Posted in Brats, Family, Lessons

My Kids Grew Up Too Much Last Week

Parenting is an odd mix of pushing your kids to grow up while at the same time trying to keep them young and innocent. Much of childhood, and it seems the entirety of the teen years, pits the child against the parent as they take opposite sides of this battle. They want the ability to stay up late and go out alone while not helping around the house and coasting through school; while we want them to work hard and help out while staying home safe and sound.

But sometimes outside forces tip the balance, and before you know it they’ve taken a few steps forward. Steps you wish hadn’t been necessary.

A week ago today a friend died. He was very close—And even though he was no relation, the kids all called him Uncle Rob. He was that family friend who acts responsible, if a little funny, around adults, but hams it up for the kids every chance he got. They adored him.

And last Monday night, at dinner, when we told all four of them the bad news of his passing, the hysterics were instant. As only kids are capable of, the rest of the week they handled their grief easily.

Then, Thursday night we took them all to the viewing. We had taken the time to explain what a viewing was, and assured each of them that they wouldn’t have to see the body. In fact, there was a special room set up for all the kids to hang out in. And for most of the night that’s what they did.

But gradually, one by one, they each slowly walked into the viewing room. And each slowly walked up to the casket and said their goodbyes before backing away and dissolving into tears.

I was a little surprised when the 13-year-old did it, but after all she is a teenager as is always trying to prove to us and to herself how grown up she is. I was a little more surprised when the 11-year-old took his turn—he’s very mildly autistic and just about any conversation that involves emotion embarrasses him. Once those two had said their goodbyes, I knew the 8-year-old was next, and she would never let anyone outdo her in anything.

But I have to admit being both shocked and apprehensive as my little 6-year-old took slow cautious steps, and peeked over the edge of the casket. The majority of my head, and every bit of my heart wanted to dash forward and shield him from it all. 6-years-old is just too soon to have to understand death. But the part of my head that held me back thought that at least this way he was facing death on his own terms. If I stopped him here who knows how he would deal with it in the future.

But my little trooper quietly spoke his mind to his Uncle Rob, and when he’d had enough he turned away and collapsed, crying into his mother’s arms.

About 15 minutes later I saw him go up to Uncle Rob’s 17-year-old son and offer his condolences.

I guess they’re going to grow up, no matter what we do to stop it.

Posted in Brats, Family

My Kids Will Never Leave Home

How does a parent teach common sense? This is not a rhetorical question. I need to know the answer. Or my kids will never leave home.

This has been on my mind of late, as my oldest has wandered aimlessly into her teen years.

I listen to a radio talk show on the way into work, and yesterday one of the hosts related a story about his kid who just went away to college. For his mother’s birthday he sent home a card. It arrived with a 1¢ stamp and 41¢ postage due. When he asked his son why he bought only a 1¢ stamp he replied that he thought it made sense to buy the cheapest one they sold.

After some well-deserved teasing of his son, the host asked if this indicated a fundamental lapse in his parenting. His co-host responded, correctly in my opinion, that eventually people have to take the responsibility to ask questions, and that it’s not possible for a parent to know everything his child still needs to learn.

This anecdote gives me some comfort that my kids are not unique in their inability to question and learn from everyday life. But it does little for my hope that they will one day evolve to the point where they can safely leave home.

I mean, at 13, Claudia should understand why it’s important to take the pots and pans out of the oven before preheating it. And if she forgets to do it, she understand the reason she should use a potholder to correct the problem.

At 11, Gabe should understand that he should close the door before letting the dog off the leash.

They should know this, right?

I remember asking questions when I was young. And not just the why is the sky blue variety. Why do we pay sales tax? Why do we need immunizations? How do you mail a letter?

Sure my kids ask why, but it’s more a way to question authority than in a quest for understanding. Why do I have to clear the dishes. Why do I have to go to bed now?

All this makes me wonder if—both in our own home, and in society as a whole—we are nurturing a generation of people who desperately want control, but who are wildly unprepared to get that control.

Posted in Brats, Family, Holidays

Post-Holiday Malaise

I’m not the biggest fan of the holidays. Not a Scrooge mind you—I probably fall right in the middle of the bell-curve. But the time of the year right after the holidays always seems to bring with it a downswing in my mood. And I’m not sure I ever really understood it until now.

When I was a kid, I always thought it was the normal back-to-school lethargy. Then in high school and college I reasoned that the abrupt change in schedule just meant I was tired. As I moved into adulthood I attributed it to the annual belt-tightening that naturally follows a period of financial excess. And then as a parent I thought it was just the post-Christmas poverty.

But now I think I just miss the lights.

I’ve never been a big one for going off the deep end with decorations, but during the holidays our house would probably best be compared to a low-rent casino trying to advertise some new promotion. There are mismatched strands of lights, three different inflatables all dressed as Santa—as if Snoopy, Pooh and Tigger are about to rumble for the right to deliver presents (my money’s on Tigger), trees festooned with unbreakable ornaments—half of which were already broken (which I suppose makes them unbreakable in the same way shattered glass is)—and walkways lined with lighted canes and snowflakes.

I know it sounds like a lot, but I’ve got 4 kids. You try telling one that they can’t have their favorite inflatable in the front yard when the other got their snowman decoration staked out in the front yard. I know I could pull rank, but then we’d just be laying down the law for the entire four-week break. And what fun would that be. Parents don’t get the luxury of good taste.

And out house wasn’t even the brightest on the block. The house down the street had a nativity set that not only lit up, but he blanketed the front yard with net lights. The resulting lawn grid made the whole thing look like a manger scene from The Matrix.

Yes it’s all gaudy, and tacky, loud and obnoxious. But now that it’s all gone, the street is just so plain. On a street where all the houses look pretty much the same, mime is no longer distinguished as the one that most interferes with star-watching. Instead it’s the one with the arch in the garden, that you really can’t see because it’s too dark. What fun is that?

It’s all rather like being in Disney World long enough to see them power down the rides for the night.