You might be aware that I have fathered three children in my day and they are still hanging around. Every once in a while I'm reminded of what my mother said to me when I called her on the phone, on the occasion of my learning of the impending birth of my son, the third child in 4 years. In her wisdom, having raised four children of her own, she took a deep breath and offered the following synopsis of all her years of parenting.
"Have you lost your mind?"
I really had no snappy comeback to that. Still don't, fourteen years later. But she did give me a mantra for the forthcoming battle in the same conversation, which I have treasured over the years. She said "Well, at least they'll all be in the same boat at the same time. And they'll all graduate and they'll all be gone and then you'll be just like me."
Which I took to mean that I'd be calling up my kids once a month and inquiring about their health and wondering why they never wrote to mother.
Back when the young'uns were small I used to get a kick out of having one in each arm and one tugging on my leg as Ally and I were introduced to some stranger or another, and hearing the predictable reactionary comment. The one that went "Oooh, are all these children yours?" In an off-handed sort of way, I took that as my personal reward for the unending string of diapers, bottles, cheap high chairs, trips to the park, skinned knee repair and freight-train-of grocery-carts life that went on in the background, out of sight of the general public. A sort of reaffirmation for why we had, accidentally or on purpose, managed to be so prolific in our ability to pump out another miniature version of ourselves, like stuffing Play-Doh in a hand cranked plastic machine and seeing what would squirt out the other end.
Well, maybe it wasn't quite that easy, but at the time it seemed like the only compliment that I was ever going to hear.
For those of you with small children, let me offer you a vision of the future. Yes, it does get better, in the sense that your physical labors slow and that your time gradually will become your own again. There will come a time, and you will know it when it happens, when your waist high creation will remove thumb from mouth, flip some mental switch somewhere and remark in all seriousness "Hey! How about if I do the dishes tonight!"
If you're smart you'll back rapidly out of the way and go seek a spot on the recliner and try to ignore the crashing sounds emanating from the kitchen. Because, and as crass as it sounds I know it to be the truth, you have to act like you don't care. When in fact, of course, you care very deeply. You demonstrate that in carefully, yet casually tangible ways. Child on skateboard hops the curb and busts his leg? "Gee, that must hurt. Maybe we could build a skateboard ramp next week. Bring in the garbage cans on your way, would you?" Child wants to go to the movies with a deadlocked and torn shirt miscreant? "Sure, not a problem. Hope you have the money, I'm tapped out. By the way, did you happen to see that article in the paper about the Rastafarian who escaped from the road gang last week?"
They want so much to be adults, these people. And I see flashes of it from time to time. For all the scuffling of feet and mumbled words and huddling with their contemporaries to cast contemptuous looks at people over the age of 30, they do have their moments. You just have to act like you don't see them. Like it was a natural thing for them to comfort a crying neighbors child. Or laugh at a toe curling and out dated limerick delivered by some septuagenarian who happens to be a client of yours. Mostly, and above all else, you take care to not embarrass them or call attention to them in public. Embarrassing them is something you do in the sanctity of the den, where they can learn to laugh at themselves as well as you.
And of course, you have to pay them. Not necessarily an allowance, which seems to be de rigour amongst my peers. I have a system of checks and balances for the dispensing of money that dates back to the time of the Phoenicians. Need cash? Here is a task. Perform it well and you shall be showered (a trickling, lukewarm shower) with riches. Need a lot of cash? Here's a lot of tasks. Am I heartless? Compared to the parents of others, I'm sure it must seem so. I've been told, and I have no reason to believe it's not true, that many kids get a weekly allowance equivalent to what a good plumber makes in an hour. Naturally enough, these are the same ones who appear on my doorstep at all hours, looking for companionship from my brood, as they have none at their own house. They are spectacularly clothed and shod, have much trendy hair accoutrements and little to no life.
Curiously, they don't hang around very long. I kinda wave at them as they swish by, on their way to one or another appointment with someone who might pat them on their golden heads and salaam with due diligence at their acquired taste in merchandise. But I radiate nothing but a grumpy sort of distaste for their lack of a soul. And even in their transparent way, they see that. They leave with an unspoken edict - get a personality that you can call your own and a pair of cheap jeans and come on back, y'hear?
It's a delicate balancing act, this raising of waifs. Projecting that air of "We're all in this together, you three and I, let's make the best of it and try to keep the screw-ups to a minimum" while at the same time creating an environment which says "You're always welcome here, we love you and will lay down our lives to keep yours intact". Coupled with acting like you don't care. They don't need nor do they want the smothering sort of 'protect the little ones' atmosphere. And the current trend of psychiatric philosophy, that burden of micro analysis, that political correctness mode of scholastic supercilious thinking which chases its' own tail in want of real answers is, in the long run, merely forestalling the inevitable. Which is that point in time when they arrive at the portal of reality, needing a job and an apartment and an oil change. I'd like to think that my parenting would get them past that. That they will arrive at that moment with something to say other than "Huh?"
So it was that I had one of those moments last night. One of those flashes. Here's a direct reprint of the hand inscribed Easter card written up by my Eldest for the occasion.
Mom and Dad:
You have always been there for me through the rough times in my life. You have been my rock when all else seems to fail. You have been there for me and with me to celebrate in happiness.
I love the both of you so much for all that you do for me, as well as for Maggie and Ben. I / we could not ask for two greater parents. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there for me and accepting me for who I am.
I know that when I'm ready to leave your care, all the things you have taught me will show in what I did.
Again, thank you for raising me and giving me a loving family to be in. I love you with all my heart and soul!
(editor's note): I figure she's sincere. Or else she needs a new set of tires for her car. Hey, there's always plenty of dishes to wash. Lawns to mow. Pools to clean.
Love you too, Beth. Go get 'em, sweetheart.
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