Thursday, January 18, 2007

I Take It Back.

As a teenager I heard a radio personality say, "Before I was a father, I had six different theories on how to raise children. Now I have six children, and no theories." As a parent, I still see the humor in the statement, but I also hear the wry truth behind the quip. I knew so much before I had kids, and now I am content to be utterly clueless about anybody's children but my own. (And I'm clueless about my own at least half the time.)

I usually had enough sense as a young adult to not voice my opinions about how other people were raising their children, since I knew anything I said would be that much more likely to come back and haunt me. What happened in my head was an entirely different story, and I am now offering a formal retraction for all those uncharitable thoughts.

I once thought that a child old enough to use a computer mouse was certainly old enough to be toilet-trained. I take it back. My son can do 25-piece puzzles online and type most of the alphabet on his daddy's computer, but the mere suggestion of Thomas the Train underpants is enough to propel him into a screaming fury.

I once believed that a mother who was even remotely attentive would never need to scrub crayon marks off the wall. I take it back. Crayons and large flat surfaces are drawn to each other with a force that puts mere gravity to shame. My walls never had a chance. (And while I'm at it, I'm sorry about the dining room in the house on 39th Street, Mom.)

I used to think that a child who sucked his thumb, used a pacifier, or carried a blankie around past the age of two was a sure indication of a weak-willed mother. I take it back. If promises of nickels, the application of Tobasco sauce, the forced wearing of mittens, strategically placed Band-Aids, the prospect of orthodontia, and sensational descriptions of permanently deformed hands couldn't pry my 7-year-old's fingers out of her mouth, I defy even the combined forces of the U.S. Armed Forces to accomplish the task.

I thought that if a child had enough shelves in her room, everything would have a place and everything could therefore go in that place, thus avoiding long Saturday afternoons of crying, withheld privileges, and dire threats containing the words "all day and all night until it's clean". I take it back. Coat hangers might multiply quietly in dark closets, but beads and stuffed animals replicate themselves right there on the floor in broad daylight.

I felt that any woman who said "I used to play the piano before I had kids" simply didn't have her priorities straight. I take it back. I never could have envisioned practice sessions punctuated by unexplained rattles inside the piano, accompanied by wild giggly dancing and repeated demands for the theme song to "Star Wars".

I once believed that it was possible for a woman who loved fine and beautiful things to maintain a lovely and gracious home, even in the presence of small children. I take it back. It's possible, but a certain amount of watchfulness is required. I would have paid good money to be a mouse in the corner when my mother-in-law found the missing black crayon my son had been playing with days earlier. She had a lady over for tea and a chat, and when she went to pour their drinks, she and her friend were horrified to see, oozing from the spout of the teapot into the delicate china cup, what appeared to be a long black slug.

I thought that the only thing required for a regular bedtime was a firm word from the parent. I take it back. I had never seen a high-energy toddler kicking her heels on the wall at 11 p.m. and singing "Jesus Loves Me" to pass the time, and I had never heard the irresistible pleas of a four-year-old: "You read to me? Please, Mama?"

I was certain that there was no reason for children to watch videos more than, oh, maybe once a year. I take it back. I couldn't have imagined the infectious giggles of my son watching his beloved "funny cat" cartoon, the antics of Felix the Cat sending him into peals of laughter. I hadn't stopped to consider that Mr. Disney might occasionally have just as much to say to my daughter as other storytellers whose words are bound in books.

I was convinced that when I had kids, I would do it all just right, and my children would turn out perfect. I take it back. I don't think it's possible to do it all right, not on the first try or the sixth. Besides, perfect children wouldn't be any fun anyway.

I was wrong, gloriously so, and of all the wonderful, funny, laughing, tearful, inexplicable, unexpected moments along the way, there's not a one of them that I'd trade for having been right.