Friday: It gets funny after the first bit…
One of my favourite sayings is “It’s easier to build a child than repair an adult”. I’ve worked with children, teenagers, and adult learners most of my life, so I can attest to the fact that the saying is absolutely true. About twenty years ago, I taught at an adult high school, and witnessed first-hand the struggles that my adult students went through—the same ones they went through as teenagers the first time through high school, repeating the same patterns over and over again. I had Charlie, a fifty-year-old truck driver who was more comfortable behind the wheel than behind a desk; Lorna, who helped her husband run their own business and was now retired, but who was ashamed to have never graduated; Mohammed and Abdi, two Somali brothers who had difficulty with English but tried SO hard; Jack, whose early experiences with teachers as a child with undiagnosed AD/HD had made him hate school; Linda, whose epilepsy medication didn’t always cut it, and the seizures were still such a source of embarrassment for her that she would skip class for days after one, and so many more people who just wanted to feel a sense of achievement by graduating from high school (Lorna’s grandkids came and cheered when she got her diploma). But they were a terrific group—I still have the card they all signed for me at the end of the year.
At the other end of the spectrum are the wee ones, so fresh and full of enthusiasm, an excitement for living that sometimes gets hammered out of them too soon. The other day, I was remembering something I witnessed about 5 years ago, and which still makes me so upset: I was at the grocery store, and I saw a woman come in with the most adorable looking boy about 5 years-old. As they passed me, I could hear him saying, “Mommy, can I drive the little cart? The little cart? Mommy, can I?” He was asking over and over, looking up at her, trying to get her attention. There’s no way she couldn’t have heard him, but she kept ignoring him until they walked past the little grocery carts that the stores have for kids (so that they can feel like big people) and disappeared into the aisles. I wanted to call after her, “Would it f*cking kill you to just let the kid drive the f*cking little cart?” I mean, I don’t know what was going on in her life that she thought it was OK to just blow him off like he wasn’t important, and maybe she was just having a bad day, but it infuriated me. Just like the other day, when my brother was telling me about a child in my nephew’s grade one class. Apparently, “Eddie” has trouble getting along with the other kids, so while everyone else sits at tables in groups of 5, Eddie sits at a desk by himself in the corner. Every day. All day long. All I could think is “What the f*ck is wrong with Eddie’s parents that they aren’t freaking about their six-year-old being isolated like that?” And while you might be thinking, “Well, I wouldn’t want my kid sitting next to Eddie if Eddie can’t behave”, how is Eddie going ever going to get along with ANYONE if he’s continually isolated? The Eddie of today becomes the Jack of tomorrow, and you can take that to the f*cking bank. But I’m not blaming Eddie’s teacher, although it’s a pretty stupid solution. No, this is down to Eddie’s parents, who NEVER come to parent night, activity days, observation days, weekly skating, swimming and so on. My brother, in the three years that my nephew has been in the same class as Eddie, has ever met either of them. Again, I don’t know their circumstances but I keep thinking of Eddie, skating by himself when the other kids have a mom or dad there, and it makes me sad. Which leads me to the main point, and yes I do have one: I was reading a little while ago about some so-called parenting guru who said that our children shouldn’t be the most important things in our lives. And I was like, “You’re an idiot.” And here is why he is completely wrong.
*Disclaimer: If you think your children are the most important things in your life, but you let them do whatever the hell they want and spoil them rotten, you’re doing it wrong.
1) Your children are responsible for what happens to you when you get old. Treat them well, and teach them to be responsible and caring adults, and you’ll probably end up in an upscale retirement home with people who don’t make you feel terrible when you wet the bed. Or maybe you can even live WITH your children if you went all out and took them to the movies once in a while, rented a cottage in the summer to have special family times, or let them drive the LITTLE CART. Treat them like crap and you’ll end up on an ice floe, or in a nursing home that serves mystery meat and has bingo every single night (yes, I know—some people like bingo. I’m NOT one of them), and they won’t come to visit.
2) Adults have pretty much f*cked up the world at this point. Global warming, species going extinct every minute, Donald Trump, oceans choked with plastic—we OWE them. The least we can do is mentor them and help them see the world as the precious thing that it is, not a commodity to be exploited until it runs dry. And buy them a puppy. Every child should have a puppy. Children who are allergic to dogs can have those hairless Chihuahua things. If you don’t like dogs, either suck it up, or buy them a cat. Or a monkey butler. If my parents had bought me a monkey butler, I would have a PhD in Environmental Science and I would have cured global warming AND cancer by now. They DID get me a kitten, so at least I have two undergraduate degrees. But no matter what the pet is, help them to learn how to be responsible for it.
3) What else is MORE important than our children? Seriously? The stuff that we decorate our homes with? The cars we drive? Our jobs? Getting away from the kids to hang with other adults? When I was a kid, I don’t remember that we didn’t have a lot of money. I DO remember family car trips to little towns on a Sunday, walking through the bush and identifying trees at a local arboretum, going with my dad to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning and buying treats for my mom who was sleeping in after a long week of looking after me and my brother. My family (Mom, Dad, my brother and me) spent a lot of time together, learning how to be in the world and how to be responsible for it. I’m eternally grateful to my parents for always thinking “what would be nice for the kids?”, not only when I was young, but as an adult. It didn’t make me “entitled”, and by the way, most young people today aren’t either, despite what the people who make their money from certain parenting blogs, fake news magazines, and internet clickbait try to tell you. Face it—we’re all gonna die. “Things” are irrelevant, but leaving this world with the memories of a day at the beach, or being able to laugh around the dinner table because you didn’t make your kid eat broccoli but gave her hot dogs instead aren’t.
4) To continue, my second favourite saying is “The most important things in life aren’t things.” I’m the mother to a wonderful 18 year-old, and yes, so-called “Parenting Expert”, she is the centre of my universe. I don’t apologize for that. I can buy whatever the hell I want. I can go to the Dollar Store and get crap for my house, save up and buy crap I don’t need, or surround myself with stuff that doesn’t matter. The only thing I can’t buy is a child who is OK in the world. That, I have to work at. I also had to work at GETTING a child, because you can’t just buy one of them either, like a puppy or a kitten (or a monkey butler). Ken and I tried for a long time to have a baby, and we had some tragedy along the way. When my daughter was finally born, I was incredibly grateful to the universe for that gift. Because that’s what kids are. A f*cking gift. If you can’t see that, if you want to discount children as the most important thing in your life because some dude named Leonard Sax says you’re a failure as a parent because you like to give your child choices and make them a responsible and active voice in the family dynamic, then don’t complain when the nurse won’t make you hot dogs or cry because the polar bears all died.
*I’m really tired and may or may not have had a couple of glasses of wine, one of which I just spilled on myself. Yeah, it’s a bit of a rant. Next week it’ll be funny—I promise.