Monday, September 24, 2007

Flea Collars Optional

Dr. Spock, it is said, understood babies extremely well and helped a generation of parents in the raising of their infants. I’m not sure how he had the time to do this while cavorting around the galaxy in the Starship Enterprise, or why so many parents would trust a guy who looked like he cut his hair by placing a bowl over his head, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s clear he wasn’t so much the Dr. Smartypants as he would have us believe because he never came out with a best-selling book on how to raise children past those infant years. He, like all other parents, was completely baffled. As a public service, though, I’m here to fill the breach.

Rather than trying to read our children’s minds, let us look to the animal kingdom for help. Understanding the stages of development and comparing them to the attributes of specific species will grant us inner peace – we still won’t understand what the heck’s going through their brains, but we’ll at least know that we’re not insane when we think our kids are acting like animals.

When children are very young, they’re like dogs. Beside the fact they would poop wherever they felt like if they weren’t wearing a diaper, I’m willing to bet that they would chase cars and bite tires if we left them to their own devices. Be that as it may, children and dogs commonly share a huge lack of patience. When Kramer the family dog is waiting by the door to go out/come in, he’s feverishly hopping up and down. You might be dumb enough to believe that you can win this battle of wills by making absolutely no move toward the door – and at that moment, your IQ will be half of the canine’s in question. Displaying that severely stunted IQ, you talk to the dog and say something like “I’ll be there in a minute, Kramer” fully expecting the dog to look at you thoughtfully, sit down on the sofa next to you, cross its legs, and pick up a magazine. (And you know that’ll never happen because if he had opposable thumbs, he’d open the door himself, silly.)

In addition to the fact you’re not fully realizing that all he hears is “human human human human, Kramer”, you’re forgetting that everything to him is seven times slower. If one of our years is like seven to dogs, they’re bound to be extremely impatient with us. We must seem like glaciers to them when it comes to moving. We think they’re yapping and running circles around us in the backyard when, really, they’re just scoping the area out at a trot and telling us, “I’d like to play fetch with you, old boy, sometime this century.” Children are much the same, and our only hope is that with growing older will come the ability to reason with them, and a sidelining injury will slow them down, at least temporarily.

It may come at a different time for every child, but they will eventually leave the “dog phase” of their lives and enter their feline years. Cats, it is believed, have nine lives. Not necessarily because of their inherent ability to cheat death or avoid crippling credit card debt – it’s all in their attitude. The reason cats couldn’t care less what you think about them, make no effort to come to you when beckoned, or find any reason to be your friend unless you have food is they believe they’ll outlive you – thus the “nine lives” phenomenon. With that said, many of you are telling me, “You just described my prepubescent son and/or teenage daughter.” Exactly. I can’t explain the reasons, only point out the similarities. Be warned, though, many of these children will adopt other attributes of other species while still living in the feline years.

Some will adopt the elusive Unicorn behaviors and disappear when household chores are afoot. This association with the Unicorn in the teenage years also holds true when they get that huge zit on their nose that feels like a singular horn protruding from their face; this will cause them to disappear in social situations, too.

Although it won’t apply to important matters like the things they’re taught in school or the fact you asked them to put gas in the car, they will employ the memory skills of elephants when it’s the most inconvenient for you. And they’ll use that information as slyly as a fox.

At some point, and this will be the true testament to their maturity, your children start to care about more than cleaning themselves and finding ways to sleep as much as possible. They get married, take on a mortgage, pay taxes, and start to have offspring of their own. And somewhere along that path, they will become one of us: the tortoise who can’t get anywhere fast enough.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rules of Engagement

Although I have never resorted to putting them in writing, my wife and I have certain expectations of behavior for our two boys. Some of them are oft-repeated phrases like “No burping at the dinner table (unless Mom lets one fly)” and “No yelling at your brother (unless the house is on fire)”. Other expectations, though, we seem to take for granted and assume them to be understood.

However, because these seemingly “understood” expectations are not engraved on a plaque and hung on the family room wall, our sons will sometimes veer off into taboo territory and act shocked when we bust them. “Do you mean to say that the hardwood floor ISN’T a good chipping surface for golf practice AND I shouldn’t be doing it in the house anyway? It’s like I don’t even know who you people are!” Those may not be their exact words, but that’s pretty much what the looks on their faces tell us.

In that vein, I have compiled a list of “rules” that should be etched in stone (or at least carved into a warm piece of burled walnut) and affixed to a prominent place in the home where the children are sure to see it on a regular basis. (In my house, I’m thinking of engraving the toilet seat because they never lift that thing up.) With that said, I give you the list:

  • No spitting on the floor or in your brother/sister’s mouth even if he/she dares you
  • Making holes in the wall without prior written consent by both parents is forbidden
  • You will wear underwear
  • Any change found under the couch cushions is the sole property of Mom or Dad
  • Gun play is to be confined to the den and the den only (this might be more regional in application)
  • The law of gravity will be strictly observed and heeded in and on this house
  • We have indoor plumbing; it will be used exclusively
  • The family pets are not to be spray painted or set on fire – EVER (younger siblings, unfortunately, aren’t usually covered by this proviso no matter how hard you try)
  • This is a nuclear-weapons-free zone

Looking back on my childhood, these were all rules that governed my home, and quite successfully I might add. We all made it to adulthood able to bring children into the world – so we could take our turn on imposing our rule on them. Following those rules, we made it through childhood with all ten fingers and ten toes intact and functioning (despite the fact I once let my older brother run my hand over with a Chevy utility van – oddly enough, Mom wasn’t altogether shocked).

Now, if you’re hoping to raise the next X Games gold medalist, career politician, performance artist, or Hollywood starlet, throw those rules right out or through the window. If that’s your plan, though, be warned that if they aren’t successful in reaching those goals and are unable to support you in your retirement, you could find yourself in a wheelchair without any underwear and being set on fire by your grandchildren. Good luck with that!