My favorite overused joke is about how once Chickadee becomes a teenager, it’s either military boarding school (for her) or the Witness Protection Program (for me). I still feel woefully ill-equipped to handle a teenager, but I guess I’ll be getting one in a few years whether I’m ready or not.
The thing is, though, everything’s a moving target. I remember having one of those deep, philosophical conversations, once, with a mentor who was already a senior citizen when I was in college. “I think about it, now,” I said, “and 50 or 60 seems really OLD, to me. But maybe that’s because I’m 20. Maybe when I’m 30, I’ll see 70 as old. And when I’m 40, 80. Do you ever FEEL old or does it keep shifting like that?” He assured me that the “scary old” age just keeps moving forward as you age (and at least so far in my experience, that’s been true).
So, really, maybe I needn’t worry. Maybe by the time we get there, it’ll be okay. I’ve certainly figured out lots of things I never expected, so far.
Why, those bonus chapters that we all know should come with the parenting manual are just piling up, around here. And they’re all sorts of things I never imagined being part of my experience. Consider these recently-added items, each suitable for a dedicated chapter:
It’s Only Hair. No, perhaps you didn’t picture yourself with a long-haired hippie of a son. Perhaps some days it’s less amusing than others when people ask what your “little girl” would like and he pipes up, “ACTUALLY, I’m a boy!” This same child will assure you that he loves being awesome, because he is and you didn’t squash him over something silly like a haircut.
How To Do Cheap At-Home Hair Streaks. The secret is waterproof Sharpies. NON-waterproof Sharpies will leave ink on your hands, your clothes, and your sheets. (Go ahead, ASK ME how I know this.)
Baby Steps to Laundry Freedom. Sure, you have to do all of the laundry for a while. Then you can recruit the kids to pair their socks. After a while, you can just give them a basket of clean, folded clothes to put away. Next, it’s an unsorted basket and zipping your lips about folding techniques. And finally—sweet freedom—they can be taught to launder independently. I hear.
Discussing Testicles at the Dinner Table. I’m a big believer in teaching kids the proper terms for things, but they also need to know the slang. And feel like they can ask questions and get honest answers from their parent. It turns out that there are a LOT of alternative terms for the family jewels. I hope you’re hungry!
Discussing Homosexual Sex at the Dinner Table. Testicles are dinner conversation, but “But wait… HOW do they… you know…?” should wait until after dessert. We’re not ANIMALS, people.
Let’s All Use Our Inside Voice, Continued. This one begins in early childhood, of course, but as the children age it turns out that it’s Mom who really needs to learn how to turn down the volume. Even when a big glass of water has just been spilled onto her keyboard by a kid who was “just twirling a little” in her desk chair.
Defusing Responsibility: Hazard Objects and Light Sources. Everyone knows that if you have a sibling, anything left where it doesn’t believe either belongs to or was touched last by someone other than you. Ditto for lights left on. As a parent, it’s your job to lovingly explain why it doesn’t matter one bit whose it is or why it was left on, it just needs to be dealt with before your eyelid begins to twitch.
Defusing Responsibility: Actions and Disappearances. Similarly, broken items are always someone else’s fault, and missing items were last used by The Bad Child. Much like learning to bluff in poker, the resilient parent learns to appear unruffled by problems with missing/broken items belonging to the children, and to appear just on the verge of complete insanity to extract a confession about personal belongings not meant to be touched by the children in the first place.
Ignoring bullies didn’t work when you were a kid, and it still doesn’t. Telling your kid to ignore a bully only confirms that you are too stupid to live. Suggest, instead, that your child either smiles broadly and says, “Thank you SO MUCH!” or that she look as bored as possible while replying, “And your point is…?” (This works best with a streak of purple in her hair, by the way.)
Sharing a timeless love of the arts. Most of the time, you’re hopelessly uncool. But occasionally you will have some precious knowledge which will be of some use. Such as: The last line of the greasy grimy gopher guts song is not, in fact, “… and I forgot my spoon.” It is “… and I forgot my spoon… BUT I GOT MY STRAAAAAAAW! *slurping noise*” That will net bonus points that may last an entire day.
It’s always an adventure, that’s for sure.