we don't talk about school at all; she might ask something about a particular occupation, or tell me about something she read in a book, or share her thoughts on what sort of bra she'd prefer next time (sports) -- any number of things really. But there's one thing we do every day that never changes -- just before she leaves, we hug and say, "Love you, have a good day, see you soon!" And I'd watch her skip off, smiling.
Do you think I'd pass up on all that just so I can get a few hours' extra sleep? Even if I had to do it for the next nine years or so (counting Ro)? But because of that, I've been having these regular exchanges with my cousin on the subject, whenever he happens to see us on the weekend. I might happen to make some reference to being able to catch up on some sleep on Saturday, or it might just occur to him out of the blue; but he'd look at Becky's long hair and go, "Why don't you just cut it all off? Then you won't have to wake up so early". Essentially, he means that then B can just get herself ready and see herself off.
Well, on the practical side, I can of course appreciate that short hair might be a little easier to manage, but since any hair beyond an ear-length bob needs to be tied anyway, I don't know that that would give me that much extra sleep. Besides, B needs the longer hair for ballet, and, as most young girls aren't exactly hankering for short boy cuts, I won't do that to her.
So invariably I'd try to explain that I don't mind, and that in fact I think these little sessions together before B starts her day do have a cumulative positive effect. Because once B heads out the door, she's in a different environment, with a different set of people, for more than half the day; I really do think it worthwhile for her mother to take the time to chat to her about social and academic things that tend to occur to her right before class (besides the last-minute extra money for treats, or homework things she forgot to get me to look at). More importantly, I really think it makes a difference to her to know that I care, and that she is loved.
But when I tell my cousin this, his invariable answer is, "Well, I never had that and I'm fine". This, of course, unfailingly reminds me of what I'd written in a post almost a year ago: "I know people who say, "Well, look at me -- nobody bothered about me when I was growing up and I turned out fine", but I find that flippant and shallow, because honestly, nine times out of ten, you're not "fine". The deep-seated insecurities, fears and hang-ups; the detrimental character flaws that hurt friendships, marriage, career and spirit; all the consequences of misguided decisions, reckless actions, and irrevocable choices... And again, to think of what might have been, how much better one might have done..."
I'm aware of course that my cousin's view is fairly commonplace -- many parents here have no qualms about letting their maids or in-laws take care of all their children's needs, seeing them for only a few minutes at night, largely indifferent to any issues beyond the superficial.
I know too that I can never adequately explain what I instinctively feel; what I do know is that it would have made a great difference to me, and many of my own friends, if we had had this sense of care and love as we were growing up -- not just in the big things, like making sure we were clothed and had enough to eat -- but in the smaller details, things which sometimes go unnoticed, for weeks, months, years; things which sometimes desperately need attention.
I think you can learn a lot about what someone is thinking or going through in just a few minutes of genuine interaction -- and I think you can do a lot to help or encourage or even turn things around for that person in those few minutes; how then can one say that it makes no difference to a growing child to have such support, to be able to start each day off right -- confident, peaceful, positive and optimistic?
I'd read a wonderfully-written article some time ago by the international lecturer Lawrence Kelemen, entitled Life is for love: Raising emotionally healthy children requires plenty of attention and affection. In it, he wrote: "The first step in loving a child is being sensitive to his needs and attending to them. This is not an easy task. Many new parents are shocked by how difficult it is to sustain sensitivity and attentiveness throughout the day and night. We have no choice, however, since attentiveness, and all the love it represents, is crucial to our child’s development.
"When we are attentive to a child’s needs, we create a sense of security and confidence -- what psychologists call attachment -- and this provides the internal strength children need to handle stress later in life... Research also links self-esteem to attentive parenting. Moreover, not only do attentive parents produce sons and daughters who enjoy greater self-esteem than other children, this positive self-image persists up to 20 years later.
"In one study of women raised in Islington, England, investigators found that children raised by more responsive parents were twice as likely to have positive self-image in their adult years as those raised by less responsive parents. And children who feel good about themselves have higher aspirations, do better in school, earn higher salaries when they grow up, and handle stress more effectively than children with low self-esteem.
"Parents sometimes worry that attentive parenting undermines independence and confidence. The opposite is true. “Children who experience consistent and considerable gratification of needs in the early stages do not become ‘spoiled’ and dependent,” explains Dr. Terry Levy, President of the Association for Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children, “They become more independent, self-assured and confident"...
"As children mature, they continue to need parental attention... Elementary school children need us to listen to them as they retell the day’s adventures, and they will often repeat the same stories over and over again just to hold our precious attention. They crave our participation in their homework and in their play, too. If our children learn that they can count on us for the attention they so badly need during their early years, they will continue to turn to us throughout teenagehood, too.
"Affection is more than just attention. Attention just requires being responsive to a child’s needs. Affection is the next step. It is warm, and it is the most powerful medium we possess for communicating love. We need to make special efforts to infuse this magical ingredient into our interactions... Affection also primes children for friendship and intimacy. A plethora of scientific literature reports that children who receive more affection tend to have more positive peer interactions and closer friendships...
"Hugs defuse delinquency. So say researchers at the Duke University Medical Center who compared the backgrounds of normal children and delinquents. After controlling for a range of factors, the Duke researchers discovered that parental affection was the active ingredient. They conclude their report noting that, “Violent boys were almost twice as likely as matched control subjects to have fathers who never hugged them or expressed verbal affection.
"Criminologists at the University of Illinois and Northeastern University also report that lack of parental affection is “one of the most important predictors of serious and persistent delinquency.” Sociologists at the University of Wisconsin and Florida State University reviewing the psychological literature, similarly find “absence of warmth, affection, or love by parents” associated with aggressiveness, delinquency, drug abuse, and criminality...
"Taken together, the basic ingredients of love -- attention and affection -- might constitute the single most important factors in human development. Love is not a luxury... Practically, what all this data means is that we need to pour on lots of attention and affection, and this takes time -- more time than most people who are not yet parents would ever believe... Looking after a baby or toddler is a 24-hour-a-day job seven days a week, and often a very worrying one at that. And even if the load lightens a little as children get older, if they are to flourish they still require a lot of time and attention.
"For many people today these are unpalatable truths. Giving time and attention to children means sacrificing other interests and activities. Yet I believe the evidence for what I am saying is unimpeachable. Study after study… Long before the first child is born, we must come to terms with the fact that our lives must change dramatically; that we must refocus; and that sacrifices must be made...
"The average U.S. teenager speaks seven minutes a day with her mother and five minutes a day with her father... Providing for the emotional needs of our children is not easy. Children need love. They cannot thrive without our attention and affection. If this demands a reshuffling of our lifestyle, it is a reshuffling we will never regret" (extracted from the article by Prof Lawrence Kelemen; italics mine).
And so yes, I will continue to rise and shine at six -- to braid hair and share my kids' joys and woes -- however silly some might think me. At the very least, they will look presentable.