Stark Raving Dad
Child development professionals categorize children into two main groups:
(A) Naturally compliant, obedient, well-mannered children, and
The implication is rather obvious. If you are blessed with naturally compliant, obedient, well-mannered children, they were accidentally switched at the hospital. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. In a sense, you could look at it as though you won the lottery, and someone else even bought your ticket for you.
Most parents, however, end up with their own children. But don’t panic quite yet. Bringing your own children home from the hospital doesn’t mean they are destined to be incompliant, disobedient, and ill-mannered, but it does mean that you have to devote massive amounts of time and energy to avoid that outcome. Left to themselves, your children have a natural propensity to be self-centered, pugnacious, ill-tempered, and, if they are boys, wear oversized trousers with enough denim to fashion a Coleman tent.
This book is for all the parents who ended up with their own kids. It is not a professional parenting manual, as I am not a professional. I am just a dad. But I hope that you will find some insight and some helpful tips in my observations, reflections, ruminations, grousings, mutterings, stunned exclamations, incredulous questions, inane outbursts, bulging neck arteries, apologies, failures, and occasional successes.
Remember When You Used to Have Dignity?
You are standing in the grocery store check-out line, and right smack behind you stands an enormous biker dude whose vast muscular girth, covered with scary tattoos, is squeezed tightly into a black leather vest. A large gold hoop pierces his right earlobe, a tight red bandana covers his shaved head, and he is pushing a cart full of beverages that would neverbe served at the annual church potluck.
No one dares make eye contact with him.
No one breathes a word to him.
No one ... except your three-year-old son, who is sitting in your shopping cart and staring in slack-jawed wonder at the sight.
You are praying, very hard, that the same angels who stopped the mouths of the lions in the book of Daniel will rapidly intervene before your kid does the thing that, deep down, you knowhe is going to do unless a miracle happens.
The angels are apparently busy elsewhere, because your son drops his box of animal crackers, slowly points his cookie-smeared finger at the biker dude, and squeals, “Dad! Looooooooooooooook! A pirate!”
You are chuckling nervously and fumbling with your wallet, when your son, wrinkling his nose at the pungent scent of cigarette smoke and motor oil emanating from the shopper, announces, “Dad! That pirate needs a bath!”
You are now hurling random wads of cash at the checker, because your short-term goal in life at this point is to get outof that store while your spleen is still in your body.
You scoot your cart into the exit aisle and prepare to make a run for it. Before you get six feet away, your son breaks into a rousing chorus of “Yo, ho! Yo, ho! A pirate’s life for me!” (A song that youtaught him.)
All of the other shoppers who would normally be bellowing involuntary guffaws of merriment are instead biting their lips, or chewing their knuckles, or stuffing an entire eggplant in their cheeks—anythingto keep from emitting a single giggle.
You sprint, careening your cart toward the parking lot, never looking back.
What do we learn from this experience? Well, we learn that it is unsafe to ever take your young child out into situations where he can possibly come into contact with other human beings, because he will inevitably do something to humiliate you to the point that all your internal organs go into violent spasms and you can only manage to gasp “I’m sorry” to the assorted strangers to whom he has just announced “Watch this” as he proudly shoves his entire index finger up his nose.
You used to have class. Now you have kids. Get used to it.
Dale had our first son, Mark, with her in the store one day when he, then three, was struck with a realization that to him was way more important than Einstein’s finally figuring out that E=MC2. Earlier in the day, while still at home, Mark realized that he did not know the term for an interesting feature of his body.
“What’s this called?” he asked Dale as he pointed to the relevant sector of himself.
So Dale told him.
Pause for several hours, while his little mind processes this information.
Later in the day Dale and Mark were in the grocery check-out line, when Mark’s furiously firing neurons finally assimilated and organized the aforementioned information and he came to a logical and, to him, thrilling conclusion:
I have this interesting body feature.
I am like Daddy, but just a smaller version.
So Daddy must have one of these, too!
Shoppers were temporarily blinded as the 9,000-watt incandescent bulb of realization flashed above Mark’s head. He beamed with joy, spread his arms wide, and announced to the world, “HEY! MY DADDY HAS A (anatomical feature, edited by publisher, but you can take an educated guess).”
Dale is still recovering from this event, although Mark is now in college.
Even if you wisely choose to never leave home with your children, this does not mean you can relax.
One day Dale and I woke up to the following sound: Sklitch. Sklitch. Sklitch.
Mark discovered, at age two, that eggs are a lot like balls, except they make this great splat on the living room carpet at six in the morning. Neither Dale nor I are morning people, but we soon learned to snap awake and make a flying leap for the kitchen when we heard the refrigerator door open in the morning.
I occasionally have flashbacks, kind of like a combat veteran. We will be staying overnight with friends, and the sweet, thoughtful hostess will get up early in the morning to start breakfast for us while we are all still in bed dreaming, and I’ll hear that refrigerator door open and I’ll leap out of bed—actually, still asleep—and fly into the kitchen yelling, “Don’t you DARE crack one of those eggs!”
And she’ll drop the pan and stammer, “Is ... is ... oatmeal OK?”
We never get invited back.
Becoming a dad means you get transformed from the healthy, vibrant, intelligent, youthful person pictured in your wedding photo into a twitching, bewildered, sleep-deprived, PlayDough-smeared creature who looks like the guy in the photo on the post office wall, only less chipper.
I vividly recall the day Dale and I took our kids, still preschool age, to play at the home of another couple, Rex and Janice, who had boys a few years older than ours. As the kids were running around outside, Dale and I were musing aloud about how exhausting little boys can be. I turned to Janice and commented, “Oh, well. You guys lived through it OK. Tell me, when did it start to get easier?”
Janice had the decency to look stunned and even somewhat sympathetic before she fell to the floor in a shrieking fit of laughter.
It nevergets easier. It gets different, but not easier.
I sometimes wonder why we can’t have lives more like the angels. They are smart, strong, and handsome, and there is no evidence indicating that they lose their hair, become exhausted, or get called down to the school office by an unamused campus nurse because one of the little angels stuffed a green bean up his nose on a dare, and it is reallystuck.
Come to think of it, there areno little angels.
Angels don’t have kids.
No “owies” to kiss.
No blankets to tuck in at night.
No crayon portraits to hang on the refrigerator.
I guess that’s the trade-off.
You can either have a truly perfect body and the ability to fly anywhere on time and for free, with no lost luggage, or you can have kids. (But at least having kids, by definition, means you also get to enjoy the passion and wonder of sex, which not even the Archangel Michael will ever know.)
Oh, one other big benefit of being human: unlike angels, we get second chances.
Lots of them.
Stark Raving Dad! by Dave Meurer
Copyright � 2002, Dave Meurer
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited