Saturday, May 13, 2006


Franklin Roosevelt once said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself!"

He was right. It seems to me that we spend our lives in fear, and that fear is actually a subject that is taught from the cradle to the grave, much like English Grammar or Arithmetic. You have to fear in order to survive, and we teach that to our toddlers, telling them not to play with matches, not to touch the hot burner on the stove, not to try to climb down the basement steps, not to fall in the water.

If we didn't fear, we would probably not live much longer than five years, because toddlers, especially boys, seem to be fearless. They blunder forward, not giving much thought to the consequences of their actions. Thus, if you have raised a houseful of boys, as I have, you nurse a great fear....the Fear of Boys. You have survived flame and falls and various narrow escapes. You have struggled to keep them alive and, as an afterthought, kept them from causing your death...inadvertently, of course.

By the time you reach high school, you are a bundle of fears. But, in today's world, students do not nurse fears as we used to do. They do not fear the principal, or the superintendent, or the teachers. This may be because they have heard their parents criticize school personnel, or it may because we have taught them their rights.

It is always a mistake to teach students they have rights. Best keep them in a status of complete slavery until adulthood. A knowledge of their rights simply leads them to rebellion.

I remember walking the high school halls and, if the principal or superintendent had looked my way, my knees would have weakened and my body shaken with fright. The superintendent, Mr. Ambrose, was a small, dapper man with an air of authority. If you were summoned to his office, for whatever reason, it was an experience akin to a heart attack, throbbing nervousness, naked fear.

I don't know whether it is better to teach fear of authority and have very well-behaved people, like a bunch of robots, or to promote more freedom and thereby allow more creativity and growth of experience. Perhaps one doesn't have to caution toddler's about falling. Perhaps one fall would teach them to take the stairs with more caution born from experience.

Each generation feels that the next is spoiled and arrogant, as well as more than slightly ignorant. Each older generation moans about the loss of well-behaved and well-taught children, considering the parents too lenient and their children decadent. They remember the "good old days" when children were "seen but not heard", spanked resoundingly, and forced to sit quietly in their classrooms.

I have done my share of this moaning and, since my children called me "The Black Hand of Doom", I have done my share of spanking. But I am not convinced it is the right way to go. In fact, I keep suspecting that our young people are smarter than we are. Here I am, typing on this computer, and who invented the personal computer? It sure wasn't some old duffer sitting in his rocking chair. It was young people, gathered in their garages, using American inventiveness and creativity to change the world!

Now, we can't all be Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. But we can encourage our children to be proud of their heritage. We are the people who invented just about everything from the cotton gin to the affordable automobile, and if we didn't invent it, we perfected it. Those young people will bring wonders to our country. Let's give them a chance. Let's look past the tattoos and the trailing beltlines to realize what a treasure they are! It will be difficult to do this because, God knows, they are frequently peculiar looking oddities, but it can be done!

My parents were very lenient. I was a wild gypsy on that Farm, running through the orchards and the woods, playing imaginary games, dreaming impossible dreams. I'm not sure they believed in leniency as much as it was the sheer number of children around them. It was like trying to hold back a tide that can sweep over you and carry you away. They did not try to discipline us, but simply allowed us to be children. Nor was there organized play. We were highly unorganized, but what resulted was sheer fun.

As I watch Soccer Moms and Soccer Dads clustered around the fields, cheering and clapping, I wonder about the sense of it all. Would it be better to let the kids have the field and allow them to play, while the adults clustered elsewhere? I think so. I think we are accomplishing two things with so many organized sports. First, we are embedding them with a desire to "win", which will be dashed when they lose their first job or boyfriend or girlfriend. Secondly, we are teaching them that their performance is more important than the lives of the surrounding adults. Thus, little tantrums are thrown, sometimes accompanied by various equipment flying through the air, and there are other demonstrations of bad behavior.

They frequently behave like the professional Sports stars, but are without the paychecks.

But then, who am I to deny parents the joys of belonging to BandBoosters, SoccerBoosters, etc.?
On this Mother's Day, long after my children are grown, I can assure you that I was an amateur mother, just as every mother is an amateur, and all you can do is your level best...even if you feel that sometimes your best is just not good enough.

If you can get them up there without a long stay in either a penitentiary or a sanitarium...for either them or have done a fairly good job. Short stays don't count!

My husband and I stayed married for forty-five years and I told people we only stuck it out because neither of us wanted custody of the kids. There is a grain of truth in that joke, as any parent can recognize. Having children is frequently like tossing your own interests in the waste bin and it seems sometimes that kids have all of the rights, and the parents have damned few.

But we love them anyway and that's the horror of it, that clinging, never-ending, all-encompassing, soul-searing love. If you could get rid of that, you might be able to sensibly raise a few children. As it is, we're lost, amateurs at best, bunglers at worst.

But the little darlins' grow up like Topsy and there is nothing you can do to stop it. First thing you know, your plump toddlers are middle-aged, shaking their heads over their younger generation and deploring their behavior. Except for the grandchildren, of course. Everyone's grandchildren are perfect. It's the rest of the world's children that need straightening up.

So, it's Mother's Day. My children will come over or call, take me to dinner, and otherwise pay homage to the Black Hand of Doom, who is just so happy we all lived through those tumultous years!