One of the things I love about being a parent is how it brings back memories of my own childhood. It’s a chance to see the world once again through new eyes. Simple things like Lauren’s first pony ride at the pumpkin patch, Kate fishing for the first time with Grandpa or Cooper turning over a rock and finding a beetle are exciting and new again. When my children are naughty, bickering or otherwise causing trouble, I find myself sheepishly remembering certain instances from my youth in which I behaved the same (or worse) and a voice in my head pipes up “Karma!”
I was not an easy child and my mother has made sure that I’ve not forgotten this. She has told me plenty of stories that have kept me humble. These tales also help to put my own parenting struggles in perspective. For instance, when my children are running away from me in the grocery store, I remember that when I was three I got away from my mother at church and ran up and stood behind the priest during a sermon. Blushing, she slunk up behind him to retrieve me wondering why I couldn’t just sit still like my friend Julie, who at three, sat quietly next to her mother swinging her patent leather shoes and looking at books.
How about the time my mother had several bags of groceries and a toddler to carry up to the house when I was five? Our driveway was at the bottom of the hill and our house was at the top. I was feeling mad and sorry for myself because my little sister got to be carried and I had to walk and so I stood at the bottom of the hill in the driveway and screamed. And screamed. And screamed. Until a neighbor came over to find out what the emergency was and if I or someone else was hurt. Nope, the only thing that was hurting was my ego after suffering the incredible injustice of being expected to walk up the hill when my sister was carried. Not fair! Not fair! When my kids pull this kind of stunt, it is absolutely infuriating so I can only imagine how my mother was feeling. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I turned out to be a decent, polite and friendly law-abiding citizen so perhaps there is hope for my children as well.
When I’ve caught Kate or Lauren doing something unnecessarily dangerous like climbing on top of the refrigerator for no reason whatsoever or sliding down the stairs headfirst on a stuffie, I become frustrated that my repeated attempts to warn them of the possible dangers—black eyes, broken bones, stitches, trips to the emergency room—do little to convince them that it’s not worth trying anyway. Then I remember being five and entertaining myself on a cold Vermont winter day by knocking giant dagger-like icicles off the side of the house. My mother came out and scolded me, telling me I could poke my eye out (and truthfully, those icicles were so heavy, so large and so sharp I probably could have poked my brain out right along with my eye) but as soon as she was out of sight, I went right back to knocking them down. Lo and behold, a very large icicle fell and hit me in the face, right near the tear duct of one of my eyes. I ran in crying to my mother scared, but not hurt. How many times has a similar scenario played itself out at my house?
One of the single most terrifying things about parenting is the fact that at a certain age, your children learn to talk. Their first words are charming as they point at and name familiar objects: dog, cat, ball, Dada. And then suddenly, their newly acquired verbiage is a liability, likely to leave a parent sweating, blushing and stammering awkward apologies while trying to exit the scene before the child can come up with another loud and obnoxious (and worst of all, completely accurate) comment about someone’s physical appearance, body odor or bad breath.
When I was four, I began to worry about “dying.” I don’t remember what prompted it but I was trying to comprehend the fact that I would die someday and so would my parents. My dad tried to comfort me by telling me that I wouldn’t die until I was very old with white hair and neither would he or my mom. Obviously enlightened, the next time I saw our very sweet, very old and very white haired neighbor Elsie I asked “Why aren’t you dead yet?”
It seems as if my verbal skills, combined with an advanced tendency for critical observation, peaked when I was four years old. My social skills however, were right on par with my age: blunt. Picture me as a scrappy four year old with long brown braids eating lunch at restaurant with my mother and my mother’s friend, Rita. A man in a nearby booth started an innocent conversation with me. He asked my name and I told him. And then I asked his name and he told me. Then I asked “And what’s the name of your fat friend?” looking pointedly at his plump dining companion. My mother says at this point, he began ignoring me so I repeated the question, only much louder. My poor mother was horrified and embarrassed and decided to pretend that I was actually Rita’s daughter. Who could have predicted that such an innocent conversation with a friendly stranger could take such a socially catastrophic turn. Sorry Mom!
Do you have any memories of your own mischief that keep you humble as a parent? Or has your child made you wish you could make yourself faint on command rather than being left to repair the damage done by your own socially disastrous offspring?