By Barbara Falconer Newhall, The Oakland Tribune, Sunday, April 16, 1989
I was on the phone with my mentor. “Tell me it gets easier,” I sighed.’
“Well, actually it gets harder,” said Nancy. Nancy has a daughter three years older than Peter. She keeps me briefed on the parenting realities ahead.
The kids were still pre-schoolers then, and it had been another night of sleep deprivation for me. The dream monster had been nibbling on Christina’s finger again. And, once again, I had been up at 2 a.m. sharp to escort Peter and his developing bladder to the bathroom.
“Kindergarten,” I promised myself as I felt my way back to bed in the dark. “Kindergarten,” I sighed as I bumped into Jon’s side of the bed again. “Rrngh,” grumbled Jon – again. Jon was looking forward to kindergarten, too. If we could just survive preschool, things would get better.
Mothering school-age kids would be a piece of cake after this. Having two of those dear, middle-aged children with the bony knees and the freckled noses would be fun.
No more nightmares. No more Play Dough on the kitchen floor. No more jam in the hair.
Once they reached kindergarten, Peter and Christina would be old enough to talk, but not old enough to talk back. They would be post-Oedipal, but pre-pubescent.
We could go camping together. We could travel. Our children would hang on our words as Jon and I introduced them to baseball, politics, art, books – all the things we loved.
But my mentor is not one to pull punches.
“No. It gets harder,” she insisted. “It’s a different set of worries, and it’s harder. They have problems at school or with their friends. They’re too fat. They’re too thin. They’re not chosen for the school play. They don’t want to do the things you want them to do.”
“But I will be sleeping through the night, won’t I?” If I could just get enough sleep, I reasoned, things would at least seem better.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “And you don’t have to watch them every minute. But you do worry more.”
And so it is.
Our children are ages 5 and 8 now. They’re grownup kids. They can take themselves to the potty. They know the difference between the knife and the fork, though they still prefer the finger and the thumb. When they squirt the mustard these days, most of it lands on the hot dog.
When reminded, they do their homework, feed the cats and empty the garbage. Without reminding, they collect their allowance and find the way to the kitchen at the sound of popcorn popping.
She can button her own shirt, if the buttons are in front. When they are not, she problem solves. She wears the shirt backward.
He can tie his own shoelaces. On special occasions, he does.
He knows where his laundry hamper is located. And now that he is 8, he can place things in it from across the room with grace and accuracy – the soccer ball, the homework pencil, the wet bathing suit.
Now that she is 5, she can put her Cinderella tape into the VCR. She can turn on the TV, though she still can’t turn it off.
As Nancy forewarned, Peter now has opinions. The six plaid, flannel lumberjack shirts bought on sale last fall are not cool. The King Tut T-shirt with the stain and the rip is.
Peter does not want to go to the art day camp, the one with the beautiful, woodsy setting and the hours so convenient to mom’s work schedule. He is looking for a football camp that takes 8-year-olds.
Unlike his parents and grandparents before him, Peter is not drawn to a career in journalism. He does not look forward to the examined life, a life in service to humanity. He wants to go to law school and make money.
As infants and toddlers, Christina and Peter were angels. They were God’s carefully wrought gifts to Jon, Barbara and human history. They glowed with newness and perfection. Their eyes were wide with infinite potential.
But now the teeth are coming in crooked. The skin is marred by chicken pox scars. She bumps into things when she runs. He is still afraid to draw. We worry that he is too gregarious, that she is too shy.
My darlings are not perfection after all. They are not angels. It grieves me to have to report that my children apparently will be bumbling through life as mere humans, just like mom and dad.
But I can take it. I’m tough. I got a good night’s sleep last night.
Reprinted by permission of the Oakland Tribune
More about life’s ambiguities at “Time to Crack Open That Hope Chest and Live a Little.” And more about Peter at “Kids Who Cheat.”
PS: It turns out that my kids — and my life in general — aren’t the only far-from-perfect things floating around in the Universe. Take a look at this NASA video of the June, 2012, transit of Venus across the sun. NASA’s images of the sun’s optical light and some bands of its ultraviolet light make it clear that that great hot source of (almost) all things Earthly is far from perfect: The sun is full of blobs and swirls and inconsistencies. Aren’t we all?