Dad, Now I Understand

My parent’s wisdom:
fits better with age, although
acknowledged too late.

………………………………………………………..

The title of this posting is one of the hardest to see in writing. Who wants to admit their parent may actually have a valid point? Granted, it is far easier to acknowledge in my 40’s than in 20’s, but still, it ain’t easy. This one especially…

me and dad - no stress here! I love you dad!

One of my least favorite memories as a child (and there are very few of these) was when my dad, completely frustrated by the fact that I wasn’t ready for school yet and we were very late, left without me. My recall of this event centers on me trying hard to get ready, but being foiled by my inability to fasten my sandals: the strap was the type with the holes in it, and you had to push the floppy pin into it and thread the end of the strap through the buckle. Know which I mean?  The single most complicated system for children who are struggling with fine motor skills, the inventor of which was a complete dick? Anyway, I was really having a hard time, almost in tears because I couldn’t make it work, and he walked out the door.

(Before you scream child abuse, my grandmother lived with us… I wasn’t alone or in danger.)

Again, my recall of this event, which is shadowy and tortured because, well, I was 6, is a little dodgy. I believe (but am not sure) I walked to school, which was 3 blocks away through residential neighborhoods; I had to cross two streets (again, not complicated or dangerous). I was exceptionally responsible, even back then — even if I couldn’t get my shoe on, I knew that not going to school wasn’t an option, so I made it happen. And in that moment, my little 6-year-old brain vowed to never, ever leave my kid like dad did.

Flash forward several decades to the early years with my first-born, AP. I recall being at the mall and hearing other moms bribe their children into attentiveness with the phrase “I’m going to leave without you, Stephen! Get over here now!!”. I would stand there, judging these moms, disdainfully thinking to myself how horrible they were for promising abandonment. I told myself that I would only ever threaten that which I would actually do, and I would never, ever leave my child.

Flash forward again to the present and this first-born is now 9 years old. She is a highly capable young person. She has 2 arms and 2 legs. She seems to do well in school or has learned how to bribe her teachers into saying so (either of which indicates a fairly high level of thinking/problem solving skills). She is potty trained and regularly feeds herself. And yet, she seems incapable of getting her god damned shoes and socks on without being told one thousand, two hundred and sixty-six times each effing morning.

You know what’s coming… I almost left her the other day. I was beside myself pissed off. We live 2 minutes from school – and my husband can easily take the kids on mornings I’m not able to – but when I plan on it, and she is huckity-pucking around petting the dog or counting the rice crispies that fell on the floor during breakfast… well, let’s just say my patience runs a wee bit thin.

That morning, in a seething fit of “through my teeth” talking (would.you.get.your.blasted.shoes.on.now!), I realized with a pang of horror and remorse that I, gulp, now fully and completely understood why my father had left on that day so many years ago. I now believe that had he not left he would have done or said something horrid. Something that I was fully prepared to say at that very moment.

In the end, I took a ragged breath and stood up straight (I had assumed a hunched monkey position, so that I could look her in the eye with that “don’t eff with mommy today” look). I slowly turned, walked out the back door and went to the car. “Walk out and she will come, walk out and she will come,” I thought to myself. And you know what? She did.

And then she left again because she had forgotten something.

I let out an anguished scream as she bolted for the house; lucky for her she was back in a flash (the car was already in reverse).  And after my little “in the rear view mirror so you only see my narrowed eyes and furrowed brow” speech about her responsibility-each-morning-old-enough-to-handle-this-without-being-told-a-million-times, we came to an understanding. So far, so good — or I should say, so far the required number of shoes and socks reminders hasn’t exceeded the low double digits.

I still have a hard time with the “do this or I’ll leave you” approach to child behavior management as it really pangs me to think about it from the kid’s perspective. But I now have far more compassion for my dad’s actions in that moment than I have had for the last 38 years.

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3 Comments

  1. I think we all have memories of things that we swear we will never say or do to our kids. I always though my parents were mean hateful people and I said I was going to be a “cool” Mom. Now mind you, my parents had a few Harley Davidsons, tattoos and were FAR cooler than my friend’s parents…but I still thought they were horrible. Here I am 3 kids later channeling their voices 30 years and 1500 miles. They weren’t nearly as bad as I thought they were. 😉

    Reply
  2. I have found that most of the parents who subscribe to this threat ‘Do what I say or I will leave you behind’ never really follow through with it. I have friends who would say it over and over and over again and do nothing. After a while, children pick up on that.

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  3. Once you are actually a parent, and have been pushed to your limits, the things your parents did make a lot of sense. I have done things with/to my son that I swore I never would.

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