As our kids grow, they don't need us to help them with everything, like Trick or Treating.
As our kids grow, they don’t need us to help them with everything, like Trick or Treating.

Halloween this year got me to thinking about planned obsolescence. OK, just stick with me on this one, I promise there is a connection, albeit tenuous. In this time of increased attention to sustainable living and carbon footprints, the whole concept of planned obsolescence seems irresponsible. Why should manufacturers make a blender that is designed to last only a couple of years? A blender ought to work, if not forever, then at least for 10 years. I take pride in my old appliances and 10 year old car. I feel like I’m doing my part to reverse some of what got us into this economic and environmental mess that we are in.

I know this is going to seem like a strange segue, but what started me thinking about planned obsolescence was Halloween. I love Halloween in our small town. We live on a dirt road with only a few houses that no trick or treater, or parent of a trick or treater, would ever come down, so every year we pack up our costumed kids and join most of the rest of the town going door to door through a residential area near downtown. It’s like a city-wide block party. Parents talk, kids gorge, and we celebrate small town life.

I look forward to this annual tradition. Over the years, my older children gradually have dropped out, opting for hanging out with friends rather than going house to house with parents, but I was still caught off guard this year when my youngest announced that rather than go trick or treating she wanted to go to a Halloween party with friends. What?? I thought I had at least one more year before I was put out to pasture. My husband thought the idea of going out to dinner rather than trick or treating was great, but I moped through dinner focusing on my newfound obsolescence.

I know that my job as parent is to work myself out of this role. But although I know it, I don’t always like it. For a few days after Halloween, I continually thought about all the other things about parenting younger kids that I miss. In general, I’m no longer in charge of my kid’s time. I used to be able to plan a family hike, trip to the museum, or the DVD for family night. That isn’t my role any more, dadgummit. We still do things as a family that I plan, but my children have their own schedules and desires that often come first. I miss curling up with a chapter book with my kids each night. I still usually spend time with them each evening, but we no longer share a book, since they prefer to read to themselves. In my perverse mood, I even missed going grocery shopping with them.

After about a week of feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I needed to make a mental list of all the things I don’t miss about having young children. I was reluctant to quit my pity party, so at first, I honestly couldn’t think of one thing. And then on Tuesday as I was preparing dinner while watching the news, I realized that I don’t miss the arsenic hour: you know, that time in late afternoon when dinner needs to be fixed and baths taken, and the kids are tired and cranky and picking fights. Arsenic hour, also known as “the witching hour” (although I always thought that they got the first letter wrong on that name), used to make me feel like that cat in the poster clinging with just it’s claws to a tree branch with the words “Hang In There” printed underneath. Once I remembered arsenic hour, I was on a role. I don’t miss early Saturday morning soccer and baseball games. I know it’s heretical to say that in the land of children’s sport, but I thought it was inhumane to have games earlier than 10:00 on a Saturday morning when everyone knows that is the only day a parent stands a chance of sleeping in. And I certainly don’t miss science fair projects, which seemed to come like a tsunami and consume our dining room table, living room floor, and family time. And quite frankly, it’s nice to be able to vacuum a room without sucking up a hundred or so Lego pieces with every pass.

You are probably wondering why I’m telling you all this, since it likely feels irrelevant to those of you just starting or trying to start on your parenting career. That’s a good question, but when I sat down to write this week, this is what I felt like pondering. And hey, what good is a blog, other than to record your obsessions, er umm, I mean thoughts. But in addition to the “it’s my blog, and I can say what I want to” reason, I think it has relevance to those of you at the beginning or hoping soon to be at the beginning.

I know that the advice to “stop and smell the roses” has become a cliché and is often poorly received. I distinctly remember one afternoon when I was trying to clean red food dye off every surface of my kitchen including the ceiling (a budding scientist’s experiment gone wrong, the details of which are still too painful for me to fully remember, but should have been added to my above list of things I don’t miss). A friend who had teen-aged kids called, and in a moment of ill-timed wisdom, told me to cherish this moment. I truly thought I would kill her or at the very least spray her with what was left of the baking soda, vinegar, and red food coloring mixture. So, I offer this advice with humility and an understanding of the difficulty, but try to notice the things you enjoy at each stage of your child’s life. You don’t have to do this all the time and likely won’t be able to do it during the arsenic hour, but periodically make yourself catalog those moments of bliss that can be found at every stage. My moments of pure enjoyment now that my children are older include having thoughtful conversations, playing family games of Spades and being able to whole-heartedly try to win, and really enjoying the TV show or DVD we watch together on family night.

I also share my thoughts on parental obsolescence since to do the job of parenting well, you must plan for your replacement, and that replacement had better be your child. We start the planning for our own obsolescence almost from the very beginning. We teach, or try to teach, our babies to comfort themselves to sleep; we give our toddler choices of what shirt to wear; we let our kindergartener select the family movie; we encourage our elementary schooler to pick his sport, even if it’s bowling; and dadgummit, we let our middle schooler go to a Halloween party rather than trick or treating with her parents. It is tempting to make yourself irreplaceable, but be careful what you wish for. The only thing worse than becoming obsolete to your child, is to not become obsolete. And the up side to becoming obsolete is being able to gradually become friends with your replacement.


Image credit: camknows