Take it from a veteran of the parenting wars: there’s light at the end of the tunnel, a brighter day ahead, gold at the end of the rainbow, or whatever image suits your fancy. This may sound now like telling you that someday you’ll laugh about your broken arm, but that brighter day will come (with the kids, not the arm).
I speak as an old hand. If it takes 2.3 children per family to keep a nation’s population from fading away, then Barbara and I did not only our duty but that of another family as well. With five kids, three in diapers at once (and the same three in college at the same time), it could be said of us that we majored in children those first 30 years.
No smiling at each other over cocktails on a Caribbean beach, no sipping wine at a romantic sidewalk café in Paris, no strolling in the jardin in San Miguel de Allende. Those were the delights that would come later, and eventually they did, with interest.
But the deferred gratifications were nothing as compared to the memories we stockpiled, each one to be taken out and examined from time to time as if it were a gold coin or precious jewel. Not all of mine are necessarily the same ones that Barbara treasures, for I have an unhealthy regard for witty cleverness, with the result that my cute tale may earn a withering stare from their mother. Forewarned, I proceed nevertheless to share my treasures.
For example, seeking to do due diligence, no doubt on the verge of being overwhelmed by preteens so clearly smarter than us, we bought and devoured a book about Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.). We got a lot out of it. The basic lesson I learned was that of Active Listening, attending closely to what a child says and then showing you understand what they have said by repeating their thoughts back to them. The idea is that people, especially angry, frustrated kids, are heartened when someone really does listen and understands their feelings.
Great idea, and it worked — to a degree. The problem was that the kids sneaked a look at the book.
“I hate Phil and I’m going to smash him,” yelled Joe, speaking of his brother. (The names and ages throughout this piece have been changed to protect the guilty).
“Oh, you feel strongly about what Joe just did,” said their mother, applying Lesson #1.
Young Joe glared at her and shot back: “Don’t give me that P.E.T. crap. I hate him and I’m going smash him.”
(Let the record reflect that Mom does not think that story is funny. I don’t know why I do. I just do).
Then there was the Easter Sunday morning brouhaha that involved daughter Diane’s half slip. As we were backing down the driveway on the way to church, she and daughter Alice, both teenagers, started screaming at each other. Alice was wearing Diane’s half slip. I still don’t know what that was such a big deal (I’m only a man), but apparently it was, for their mother ordered Alice into the house to take off the stolen item.
Into the house Alice stormed.
While we waited, simmering, already late for Easter services, an upstairs window opened, and from it sailed a delicate white item, the slip. Like a leaf gently falling on a bright autumn day, borne on a soft April morning breeze, it wafted its way to the ground, where it suddenly was transformed into a mocking grin.
Needless to say, some sort of discipline was meted out, I forget what. As I recall, we made it to church, but I doubt there was much praying that morning in our little group. Oh, well, the offending daughter never claims today that she’s the good daughter, only the favorite one. You can see she hasn’t changed.
Some of the memories of the clan’s wayward early years are much more mundane, perhaps typical of young kids. Like the time Phil, appreciating that perhaps “bang, bang” was not quite the sound effect for a toy bow and arrow, thought carefully and came up with a solution. “Arrow, arrow, arrow,” he would shout.
Our cat Dewey, an orange tabby, lived to a ripe old age, and all of the kids at one time or another served on his staff (dogs have masters, I have heard, but not cats). Daughter Stephanie was particularly fond of Dewey, but she turned teenager and although her thoughts were often elsewhere, she still maintained her undying devotion to the old guy.
Well, Stephanie’s love may have been immortal, but Dewey wasn’t. He disappeared, and son Phil and I found his remains in the garage, where by that time he was a big as tiger. We quietly buried him, but then Stephanie’s mother and I did not have the heart to inform Stephie.
I suppose what we did next was unforgiveable. Every day we set a dish of cat food and a bowl of water for Dewey on the kitchen floor and emptied them before dinner. That lasted for about two weeks, until Stephie remarked that she hadn’t actually seen old Dewey for a long time. Only then did we tell her about his departure to the Big Litter Box in the Sky. She took it well.
And then there was the time … Well, I’ll test these stories first and see if I dare tell more. I wish I’d kept a journal about those sometimes. The sow’s ear can become a silk purse … or something like that.