I probably sound like Ward Cleaver when I remind my children how rough our lives were compared to theirs. It’s apparent that every generation has a horror story to tell their children to make them appreciate how good they have it. Ironically, we still make it a goal to want better for our kids than what we, ahem, ‘endured’. That kind of makes the infamous ‘when I was your age’ series of ‘walking to and from school, uphill, both ways’ a weak anecdote to garner their sympathies as we negotiate their comparative luxury. In the end, I think we, as parents, learn more about sacrifice than our kids do.
If the repeated complaints of my boys were to be believed — that they were the only kids in the world who didn’t own a game system — then it would be reasonable to assume that I was the only dad in the world who didn’t. Well, no more. With my excuses waning and their piggy banks bursting, we agreed to let them joyfully buy their way into the majority. With this ‘box of Xs’ commandeering so much of our only television’s on hours, I knew it would only be a matter of time before my woefully inept gaming skills were exposed.
I dodged the bullet for a week before my oldest son managed to coax me into playing with him. Ever the sports competitor he eagerly popped in Madden ’12 and quickly handed me a game controller. This clearly wasn’t the simple joystick I grew up with. My sweaty hands nervously held the wireless package of buttons, triggers and controls. Overwhelmed and intimidated, I sluggishly meandered through the set-up menus with my son’s help and before long the game was underway. I felt like a passenger plucked from coach, in the cockpit of a 747 barreling down the runway, getting last minute instructions from the pilot on how to fly.
‘Dad, remember to hit this button to go back, and this one to pick which play you want. All those numbers and letters on the screen are the buttons you should press to make the play.’
‘Oh’ was thankfully all I managed to verbalize. After three consecutive delays of game, I began to lose it. Clearly frustrated, I reiterated over and over how I didn’t know what I was doing. How the controller was too complex. He simply repeated the advice he gave me earlier but added, “and do it fast before the play clock runs out.”
I probably wouldn’t have made it through an entire game had it not been for his encouragement (and pointers). In fact, I was starting to feel pretty good about my progress and after four quarters we were tied at 6-6. With ten seconds left in the game, his QB threw an unbelievable hail mary pass to his wide open receiver who quickly sprinted his way towards the end zone with my defense nowhere in sight. Then the strangest thing happened. Right before my eyes, his receiver stopped short at the one yard line, backed up three steps and jumped out of bounds. After I called shenanigans on his ‘mercy move’ he quickly put me out of my misery in OT.
I don’t mind admitting that my 12-year-old son ‘powned’ his old man in football. I’m okay with it. I’m proud of the fact that he had the patience to teach someone as clueless as me on how to play his games. I figure with a couple weeks off for Christmas break I should get better with that controller.
My wife and I are blessed with two wonderfully spirited children and many days I ponder how their ‘challenging’ traits might positively benefit them later in life. Take for instance our youngest, who, not kidding, threw an all out tantrum that lasted almost two hours about having to eat a burrito made with a corn tortilla rather than the flour tortilla he is used to. After countless explanations of how he would not be permitted to leave the table to play until he had finished his supper, he went on to plea bargain, begging for us to ‘save it’ so he could ‘eat it later’. We explained to him that that would not be an option and if he chose not to eat it for dinner, he would be getting it for breakfast.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting, it’s that you don’t try to bargain with children. Their inexperience and inability to see the big picture and how their choices can bring about negative consequences is for us as parents to teach them. It’s our responsibility to make sure they are loved and cared for to the best of our abilities; to equip them with the knowledge to make the right choices for themselves when they’re older – even if that means eating stuff they don’t like (which, by the way, turned out to not be the case. Once he started in on the burrito he realized it wasn’t half bad and finished it within minutes).
I know that his stubbornness and persistence will both benefit him later in life, but seeing him exert these qualities now is not only difficult but very frustrating. I have to admit though; it is developing patience in us both.
The spring thaw has spawned yet another veritable paradise for boys… Mudville. Regardless of how many times we remind them to avoid the water and mud it seems to find them like iron filings to an electromagnet. Of course, I didn’t exactly make it easy for them not to get dirty.
Last fall, just before the snow flew, I managed to finish our brick paver patio (it’s been doubling lately as the neighborhood boys’ hangout for half court basketball). Unfortunately the yard surrounding the patio was not yet seeded so the recent foot traffic has dug up plenty of earthy, adobe goodness. Ahh, Spring!
I knew the day was coming, but the school curriculum pretty much sealed the date. My oldest son’s class will soon be covering HIV in science and with it will come some talk about ‘changes’ they are all going through. Rather than have a bunch of squirrelly school boys educating each other, I thought I’d step in.
After having a nice lunch I thought I’d take him for a drive where we could discuss the topic with some privacy. After pulling into a parking lot and turning off the vehicle, I knew he was suspicious about why I wasn’t getting out. Nothing can prepare you for the awkwardness that this moment brings and once I started there was no turning back. I was going to have ‘the talk’ whether either of us were ready for it.
I must have gotten a little too graphic because at one point he complained of having a stomach ache and actually got out of the van to sit down in the parking lot. I thought he was going to refund his lunch. After the initial queasiness wore off I found out a little about what he knew and let him know where the boundaries were. We even shared some stories that we could both laugh about. Ultimately I wanted him to know that if he ever had questions about anything, that he could come talk to me.
Afterward he looked at me and said, “Dad, I feel more mature right now.” I told him how proud we were of the young man he was becoming but that he was still a boy and not to get carried away with his ‘maturity’. He’s a smart kid and I know he’ll learn more than what I’ve told him today, but being there to teach him the secret handshake of manhood was quite the experience. The talk with son number two will be in another three years. I should be ready.
It never fails. Just when the weather starts improving the sore throats start scratching their way into our home. Our oldest started complaining that his stomach hurt and has been pretty hoarse the past few days. The kid’s ten years old but his cough sounds like croop. I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t the beginning of allergy season. I don’t know the first thing about allergies but am starting to believe that I, too, suffer from some spring allergies. Is it too early? I mean there’s still snow on the ground. I’d love to be able to justify this sore throat and headache.
Just a few weeks ago my youngest son had a very interesting conversation with my wife. He started by commenting that “the day after yesterday was a great day.”
To clarify, my wife corrected by asking, “Do you mean the day before yesterday?”
“Do you mean today?”
He responded flatly with, “No. I took a time machine back a day.”
It’s no secret that he and my wife look at time differently. My wife is very punctual. The adage “if you’re on time, you’re late” is very true for her while my son is a bit more relaxed. I realize he can’t tell time just yet, but he really operates on his own time. Some days I can really appreciate his perspective – especially when I’m not on a tight schedule.
We’ve been reading a new book series to our boys at night – The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy. The story centers around superheroes battling supervillains in the city of Superopolis. The main character, ‘O Boy’, is joined by a menagerie of ridiculously named super hero buddies like Halogen Boy, Plasma Girl and Stench to fight as part of LUG (League of Ultimate Goodness). Inspired by the wacky-but-appropriate nomenclature for the book’s heroes we named our dastardly duo – The Antagonizer and Distracta Boy.
The Antagonizer’s main power is an uncanny ability to zero in on the weaknesses of his opponents before verbally or physically assaulting them repeatedly. It’s important to note that the Antagonizer doesn’t respond well to being antagonized. It just so happens that his kryptonite is being treated like he treats others.
Distracta Boy has no real notable powers (other than a shrill scream when being attacked directly) but can easily defeat his tormentors by ignoring all forms of communication. If Distracta Boy is ordered to go to his room to make his bed you will find him a half hour later reading books – at the foot of his unmade bed.
Our little ‘heroes’ spend more time fighting each other than any real villains but have been known on rare occasions to work together to uphold ‘Not Lying, Being Fair and Loving Each Other’.
Well, it finally happened. Sometime yesterday our oldest son grew up. After weeks of persistent begging, we granted him permission to walk home after school – by himself. Okay, not exactly all by himself (ultimately I think that’s what complicated the decision to allow it).
He may be a responsible and mature fifth grader, but his little first grade brother is a bit of a… well… he’s a bit of a lallygagger. We live only blocks from the school – a distance the average person can walk comfortably in a matter of minutes, but our littlest one likes to stop and smell the roses – all the roses – along the way. Suddenly that brisk ten minute walk turns into a dawdling twenty minute marathon.
That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing except that our oldest likes to stay on somewhat of a schedule (much like his mom). When he gets held up, he gets frustrated and when he gets frustrated he corrects whatever causes that frustration – sometimes forcibly. All we could imagine was our eldest son dragging his little brother screaming bloody murder the whole three blocks home.
Instead, I’m told, it was quite the opposite. Arriving at the front door roughly ten minutes after school let out was a very proud big brother, smiling ear-to-ear with his little brother happily following a half-step behind him.
The whole ordeal has been somewhat of a bittersweet rite of passage. We’re proud of the young man our son is becoming but sad to see him grow up so fast. Where did the time go?
It’s interesting how kids can be oblivious to the world around them. The things that you would think they would be embarrassed about doing in public don’t even phase them… like throwing a screaming tantrum in the middle of the mall. Other times the most ‘invisible’ thing will become the focus of their self-consciousness… like insisting on wearing non-athletic black shoes with sweatpants because white athletic shoes ‘don’t look good with sweats’ (what?!). I suppose adults can be just as unreasonable at times, but certainly our two worlds seldom are in sync with one another. That’s all part of the fun.