‘These are my friends. They died.’ –Michael Connelly, ‘The Burning Room’

She reached across her body with her left hand and Bosch tensed. But her hand went to her left wrist. She unbuttoned her cuff and violently pulled the sleeve up her arm. She turned her arm to reveal the tattoo on the inside of her forearm. It was an RIP list with five names on a tombstone. Jose, Else, Marlena, Juanito, Carlos.

‘I was in that basement when the fire started, okay?’ she said. ‘These are my friends. They died.’

—Michael Connelly, The Burning Room, Chapter 9

I honestly burst into tears reading this. The speaker is Harry Bosch’s new partner, whom he has caught in the files room reading up on the murder by arson of several children in day care. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for my son to lose five of his buddies from Ms. Nuñez’s Pre-K class.

The parent’s nightmare is that your kids will have it worse than you ever did.

Leaning on, not leaning in

The goal for me is not to lean in or out, but to lean on. My marriage means nothing if I can’t lean on my wife and if she can’t lean on me. To do this best, we have to do what the military calls “cross-training,” where I figure out how to do what she does and she figures out how to do what I do, so if either one of us is not there the world will not stop.

After reading this Pacific Standard story, I perceive the crack in the bark of the writer’s tree so: by claiming her liberty to “lean out,” she keeps her spouse from exploring the same opportunities. One of our playground pals feeds her infant exclusively by breast, so her husband has no ability to wake in the night and feed the kid. Of course, it’s no problem for Mom, who asserts her ability (and readiness) to just roll over, let the kid latch on, and then return to sleep. This goes to my point of cross-training, that it’s our obligation as family members to be able to pitch in for each other. Limiting the feeding to one specific person rubs crosswise against that.

I have no idea whether this particular Dad would actually enjoy waking up at night to feed his daughter, but why should he have to give up that opportunity? Dad in this family is the breadwinner, and Mom stays home raising the kids. Specialization is for insects. I don’t say that everyone at any time has to be willing to step into another role, but in my own experience I have learned that different roles are fulfilling at different times in my life. I would hate to be stuck in one particular role.

Parenting Strategy

Our children will find strange and devious ways to succeed in life, and as parents whose experience lies only in the past, we have to support that. We have no idea what the future holds and only the most rudimentary clues about how to succeed in it. I remember buying rarely seen United Nations stamps to help my job applications stand out.

Yet it is parenting dogma that our relationships with our children have something to do with their success later in life. We can raise healthy, self-confident, assertive, pleasant, kind, thoughtful, generous, dutiful, integral children. Sure!

As a parent, my goals are these:

  1. Get my sleep
  2. Have kids follow directions
  3. Treat kids as real people with legitimate needs and desires

I warrant that any parenting strategy I would be likely to follow ought to lead to my achieving these goals.

It’s possible too to employ a parenting strategy with long-term goals, but as I said above, who knows tomorrow? I was on the phone with my dad today, and I realized that the farthest out I can really make plans for is about seven years. More than that, and it’s just fantasy and wish-fulfillment. So many things might happen between now and August 2021. I assume my daughter will be going into second grade, and my son into fifth grade. I can also therefore deduce that I will be buying school supplies. Beyond that not much.

Now, research has shown that early childhood is important for later development. Can I realistically assert though that very conscious adherence to any particular parenting strategy will make a difference, considering it’s my kin we’re talking about? There are things that you get as Kid of Jonathan no matter what: lots of bike rides, lots of subway rides, a fair amount of reading, cats. Easy to flatter oneself with an above-average parent-rating, just for having a job and a spouse and a shelf full of books.