The Last Word

I was finishing up with some piano students when I received the news of the death of a friend’s husband. He was 48 years old, with two young daughters, and appears to have died in a freak accident at home. Suddenly all the thoughts of the day – to-do lists, student concerns, home renovations, what to make for dinner – were swept away by the surge to which everything else always yields: the news of death.

We post-modern humanoids have a bizarre relationship with Death. It sits there in the corner of our mind’s living room, not saying much. (Thanks to Don Everts’ book The Dirty Beggar Living in my Head for this idea.) We all know it’s there, although we wish it weren’t. Some of the brightest and wealthiest among us have devoted much time and money to try to show Death the door, but deep down we know that it’s not going to happen. Carbon-based life cannot live forever. Death, that quiet intruder sitting in the corner, will always strong-arm its way in, regardless of how much money we have, how smart we are, how well we live, or how many essential oils we consume.

We all know this. Humanity has known this since the beginning. It’s just that now we have become experts at diversion. We are awesome at distracting ourselves from facing the only real certainty in our lives (the one not even the relativist can bend): the absolute fact that our heart will stop beating and we will return to the dust from which we were made.

We begin with actual words, preferring the term “passing” over that other ugly word. Since few people ever come back (and we don’t really know what to do with those who claim to have done so), we create narratives about it, hoping these ideas will present some form of protection when we are forced to face death. Even staunch materialists are willing to step outside of their stated belief that matter is all that exists, and embrace the idea that somehow the spirit lives on in the universe. It’s just too horrible to think that the person we love is gone forever; it makes it a bit easier to believe that their spirit lives on somewhere (over the rainbow).

It’s really not that far off from the archaic belief once held by uneducated people (who allegedly believed anything they were told to believe) that death is only the beginning of a new life lived on in another dimension. Even today, in a time when the educated masses allegedly never believe what they’re told to believe, few people are able to believe their child simply ceases to exist when it is taken too early by cancer. When Death stands up in the living room of our minds and asserts itself, none of those other shrill voices are prepared to truly argue with absolute certainty that there is nothing beyond that door. In times of raw emotion we all wish that the redemptive narrative were true, that we can tell our children that heaven is real and that they can rest in the certainty of seeing their loved one again.

I’ve read enough to hear the clinical voice of Academia calmly explain that these narratives are coping strategies that we create. The accounts of people having experienced Glory (or that terrifying other place)are merely chemical reactions in the dying brain to make dying easier (which isn’t so true for those who claim to have been to that terrifying other place). Even if this were true, I’m not sure why time+chance+matter would care about the dying process, and should have evolved to make it easier for us, lumps of matter that we are. What is more, I’m really not sure why the speculation of these lab-coat types should carry any more weight than anybody else’s opinion, because it’s pretty hard to design an experiment to test the hypothesis. Like I said, not too many test subjects would return from the other side. I’d rather believe my saintly grandmother who, after having returned from her first death, asked her weeping and praying children why they hadn’t just left her there. It was so much better than here.

In the end, we’re all going on faith when it comes to the question of what happens after death. It’s the biggest wager for every human being on earth.

We have a child with a genetically inherited disease that severely limits his vision. Not only has he been severely myopic since birth (his vision was 20/200 even as a baby), he also has a malformation of the cells across both retinas, and another condition where his eyes shake, further reducing his visual acuity. There is no treatment for his condition, and glasses can only correct the myopia. He is fortunate, because he can see enough to function independently, but he has to work harder at everything, and some things are just impossible for him to see.

Caleb is now 7 years old. He has never known clear vision. He lives in a fog all the time. The only way he can see his score when we’re bowling is for us to take a picture of it and enlarge it for him on the screen. He cannot recognize me across the playground unless he remembers which colours I was wearing that morning. He has trouble finding his friends at recess unless they come up to him and ask him to play. Because of one of his conditions, he has to tilt his head to one side severely to focus on anything, so he has to do daily neck exercises to make sure that his neck develops normally. He trips and falls easily, and cannot see a ball that’s been thrown to him until the last minute. He also cannot see the stars at night.

Caleb loves to talk about heaven. He usually ends up crying, because he is so overcome with what he imagines heaven will be like. He asks me questions about it all the time, and claims to have seen the sky part just a bit to reveal a slice of it to him (it was the moon peeking through some clouds). He doesn’t want to die, but his ardent wish is to go to heaven, preferably sooner rather than later. One night when he was telling me about this he said, “I can’t wait to go to heaven, because then I can see the stars”.

And then it hit me that for Caleb, heaven holds the promise of completeness that most of us feel we can somehow achieve here on earth. In his childlike mind, he’s picturing an all-expenses-paid elevator ride up through the cosmos, holding Jesus’ hand, and being able to reach out and touch one of those suckers. What his mama knows is that he has no hope of ever seeing the stars for himself until he is given new and perfect eyes, which I have faith will happen when he winds up in that place where every tear will be wiped away, every wrong will be made right, and as Frodo Baggins says, everything bad will come untrue. This is not a coping strategy – this is where I have placed my wager for eternity.

Perhaps this is why Death has been ordained to stay in the living room of our minds. It reminds us to place our bet, because we don’t have the choice whether to enter a wager or not. Everything that matters is on the line. Death reminds us in no uncertain terms that we are but dust, that the completeness we hope for will never be found on this side, so we might as well stop working so hard for it. Perhaps C.S. Lewis said it best: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Where have you placed your wager?

Advertisements

Leave a comment »

The Class of 2013

I am the proud parent of a graduating member of the class of 2013. I will try to refrain from cynicism hereafter, but it must be said that this sentence used to mean something. In my case, it means that my son finished preschool yesterday. He, along with 9 other children now hold that illustrious title of Preschool Graduate. In all fairness, he is the only one of our three children to complete preschool, so I suppose that is noteworthy.

I do not intend to spend my time pointing out our collective fascination with graduations, graduation speeches, commitments to excellence and world change, and of course grad outfits. Actually, I did want to focus on the outifts, come to think of it.

As it were, this year I had two graduates. Yes, I am the lucky mother of a kindergarten graduate as well. Oh, and a grade 3 graduate. It’s practically like being a Triple Crown winner, folks. But I digress. Having had a child graduate from kindergarten in the past, I am familiar with the conventions: put them in a dress shirt, comb their hair, and pray that they are wearing proper footwear by the time they march into the gym to the music of Pomp and Circumstance. (Teddy’s JK Christmas concert had him wearing his winter boots with his dress pants, and Sammy looked like a homeless man for his SK graduation with the tongue of his right shoe hanging out over his toes. This is what happens when 5-year-olds are responsible for their own footwear at school.)

Since Caleb is our first child to attend preschool, however, it perpetually slips my mind that those two days a week he spends colouring and playing under the watchful eye of several patient women qualify as “school.” And so I show up for his Christmas concert on a Wednesday morning by myself, not having thought to invite proud grandparents, godparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours, and the family doctor. I miss picture day (although in my defense, we were in Europe at the time) and forget about his “special helper” days.

One would think that I’d have figured it out by June that preschool is a bigger deal than I think it is, but yesterday’s  graduation bore witness to my utter incompetency as a preschool mother yet again. Just when I was patting myself on the back for having remembered all of his recent “special helper days,” the graduation confirmed that the “Preschool Mother of the Year Award” would have to go to someone else. Perhaps to the woman pinning a pink bow in her princess’s long, silky hair. At least she remembered to comb her kids’ hair for graduation.

In my defense, the event was called an “end of the year celebration and BBQ,” which, to me, means lawn chairs, meat from the grill, and possibly a bouncy castle. I saw no problem, therefore, with teaching a piano class from 4 – 5, and leaving my husband with the instructions to have the children ready so that we could leave as soon as I was done. The veggie tray was already waiting to go, so nothing could go wrong.

We showed up at the school and I quickly realized that a veggie tray was not the only thing I was supposed to bring. Properly attired children would have been a good idea. While little girls were wearing their new spring dresses with matching purple bows in their hair, our Caleb was still wearing his two-day-old camouflage shorts and army green sleeveless T-shirt. With giant Freezie stains down the front.

Believe it or not, his personal appearance was the least offensive of our three boys. Teddy wore his trusty faded camouflage shirt (the one he had donned on picture-retake day) and his hair was still matted down with sweat from his bike ride home from school. Sammy’s T-shirt and shorts were about as random a pairing as Coca Cola and Belgian waffles, and his legs bore the telltale dirt streaks from having played in the sandbox and then watering the plants. Suffice it to say that our children’s appearance presented a stark contrast to all the cleavage and high heels in the room.

I probably should have been more specific in my instructions to my husband than, “have the children ready”. In all fairness to him, he was interested in only one thing when he got home from having spent 8 hours in a hot, sticky factory on a hot sticky day: a shower for himself. So as it were, Oliver and I were presentable, while our children look like the progeny of dead-beat crack addicts.

At this point a married couple has two options: harangue one another for incompetence, or laugh about the situation. We opted for the second. Oliver joked that it would be a great idea to gather all the children in the room for a group photo, and then assign everyone the task of finding the Trefz children – similar to “Where’s Waldo.” We laughed at the women who had gone to the effort of coordinating their outifts with their perfect little daughter’s, and took solace in the fact that we will never see most of these people again anyways.

As one would expect, our boys were blissfully unaware of being under-dressed, and were more concerned about the lack of a bouncy castle. The food served as moderate consolation, but everyone was happy to return home without too many tearful good-byes or sentimental reflections on the passing of an era.

For those of you considering preschool for your child, take it from me that it is a bigger deal than you think it is. You’ve been warned.

Leave a comment »

Mothers and Sons

For better or for worse, kids take after their parents. It’s part of the design of the institution. Parents contribute the genetic material and the environment, and, by and large, their kids will become easily recognizable by outsiders as being a member of that family.

Usually when I see my kids exhibiting my character traits and behaviours, it’s the bad ones that stick out, and I find myself cringing under the knowledge that I’ve contributed both my nature and my nurture to what I’m seeing. Yesterday, however, I had to laugh hysterically as I sat across the table from my little doppelganger.

The grade 3 curriculum focusses heavily on narrative writing at this stage of the year, and so we have watched our son‘s creativity unfold in some pretty wild, imaginative stories. Currently Teddy is devouring C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia together with his father, so he has been inspired to write fantasy stories. His teacher is impressed by his imagination, but not so impressed by his lack of brevity. Every day he starts a new story in school, but all of them lie unfinished in his work basket because he runs out of time to put all his ideas on paper.

Still, his teacher recognizes his writing ability, and pairs him up with students who are weaker in this department, hoping that they might glean a thing or two from his fertile imagination. Predictably, he’s the one doing the work while his partner is content to apply herself to other unrelated pursuits. (At this point I must interject and concur with the writer of Ecclesiastes: “A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun… smart kids will always do the work of slackers, and teachers will always think it’s a good idea to pair them up in a vain attempt at peer improvement . If this was true for your mother’s generation, it will be true for yours.” [1:4 & 9, amplified somewhat])

But I digress. Teddy enjoys and excels at writing, and so I was surprised when he expressed his dread at the writing requirement of the upcoming Province-wide Standardized Test, the EQAO.

“Mom, we have to write a one-page narrative on our EQAO test!”

“Oh Teddy, that’s a piece of cake,” I answered. “That’ll be no problem for you.”

“Mom,” (with that lilt in his voice that develops around age 6 and indicates that your kid has figured out that sometimes you’re just plain dense) “you don’t understand. When I write, I write six pages, not one. That’s impossible!”

There are times in my life as a parent when I shake my head because I just can’t understand my kid. Then there are times when I’m pretty sure my kid was cloned, because it could be me sitting there in that little body expressing those same frustrations about word counts and limits on literary creativity. I looked over at my husband, who is nothing like our son in this respect, and who just could not wipe the grin off his face. “What?” I said in in our defence, “There are just so many good words out there that it’s hard to only pick a few.”

That being said, I’d just like to point out that this piece is under 600 words – a personal best for me in my pursuit of brevity.

Comments (1) »

C’est L’amour – a year later

Once every ten years or so I change my mind about something. Most people with my personality will tell you that it is not easy to admit that your views on something may not have been sufficiently explored, and must therefore be subjected to scrutiny. Valentine’s Day is one such issue for me. Those of you who remember last year’s post are no doubt intrigued that I would even suggest a change of heart.It all began with my resolve to be more prepared this year. Because I have always found the tradition of handing out Valentines at school utterly useless, I would wage silent protest by not participating until February 13, when it became clear that my children would be the only ones not professing their undying love for their 19 classmates the following day. So on February 13 at 4:30pm I would yield to the will of the masses, and by 4:45 I’d be standing in Shopper’s Drug Mart with the other parents who had dragged their butts on the issue until the 11th hour, so to speak. (See last year’s post for a more detailed presentation of the repercussions of this type of approach on the home front.)

To avoid the stress and frustration therefore, I vowed that this year would be different. So casting aside my principles about the utter wastefulness of the purchase, preparation and distribution of Valentine’s Day cards, I headed to Shopper’s on February 3 of this year – a personal record in preparedness.

I should mention that the thought had been planted quite firmly by our second son, Sammy, (hereafter referred to as Romeo to better reflect his character) who began preparing Valentines for the entire family on February 1st. When we turned over a new page on the calendar he saw hearts, and immediately felt it incumbent upon himself to prepare for this most worthwhile of celebrations. By the end of the day every family member had a construction paper heart taped to the wall beside their bed with a heartfelt message of his affections. Obviously, someone around here actually cares about Valentine’s Day this year.

Contrary to the common perception, I am not a troll on matters of the heart, particularly not where my children are concerned. If it means this much to Romeo, I will surely do my part to help him celebrate. If I learned anything from last year, however, it is to carefully examine the cards before purchase. Do not purchase anything that has the fine print “some assembly required” if you do not wish to spend the evening of the 13th furiously assembling cards. The cards I found this year are really quite simple (no folding, no stickers, no pop-up construction, no GPS tracking device) and, I think, quite profound in the message they convey. Nothing says “I love you” like a googly-eyed Lion with the caption, “You’re Wild!” (The argument could be made by the astute parent that these cards may not be appropriate for young children, but I’m claiming naiveté in my defence.)It is hard to over-state the profundity of these cards.

The children are excited to hand out Valentines this year, I must admit. I suppose there could be worse things to celebrate. So while I do not ordinarily go on about mushy stuff on these pages, it is only fitting that I close with a small tribute to my stalwart husband who has, in the past year, selflessly taken on a lion’s share of the responsibility at home, now that I have a real-life job. I do not know too many men who do laundry, groceries and vacuuming in addition to working full-time and keeping everything from faucets to hinges to piano pedals working properly. So here’s to you, Babe: Happy 13th Valentine’s Day!

Leave a comment »

Picture Day

This is a school picture of me at age 7. Every time I looked at this picture over the years I asked myself the same question: Did the photographer not notice the hair? Could she not have at least drawn my attention to the fact that I looked like I’d just had an encounter with a bear? Check out the dress, folks. Obviously I was prepared for picture day. The hair was the result of recess, and I would have appreciated the opportunity to set it right before it was captured in all its disheveled glory for posterity.

I know how painful a bad school picture can be, especially to the perfectionist control freak. It was with great shock and horror, therefore, that it dawned on me in the middle of the morning while shopping for shirts for our oldest son in Once Upon A Child, that today was Picture Re-take Day, that merciful accommodation of school photographers for those children who a) forgot about Picture Day, b) were absent, c) were cross-eyed in the picture or d) were caught on film picking their nose.

I racked my brain trying to remember what Teddy looked like when I sent him off this morning. I remembered an epic bed-head. I desperately tried to bring to mind what he was wearing, but it just wouldn’t come. Experience has taught me that he gives about as much thought to his clothing as he does to girls, so this could be a disastrous picture. (Note: this is not my kid, but you get the idea)

Thankfully I had four really nice shirts in my hand, so I quickly paid for my purchases, grabbed our youngest son and ran out of the store on my mission to save Teddy’s grade 3 picture. As I raced across town (for yes, I was on the other end of the city) I hoped against hope that his class had not yet been called down to the gym. “At an average of 3 kids per class needing re-takes,” I reasoned, “if they start at Junior Kindergarten, what is the chance that the Grade 3s have not yet been called down by 10:15?” Clearly the odds were stacked against us.

The thought occurred to me that we should have just gone with the original picture. It wasn’t so bad, really, just severe. He was looking at the camera as if to say, “our landfills are filling up, folks, and I don’t see you doing anything about it.” (He is the official garbage sorter of their class – by his own choice. Today he “gets to” stay in at recess to remove the recyclables from the trash and put them in their correct receptacles. Where does he get this stuff?) Still, the severe picture in a nice shirt would have been better than the bed-head and who-knows-what ghastly T-shirt and track pant combo.

I roared into the parking lot, grabbed two sweaters and my now sleeping 36 lb three-year-old and made my way into the school. (By the way, 36 pounds of dead-weight is a lot heavier when you’re in a hurry than when you can take your sweet time). I got to the office, which was empty. I checked in the Principal’s office, which was also empty. The Caretaker is next, a former classmate from high school. “Luke,” I said. “I’ve got a problem. I forgot about Re-take Day, I haven’t brushed Teddy’s hair since the original Picture Day, and his outfit is probably a disaster. Can you help me?”

At this point the music teacher came by, who offered to get Teddy out of class. As she was off getting Teddy, the Secretary came back from the photocopy room and I filled her in on the reason for my visit. Together we figured out that one grade 3 class was already in the gym, but not his. I breathed a sigh of relief. And then they came around the corner: the music teacher and my sweet, smiling boy dressed in a faded grey camouflage T-shirt, poppy-red track pants, and a bed-head that hadn’t settled in the course of the morning. In that moment I knew we had avoided a painful school picture for the next perfectionist control freak in our family.

Together we used water from the fountain to try to tame the unruly hair, and I requested the photographer to crop the bright red pants out of the picture. “Teddy,” I informed my now smartly-dressed son with only mildly unruly hair, “you just pose with your arms crossed and the photographer will take off your pants.” As soon as the words came out I realized that the true meaning had been lost, and the caretaker, secretary, music teacher, and another waiting mother were all in stitches at my slip of the tongue.

Truth be told, of course, we all know that this was about me, the Mom. We Moms care about these things. It’s the reason we show up at school with hairspray and a comb on picture day just to ensure that our offspring will look good in the picture that will grace our mantle for the coming year. We pay attention to the details in our kids’ lives. If we didn’t, who would remember the little things, like bringing cupcakes for the Halloween party or 20 little Candy-grams for all their little friends on Valentines Day?

Actually, I’m not that detail person. I’m quite the opposite. So while other moms made Zombie eye-balls using Oreo Cookie crumbs and cream cheese for their classroom party, I remembered that morning about the party and sent along a bag of chips for one (from Daddy’s secret stash) and a package of store-bought chocolate chip cookies for the other. “Better than nothing,” I assured myself. “I’m doing my part to keep up with the other Moms.”

Apparently not. On the day after Halloween when I picked up our third son from pre-school, I marveled at his large paper bag filled with candy. Upon closer inspection I realized that Caleb was apparently the only child who had not brought little Halloween treat baggies for all his “friends”. Every Mother with a child in that school had assembled little treat baggies for all the other children, stuffing them with erasers, pencils, play dough and sweets, tying them up with a ribbon and name tag, and finally somehow distributing them to all the other children in the class. My only comfort is that some of the bags were anonymous, so they can just assume that one of those was from their “good friend” Caleb.

I have to say though, that the pay-off this morning was the actual picture. The photographer allowed me to stand beside her, and I watched as she tilted his head and adjusted his arms to make the picture just right. His smile wouldn’t really come, so I just reminded him that the photographer was going to take off his pants. Beautiful.

Comments (3) »

Parenting 201 – The practicum

United States women's national team and former...

United States women’s national team and former North Carolina soccer player Lindsay Tarpley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes life just passes you the ball of opportunity, and if you’re ready, you get to experience the satisfaction of connecting with that ball and sending it flying into a wide-open net. Such was my experience at tonight’s soccer practice, although my time on the field lasted mere minutes. Just an opportune jaunt across the grass, really, but oh the timing… the thrill of a well-placed shot. Glorious.

I’m not actually talking about soccer, although it happened at my children’s soccer practice. Anyone who read last week’s rant will remember my near-apoplexy at the behaviour of two very wayward, poorly behaved youngsters who managed to spoil the game for themselves and their teammates by insisting on calling their own shots and paying absolutely no heed to any authority figure. As providence would have it, the young lady who dominated last week’s blog was now on a different team, so I no longer needed to watch her antics (although a cursory glance at the other field assured us that she was up to the same old tricks from last week). Her brother, however, is still on our older son’s team, and so we watched him as he sat alone in silent protest of the coach’s agenda. Although his coach paid him essentially no attention, he continued sulking, silently picking the grass, waiting to be cajoled to join the team.

As I walked by to bring our son his water bottle, I noticed that he was out of ear-shot for virtually everybody, as his teammates were having a team meeting at the very opposite end of the field and his mother was coaching his young sister’s team further away. I perceived the clean pass, took the ball, and ran with it. I casually sauntered over to the young man, knelt down to his level, and asked,

“So, are you having fun?”

“Kind of,” he replied.

“Not much fun when your teammates are over there and you’re over here, is it?” I suggested.

“I want to run,” was his reply.

“I’m sure your coach has some running planned, but a soccer player who only runs and can’t maneuver a ball is pretty useless.” At this point he had already gotten up and was making his way to join his team, probably a little confused by the fact that there was a strange woman calling him out on his annoying behaviour.

“I just want to run,” he repeated as he walked away. I motioned for him to get moving in the proper direction, and off he went to join his team. I didn’t see him sit again for the rest of the practice.

To be honest, I’d expected more resistance; more attitude. Evidently he isn’t so far gone that a good honest confrontation by a strange adult won’t do the trick. I’ve got my eye on that kid. Little does he know that his own personal life coach is sitting on the sidelines.

Leave a comment »

Parenting 201

Ladies and Gentlemen, I freely admit that today’s post is a rant – pure and simple. If you don’t like that sort of thing, don’t read on. I need to decompress, and since I pay the rent here (figuratively speaking) I will vent as I see fit. If you have ever seen misbehaving children in public and your inner Super-nanny has reared her bold head, you will know what I’m talking about.

Today was Teddy & Sammy’s first soccer practice in a league that we are new to this year. I was feeling relaxed about this new season of soccer, since we now have two children playing and only one to entertain on the sidelines, and we had found a nice shady spot in which to sit and watch. I almost said to Oliver, “I think I could get used to this,” as I sank into our camping chairs, but now I’m glad I didn’t. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’ll make it through the season without suffering a stroke due to high blood pressure.

It all started out innocently enough, as most first encounters among children do. Teddy and Sammy practice simultaneously on adjacent fields, so we were able to watch both at the same time. In Sammy’s SK/grade 1 group there were 9 children; seven boys and two girls. Eight of those children were under the guidance of a coach. The ninth (a girl) had a handy-dandy personal assistant (PA) who looked to be either a much older brother/cousin, or family friend. It soon became evident that she required this personal assistant because she could not receive instruction from the coach. True, she couldn’t receive instruction from the PA either, but perhaps he needed community service hours in order to graduate, and this was his project. One never knows.

Before someone chimes in here and says, “now don’t be so hasty… this child may be suffering from ADHD or something similar,” I will a.) attempt not to roll my eyes and b.) suggest that even parents of children with ADHD would be well advised to follow through on the consequences they promise their children for bad behaviour. In such a case, intentional parenting would be all the more critical. While I don’t doubt that there’s something in our label-happy modern-day Psychology manuals to diagnose this girl, she was obviously very smart and a great puppeteer, seeing as all the adults in her life danced like marionettes as she pulled the strings.

After I had watched this young lady prance around the field in blatant disregard for her PA’s pleas to please join the rest of the group “or else she’ll miss out on the fun!” for 15 minutes, I leaned over to my mild-mannered husband and warned him that I may not be able to sit out the hour without intervening in this situation with some measured words for the princess in pink shin pads. I felt real pity for the young man who was assigned to her, because he obviously had no idea how to claim his rightful place as the authority figure in the situation. He would probably thank some stranger for doing him the favour of giving his young charge a realistic idea of her place in the hierarchy of society.

As I sat there planning out the best approach to stop the insanity of the situation (for she was now running off the field during dribbling practice, and sitting in the net into which her teammates were kicking soccer balls – still pretending that her ears were stuffed with cotton) a female assistant coach walked onto the field, ostensibly to help the first coach run his practice. She obviously knew the girl, and I was curious to see how she would handle the situation. It quickly became clear that she had just as little sway over the girl’s choices, and would merely call for her to “come on and join us!” without ever actually doing anything about the fact that she was now walking the perimeter of the field while the other children were quietly sitting in a team huddle. I looked over to my mild-mannered husband, who now sat deeply in his chair with his hat over his eyes. He couldn’t watch, he said. I was coping by squeezing his hand to release some of my inner tension. I found myself wishing for my stress ball. When Oliver’s hand could take no more, I began firmly massaging Caleb’s shoulders, who happened to be standing in front of me.

At about the same time that I heard this young lady call the coach “Mom,” I also observed that there was a similar situation brewing on our other son’s field right next door, except that this boy was sitting in the grass about 10 feet from the sidelines, waiting for someone to come and cajole him to “join in the fun!” When Sammy’s coach called to the young man in the grass to go and join his teammates, and the young lady’s PA ran over to try his luck with the boy, it was clear that these two children shared the same parentage. It should have tipped me off right away that they were born to the same set of parents because the boy was named after a State on the West Coast, and his sister was named after the Native American tribe that lived there. Cute.

Throughout the practice, Mom would either ignore her children’s misbehaviour (having obviously bought into the psycho-babble that if you ignore your children’s bad behaviour it’ll go away on its own) or she would threaten to leave early. At the respective ages of 6 and 8, this sister and brother team knew full well that the chance of Mom actually following through on her ultimatum was about as great as the chance of a meteor hurtling from space and leaving a giant crater at centre field. They live this way. These behaviours do not suddenly creep up once kids hit school. A 15-month-old baby is already checking to see whether “No” actually means “No,” and whether the promised consequences will come immediately or once Mom has finished counting to 3.

Please understand that I am no perfect parent. The pages of this blog are filled to overflowing with tales of my children’s misbehaviours and my failures as a parent. Since becoming a parent I have become much more gracious of other parents who struggle with tough-to-manage children. I have been there, am living there, and will most likely continue to live there. I understand that there are tough nuts out there, and many of them are under the age of 10. But folks, could we at least all agree to follow through on the promises we make to our children? And to do it in short order? For the sake of their future school teachers, piano teachers, soccer coaches, and parole officers, could we please place a higher priority on letting our children know that when we say “No” that really means “No?” And could we please all agree to just go ahead and let the promised consequence rain down as soon as the children step out of line again after we’ve told them not to (once)? A child doesn’t need three warnings any more than the guy caught drinking and driving does. Although I am not a police officer, I know enough about that line of work to know that no self-respecting police officer will threaten 5 times and then count to 3 before actually slapping the cuffs on a guy. It’s ludicrous in policing, and it’s just as ridiculous and ineffective in the world of parenting.

Yes there are children who are more difficult to parent than others. But as I am learning with my own kids, those are the kids who need the solid boundaries most desperately. When we discussed the soccer practice afterwards, both boys told of their respective Disruptors without any prodding from us. Both commented on how annoying they had been to the rest of the team. And when I asked them whether they thought the Disruptive Duo had had fun, they had to admit that no, they probably hadn’t. It’s not a lot of fun sulking on the sidelines, or not being involved in the practice with your team, simply because you need to wage war with the parent that hasn’t enforced clear boundaries. It was a great moment for us to explain to the kids that we are teaching them obedience because we want them to be happy, not because we want to rob them of their joie de vivre.

No, our children are not perfect; nor is our parenting. But by God’s grace our boys are respectful and obedient to those in authority, and there’s something to be said for that.

Leave a comment »