Today’s guest post is written by the very talented and insightful John Clinkscales. I have the privilege of calling John my neighbor, my friend, and my cousin. I hope his words inspire you as much as they inspire me. Enjoy! ~ala
“Lawn Mower” – n. A machine with a rotating blade for cutting grass.
“Ma-Mow” – n. What my 19 month old son calls a lawn mower or anything that vaguely resembles a lawn mower. I hear this word no less than 1,000 times per day – the boy is absolutely obsessed with lawn mowers. Anything that he can push is a “Ma-Mow”. His walker, his corn popper, the shopping cart, or the rolling chair I’m sitting in while typing this – all are “Ma-Mow’s”. I’m starting to worry a bit that his life aspirations are set a bit too low. Or maybe I’m just pissed that our yard guy has replaced me as his hero.
Here are a couple conversations I’ve had with him recently:
Me: “Good morning buddy – how’s it going – did you sleep well?”
Him: (rubs his eyes, looks up and smiles) “Ma-Mow”
Me: “Yeah, lawn mower, we can go look for those later. Do you want some breakfast? What about cereal?”
Me: “Yeah……well…………I’m so excited to spend the day with you – let’s go find Mommy and we can play – I love you so much!”
Him: “Ma-Mow! Ma-Mow!”
Me: (just finished reading a book, singing and getting ready for bed) “Ok buddy – time to go to bed – it’s been a great day and I loved getting to spend time with you on my day off – can I have a good night hug?”
Him: (looks up at me with his big brown eyes) “Ma-Mow”.
You get the picture. It’s all the boy thinks about – well, that and what different types of food he can put into his hair – but mostly just lawn mowers. It’s a phase – and for his mother and me who are both new parents – his first real phase for us to experience. (If he was into something before this, he wasn’t at the age to effectively communicate it to us. And I have a hard time classifying “Pooping”, “Sleeping” and “Crying” as phases – since we, and especially I, do all those things as adults – some more often than others.)
Phases are a part of life. Actually, phases ARE life. Every one of our lives is made up of a long series of phases – with some people only going through a few phases, living a relatively constant life, and other people (especially the ADD people like me) going through many different phases. We all go through them – even as adults. I can remember many of the phases that I went through – including the “I’ll never wear cowboy boots because I’m alternative and listen to grunge music phase”, the “Country Music is AWESOME” phase, the “I’ll never join Facebook phase”, the “I LOVE FACEBOOK” phase, the “Religious Phase”, and the “Sports” Phase. The “Sports” phase could be broken down into many sub-phases as well – such as the “I want to be a pro hockey player” phase, the “I’m great at football but too afraid to try out for the team at my 5-A high school because I’m a skinny white kid” phase, and the “I SUCK at golf, I’m giving it up, who am I kidding, I LOVE golf” phase).
But with kids, the phases are much more pronounced and noticeable, because at that age you literally don’t have anything else to worry about or to occupy your time with. If you want to pretend to mow the lawn all day, then by God you can pretend to mow the lawn all day. As adults, and as members of this constantly changing and in your face society/culture, we are taught not to focus just on the present. It’s always about what comes next, how to get to the next milestone, how to improve our lives. My wife and I always find ourselves dreaming of the next big thing, whether it is “What school is our son going to go to?”, “How can we renovate our house?”, or “What country can we cross off next on our ‘To Visit’ list?” Kids don’t have to worry about all that. All they care about is what they are currently interested in. And for my son, it is lawn mowers. Ma-Mows. I guess it’s not surprising that he loves them so much – my grandmother always tells me about my lawn mower phase and the fact that I had “special” tennis shoes that I called my “mowin shoes” – and that I would scramble to put them on as fast as I could whenever I saw my dad gas up the mower. That is one of her favorite stories, and as she gets older and starts telling the same stories over and over again, that is always the one that comes up first.
I love that my son is infatuated with lawn mowers. But to be honest, sometimes it gets boring, and even sometimes frustrating. It’s literally all he wants to do. I want to be able to take him to the back yard and kick a soccer ball, play tee ball, take a walk in the big truck his grandparents got him for his birthday or anything else besides push his imaginary lawn mower up and down the yard for hours at a time. PLEASE – CAN WE DO SOMETHING ELSE!! As an adult – it’s hard for me to focus on pretending to mow the lawn for that long. My mind wanders. I find myself constantly checking my phone to see what the latest is on Twitter, if anyone liked my Facebook post, or what the weather will be for the next 10 days (do I really need to know if it is going to rain 10 days from now or not?). My wife and I start talking about what is going on at work, what shows will be on TV tonight, and making drinks to pass the time. I find myself wishing that he was older and that we could play catch, go fishing or ride our bikes up and down the block.
Every day when I get home from work, I pull up to the house and come to the back door. I hear him get really excited, and I picture all those scenes in the movies and TV shows where the boy runs up to his dad and gives him a big hug when he walks through the door. And for the few seconds from when I start to jiggle the keys in the lock until I open the door to see my son in the living room, I think that is just what is going to happen. But it never does, he just looks up at me with my arms outstretched, says “Ma-Mow” and starts pushing around Thomas the Train – blowing right by me with imaginary grass spewing out the side. I forget that he is just a kid and that this is just a phase, but my immaturity shows through as I get my feelings hurt and walk past him into the kitchen, to grab a snack to satisfy my own needs. It’s hard to imagine that someone so little can hurt your feelings, but when you love something that much, it happens. Later on in the night I always come down on myself for acting that way, and not appreciating my son for what he is – a 19 month old that just wants to show off to his “Da-Duh”. And since this is his first real phase, I feel like it will last forever, not realizing that it won’t. Soon it will be on to the next, and the lawn mower phase will be gone forever. It will just be the story that my parents tell my son when he gets older, just like the one my grandmother tells me.
Drew Magary writes in his new book on parenting in the 21st Century – “Someone Could Get Hurt” (a must read by the way) – about the time in his daughter’s life when she went through her “Princess” phase, and how it even went so far as to her begging him to act out the final scene of Snow White (her favorite movie at the time) with her. She would play the soundtrack on the CD Player, dress up in her official Disney Snow White dress and play dead on the couch in their living room. Drew would come over and gently kiss her on the head to wake her up and her eyes would pop open and she “smiled as if she had been brought back from the grave”. He would then whisk her up into his arms and dance around the living room while the finale played on. His mind would race forward 20 years or so to the day that he would be doing this for the last time at their wedding – the day that he would officially not be the only man in her life anymore. As great as that moment was – it was hard not to get caught up in thinking about the future.
He goes on to say that after awhile, his daughter did not want to play Princess anymore. Shocked, he asked why and she said “Princesses are for little kids”. She continued by saying she only wanted to play “Alicia! From Go, Diego, GO!” She was on to her next phase with many other phases ensuing after that. The last paragraph of the chapter reflects on his memory of those phases:
“On a shelf in our basement, we still have all the remnants of her infatuations: Charlotte the bus, the dresses, a toy car wash my brother–in-law constructed for her. Each group of toys represents a phase in the girl’s life that she’ll never be again. Sometimes I miss those versions of her. Sometimes I have to fight the urge to listen to some dwarf song while I’m working because I want to get a whiff of the memory because the memory is the only real connection you have to that version of the child. Even a photo is hopelessly inadequate. I look at the photos now and find it hard to believe those phases ever existed. I need something tangible to unearth the feeling: a song, a dress, a magic wand, whatever. In my head, sometimes I can hear that choir at the end of Snow White still singing, and I can see the girl lying stone-dead on our couch. I miss seeing her like that. I miss having the chance to save her.”
We all want to be able to save our kids. To save them from all the crap that goes on in this world. To shield them from the bad and to only let the light in. And the good news is that we can. We can save them by being there for them NOW. Not later. NOW. By taking interest in what they are interested in during THIS phase of their lives and not wishing that they are something that they will be in the future. Our neighbors (and more importantly our friends) across the street, have three little letters above the giant clock in their breakfast room – NOW. It is there to remind them to stay in THIS moment. To appreciate THIS phase in their lives. To not worry about what the future has in store for them or their beautiful daughter, because no matter what, they will be together.
I’m leaving from work here in a few minutes and when I get home, I already know what is going to happen. I’m going to drive up, park the car, walk toward the back door, hear my son get excited inside, open the door, smile down at my son, say “Hey buddy – It’s so great to see you, can I get a big hug?”. And just like every other day he will run right past me, pick up Thomas the Train, start pushing it around, look up at me and say “Ma-Mow”. And you know what – I can’t wait.
“Yes my boy, Ma-Mow. Let’s go.”