By the time I was seven, I was an Aunt. By the time I was 21, I was the Aunt of ten. When I married at 26, there were two more miracles of fun-loving, spirit-lifting blessings added into the mix of nieces and nephews. I didn’t have little brothers and sisters, but I had the best of my sisters and my brother around me at one point or another through my life. They taught me patience, they taught me wonder, but most of all they taught me that I was a fool if I believed that you can control every single minute of a child’s behavior. Of course, nothing compares with having children of your own.
I've been called to the Principal’s Office as an adult on a couple of occasions, and while I felt every bit as guilty as a fifth grader caught shooting a spit ball, there were instances that I laughed…hard. My children are not perfect, but they are perfectly mine, and while I cringe at the rolling eyes and innuendo that I’m dumber than dirt, or the spontaneous combustion of behavior that is my five-year-old son, I am so graced to be their Mama. That’s why I crack up at some of the childless who are on their way into parenthood.
I can’t begin to count the times I've heard “I would never let my child do that,” or “How can you laugh at what your child just did?” Hate to tell ya, but children will do a ton of things that will make us question our sanity and strain our patience. I had a call two weeks ago from THE Principal while I was elbow deep in paper work at my job. My cherub faced boy had eluded the teachers at bathroom break, turned off the lights, and hid in one of the stalls. He was, of course, sent to the office where the principal told me, “Mrs. Carman, I think he had way too much fun just talking with me. As soon as he said he was sorry, he wanted to talk about my day.” That’s my boy.
When I questioned him about what he did, he had an open-eyed look on his face as he told me in a confidential whisper, “Mama, they called my name a couple of times, and you know what? I didn't answer them!” I had to leave the room and straighten my face. When I had “Stern Mommy” firmly in place, I explained that he should always be with his class, that what he did wasn't safe, and that even though he thought it would be fun, it disrupted class time for his classmates. He understood, and told me he was sorry, but in the same breath he told me he just wanted to see what would happen.
When my daughter was three, she witnessed a baptism at church. She was fascinated, and asked more questions than an interrogator at Gitmo. The next day she had a bucket of sand that she carried from one landscape area to another, sprinkling each one with sand and saying in a tone way too serious for her years, “I baptize you in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.” Then the bucket of sand fell over and I heard her exclaim, “Oh shit!” I was on her quicker than she could blink, telling her how wrong it was to say that word, and then asking her where she heard it. When she named another adult in the neighborhood I felt righteous indignation, until she added, “and you, Mama.”
Our children teach us about how beautifully messy life is, and how we can only control what we do as individuals, more than any self-help book out on the market. They remind us of all that is hopeful and innocent, even in the midst of their acting out. Parenting is full of extremes within extremes. Parenthood is laughter, tears, hopes, fears and all of the yearning to keep our children safe and innocent for as long as possible. Whatever my children do, whether I would “let” them do it or not, they have taught me, as I hope to teach them. One moment the bottom falls out, and the next you hear the Hallelujah Chorus, and I wouldn't know what to do if life were any other way.