Friday, November 25, 2005


Everyone who has raised children and who has somehow evaded parenting a raving maniac or a teeth-gnashing criminal loves to dish out advice on raising kids. It's easy to do this after the kids are grown and gone, because the harder parts become distant memories and all one tends to remember are the ghosts of Christmas past and the good times.

It's a lot like remembering the good old days, when that old woodstove chugged away in the parlor and there were no heating bills. One tends to forget lugging wood in from the shed, sweeping up ash, and alternatively roasting or freezing. Distance, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder and this holds true of children. Memories of your children are like old photographs. They fade, but remain recognizable.

Many times children can be a cementing factor in a marriage. When my husband and I used to fight, we never failed to utter a few words about leaving each other, but never carried through our threats. The truth is, neither of us wanted custody of the kids. Even the thought of carrying out that task without help was a reminder of our marital vows.

It was hard enough to raise the kids when they were little. We had gates barring access to rooms. We had clips holding the cupboard doors shut. We had plates over the electrical outlets. We tried to think of every possible dangerous thing a few little boys could dream up and tried to circumvent it ever happening.

The problem is, there is no way of warding off ALL of the things little boys can dream up. They are expert at suicidal efforts, and sometimes homicidal efforts. Meaning that, if they don't end up killing themselves, they frequently try to kill you with some outlandish behavior, like playing with matches or mixing explosive substances.

My sister's boy turned off the lights in the Mammoth Cave while a group of elderly tourists were passing through. Thus, he was not only contemplating homicide, but was on his way to mass murder. This is what makes a parent's hair turn gray.

So, you have to barricade your home while the kids are little and hope that they get a modicum of common sense as they grow older. This, of course, is debatable and depends upon how willing you are to lie about it. They DO grow older, but they don't seem to get any common sense until they are about forty, if then.

When you look at your child, you see a darling lump of humanity, a continuation of your own existence, a beloved replica of yourself. When he looks at you, he sees a sucker. A rich sucker, at that. No matter how little you have, he figures it is more than HE has, so he is duty bound to get as much of it as he can.

It is degrading for him to have to plead for permission and money, but when he is forced to sink to this level, one would think he has a Doctorate in Pleading. "Why-y-y not?" he will beg, listing all of the reasons why he should be allowed to go to the Mall and buy the same black cape as the neighbor, Joe, whose mother is thrilled to allow Joe to dress like that and who actually gave him, not only the money for the cape, but enough for a quick stop at MacDonald's afterward.

If you stick to your guns, hang onto your money and refuse to listen to his pleas, you will be subjected to the Utterly Disgusted Lockout. This strategy involves a look of contempt, a march down a hallway with thumping footsteps and a slammed door! In girls, it is accompanied by loud and pathetic sobs, as well as a few desriptive words about your worth as a human being and a mother or father. In boys, it is the sound of a fist hitting a wall or books being thrown to the floor.

Then, too, you have to live through the Juvenile Jobs. Some folks are fortunate and their children get their first jobs at reasonable places of business. My oldest got his first job as carnival custodian of a five-legged cow. But, whatever the job, it is phase the entire family must live through. It puts a great strain on family vacations, because Son has to report to work. And, if you leave them behind, you may have a Police Report waiting for you upon your return, describing the antics of a large group of 17-year-olds having a gala party in your parlor.

Hang in there. They'll get older. They do, and they start dating. Then you have a variety of peculiarities visiting at the dinner table. If male, they are all Adam's apple and weird apparatuses like eyebrow rings or tattoos. If female, they wear too much makeup and have lipstick on their teeth, as well as eyebrow rings and tattoos. They come and they go, as the dating process continues. It's like watching the Gay Parade of San Francisco and you view it from the comfort of your living room. And, as the years pass, eventually your child will select one of them and there will be a marriage.

Marriage is a wonderful time. Your darling is gaining his true love. He looks handsome in his tux, with his beautiful bride on his arm! Your heart swells with pride! Sure, you spend a little money, but you have high hopes of that fruit of your loins is finally leaving home. In a frenzy of love and good wishes, you help all that you can...paying the down payment on the apartment, helping with the furniture, making sure they have linen. You and your mate may even be able to have dinner alone for the first time in centuries. You're like two strangers trying to find something to talk about.

But, children always return. You can count on it. In a blink of an eye, in the flash of a sparrow's wing, he is back home....with his wife or sometimes without his wife...sometimes with a baby....and a dog....or a fishtank filled with baby pirrhana....or three cats. Your life, which you had planned to enjoy in gracious solitude for the next approximately forty years, has become complete and absolute chaos.

Eventually they move out again, taking everything with them but some stored furniture, which will still be stored when you are laid in your grave. But, unfortunately, it will take two and sometimes three moves in and out for them to finally take root somewhere else. By that time, you have contemplated giving them the house and moving somewhere else yourself. You have contemplated moving to Tahiti and communing with nature in a native hut, dining on coconuts.

You see, they do not think they are imposing upon you. They pity themselves for having to move back in with you and wonder why you cannot make it a little more comfortable for them. The daughter-in-law despairs of your housekeeping methods and doesn't like your cooking and, well, she thinks anyone could see that your childrearing methods are lousy! Look what she is stuck with, a husband she has had to re-train from birth!

If you are fortunate, they find a permanent home before you have ruined any possible future relationship and now, you can finally live alone, but you don't have enough money left to enjoy your new independent life....and, if you do have a little left, you can be sure they will want to "borrow" it.

Borrow is another word for "Let's not mention it ever again!" You have, unfortunately, become the First Family Savings and Loan Association. If you carried an ATM instead of a wallet, it would be even handier, because they are adept at having a crisis almost weekly. If the baby doesn't have a rare ailment, the furnace will fail or the IRS will threaten. It is always something, and it is your duty as a parent to fish them out of trouble. You comfort yourself with the thought that George Bush the First had the same trouble and the Second ended up President, but that's a dim hope, like a flickering candle in a high wind.

However, take heart, at about forty or fifty, they suddenly become sensible. By that time, they have their own children and are struggling to live through the same problems you coped with. It never changes. It never, never changes, no matter what method of child-rearing you use. The end result is the same. And, if it weren't for the fact that they are yours and you love them and they hopefully will provide companionship in your old age, I don't know if it would be worth it. But then.....there are those grandchildren! How could a couple of dolts have such bright little darlings? God must have reached back into time and given them YOUR genes. That explains the whole thing!