Life with children
by: ©2008 nancy puglia, The writer’s son (right) got to enjoy some pint-size company and not just be stuck with the adults gathered for the holidays.

As we waited for our flight to leave Portland late on Christmas Eve, a child began to wail somewhere in the darkened cabin in front of us.

Oh, no, went my first thought - how far into our trip would this go on? I'm sure most of our fellow passengers felt likewise.

Not that I was expecting anything more than a couple of hours of that fitful, neck-numbing sleep the red-eye affords, but now I couldn't even be sure of that.

But I wasn't mad at the kid. One thing you gain after a enough parenting is empathy. It's fairly certain that the parents of the child were acutely aware of how the disturbance was playing to folks around them. And kids are just kids.

Dealing with life's injustices is hard enough as an adult, with the knowledge that accrues over the years and battle-tested insights about how the world works.

For children, lacking the sophistication to sort through the complexities, it can be misery.

But you tend to forget that by adulthood. And that, of course, is one of the unexpected glories of parenting.

Spend enough time in the company of children and, unavoidably, you begin to see the world through their eyes, reliving bits of childhood yourself.

As much as I feared that the shrieking child on the plane might disrupt my low-quality sleep, part of me understood the unhappiness at the late hour and unfamiliar surroundings. I felt the impulse to offer comfort.

There was no need. The kid stopped crying after a few minutes.

Kids get break from spotlight

We arrived at our Christmas Day destination by midmorning, having literally gone over the river (the East River) and through the woods (along the Merritt Parkway) to get to Grandmother's house in Connecticut. (Grampy was there, too, along with the rest of the family.)

It wasn't long before I noticed that a rather unfamiliar dynamic was in play. At home, our two kids are at or near the center of attention most of the time.

Sure, they can keep themselves busy away from any direct supervision, but when the four of us are together, they tend to command the spotlight.

The demographics at the in-laws' are different, given that three of my wife's four siblings have yet to start families: eight adults, four children, one of them an infant. As lively, grown-up conversation flows among the adults, there isn't always room for the younger voices. Wow, I suddenly thought. I remember what that felt like.

Like my own kids, my sister and I were the first children born among my mother and her three siblings.

It would be years before cousins showed up, and I recall feeling like a bit of a novelty to aunts and uncles and forced to navigate the exotic and sometimes opaque landscape of adult interaction.

I still remember in photographic detail my grandfather cuffing my father on the neck as I watched in horror from the back of the station wagon. It was years before I realized it was all in fun.

The history put me at ease as the kids stood on the banks of the conversational stream. It wouldn't kill them to go unheard for a while, listening to a discussion that had little or nothing to do with them. They might not fully comprehend the spirited exchanges, sardonic jabs and occasional bad word, but maybe they'd learn something all the same.

Besides, they owed me. Hadn't I accompanied them back to a world I'd left long ago? The one with board games and parades, spectacles on ice and blockbuster movies for kids?

City's a playroom

The night before New Year's Eve, we met up with friends who happened to be staying in a Times Square hotel. We were a full day ahead of the million or so revelers who would gather for the world's biggest year-ending party, yet the square was packed with people.

A cold rain fell steadily but did not mute the booming, martial blare of military anthems or dim the garish glow of gigantic electronic billboards overhead. It felt like we were on a 'Blade Runner' set. The only thing missing was the slow-moving blimp urging people to 'live off-world.'

Yes, it's been many years since I lived in New York, and the intervening time transformed Times Square from a dingy den of hustlers into a Disneyesque commercial hub.

But my eyes also open a little wider after spending more than a decade as a dad.

Before leaving the square, we stopped, somewhat grudgingly, at M and M's World New York, a 25,000-square-foot monument to the colorful candy in the crunchy shell. Three floors' worth.

You can get a free biometric reading on which M and M color best matches your personality or plunk down $275 for a black leather car coat embossed with the M and M logo.

Between the dizzying array of goods, solar-strength lighting and thumping dance beats, the place produces the psychic version of eating too much candy.

Unless you're a kid. At the end of this day, one in which we toured the American Museum of Natural History and gazed at ancient Greek figurines and decorative bowls fashioned in Iran hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, they wouldn't stop talking about the M and M's store.

We headed home and watched the movie 'Transformers,' which my son got for Christmas from one of his uncles.

It was fantastic.

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