I remember growing up, being punished, and sitting in the corner muttering under my breath, “Just wait until I grow up and have kids. Boy, am I going to do things differently!” And then … I grew up … and had kids.
Here are some popular rules, standards and goals we set for ourselves — words us parents have eaten served up cold by our children.
1. I’m going to have two boys and two girls, all two years apart
Oh, were it only that easy. Unless you have some magical patent-pending process for producing exactly the gender of child you want, good luck to you. I know lovely large families who thought, “Just one more try for a boy/girl and then we’re through.”
And, spacing is wonderful in theory, but not always as easily done as it seems. Being in a hurry, forgetting, misjudging the open windows and failed barriers bring joyful mis-timed and unplanned surprises. In the end, you have what you need which is sometimes different from what you planned.
2. I’ll never do that to my kids
This is the universal anthem of all children who have ever been unjustly punished or publicly humiliated by their parents. “When I grow up and have children, I will treat them with respect and believe them when they said they didn’t break the vase. I will never tell them to stop picking their nose in the grocery store.” Guess what …
3. I’ll get around to it when I start a family and have more time
The hectic social schedule one negotiates when one is single can be found curled up and whimpering in the corner, rubbing its childhood blanket on its face and intermittently sucking its thumb when one bears off-spring. It is no match for the colicky-teething-diaper rashing-shriekish sleepless nights that one endures when the first squirmy little infant arrives.
It only gets worse as children grow — bringing with them the I-wish-you-hadn’t-ingested-that phone calls to Poison Control, who sadly know you on a first name basis. Then comes the sleepovers, the broken curfews, the learner’s permit and the I-can’t-believe-he-broke-up-with me all-night chocolate fests.
The one positive side-effect of this grueling schedule is a delicious, sleep-deprived delirium which sets in and kind of paints your world a clueless rose color.
4. I’m never going to lose it with my children
Yes, we have all labored under such delusions until we see our toddler sticking a butter knife into an outlet, stuffing their PB&J into the VCR, painting their walls with their own feces out of the diaper they managed to remove or have a neighbor return one of them buck naked from running down the street while we took five minutes to try to go to the bathroom alone.
5. I’m going to be the coolest parent on the block
Being hip and cool and a friend to your child goes the way of the 8-track when you find the empty cigarette pack, the sloppily hidden report card containing an “F,” and you get asked to write a note for a friend who skipped school. There is no cool way to answer the question, “Can I have a boy-girl sleepover and will you buy us beer if we promise not to tell anyone?” Cool grabs its coat and runs out the door, screaming, “This is your problem now. I’m outta here!”
6. My kid is going to get everything they want
This is a universal chant by kids who have been told they could not have the smart phone, computer or video game system of their dreams. These children grow up into hard-working, under-appreciated drones in the system and as adults. They sing a different tune, the song of their people: “I worked hard for everything I ever got. Nobody ever gave me a hand-out. No, sirree, Bob, I had to slave for the smallest little thing and earn it myself. I bought my first bicycle with blood, sweat and tears. You get off your butt and do something around here and then we’ll see about that new electronic gizmo you want so badly.”
7. I’m going to let my kids choose what they eat
Sitting into the wee hours of the morning staring at a plate of cold, congealed baked macaroni and cheese (I never liked cheese) because I wasn’t allowed to leave the table, much less have dessert, until my plate was clean, led me to embrace this little ditty. I would sit and mutter under my breath, “I’ll give them ice cream for breakfast if that’s what they want.”
As a parent, I am inundated with articles on childhood obesity, artificial colors and additives, too much this and too little of that will ruin your children’s health to the point I stare blurry-eyed and sleepless into the darkness of night praying they will live until morning because I let them have fruit puffs for dinner.
8. We’ll be the perfect parents
We find someone who will partner parent with us and we define everything from what they will be allowed to eat to what toys they will never own. We choose the books we will read to them and vow to keep television and other electronic stimuli to a minimum. We pick out universities and careers for them. Everything is planned down to the minutest of details. And then, our children are born. And, from the first time we pull rug lint out of their mouths and slap their hands for toilet-fishing, we know that nothing we do will ever go as planned. And that’s OK.
These are just a few of the rules we set. We are wise in considering them. We are wiser to know that we have to be flexible and take life with children one moment at a time. We learn to trust our instincts and fly by the seat of our pants. We learn that eating dirt will build immune systems and that broken windows are great teaching moments. We clean up things that would have made us barf as children and we do it because we love these little creatures more than we ever thought we had the capacity to love.