Sunday, February 26, 2012


There were Two Little Bears who lived in a Wood,
And one of them was Bad and the other was Good.
Good Bear learnt his Twice Times One -
But Bad Bear left all his buttons undone.
I think I've mentioned once or twice that parenting is one of those things that are not for the fainthearted.

I'm not really thinking of the physical sort of issues that greenlighting the Kid Project will raise, although between back pain, frequent urination, night sweats, and stretch marks the gross physical problems begin early and continue right through into childhood. This adorable baby toes you kissed in his cradle will stank right through the sneakers when he's eight. Just sayin'.

Disgorging dinner at midnight, frantic nosebleeds, random incontinence; puke, blood, and shit - as a parent you are and will be expected to deal with every loathsome aspect of our human frailty and do so with the sort of revoltingly cheerful perkiness that you thought was the province of Cherry Ames, the student nurse in the old hospital stories.
They lived in a Tree when the weather was hot,
And one of them was Good, and the other was Not.
Good Bear learnt his Twice Times Two -
But Bad Bear's thingummies were worn right through.

Then there's the time-management aspect of parenting.

Which is; you won't have any when the little eyes are open, from birth to about age which time you'll spend that time worrying about whether the little eyes are looking into a beer bong, or down the barrel of a gun, or at a naked fourteen-year-old promising to love her forever if she just lets him...

Let's not go there.

You will become a warm-blooded entertainment system and jungle gym. You will read a million stories, tickle a thousand tummies, run a hundred races. You will be soccer team, bridge partner, video-game target.

Plus there's the whole "get through the day" question. Sadly, the genetic programming of hairless monkeys does not include the instincts to tie shoes, comb hair, find classrooms, eat lunch, complete homework, pick up clothing, brush teeth, or invent bedtime stories. So you, the Potentially Responsible Party, need to be on hand to make sure that the progeny do not show up at the classroom door looking like a shoeless inbred from Hootin' Holler trailing a scrap of paper and a broken stick.
They lived in a Cave when the weather was cold,
And they Did, and they Didn't Do, what they were told.
Good Bear learnt his Twice Times Three -
But Bad Bear never had his hand-ker-chee.
And this never stops.

I think I've told you the story about asking my mother when she stopped worrying about me (and I was a difficult and fretful child, I should say; there was never an instance when I had the opportunity to do something that I didn't choose the most fraught, difficult, and fatheaded way to go about it and then insist, when advised that there WAS an easier, simpler, less chancy way to do whatever the thing was jam my fingers in my ears and chant "lalalalalala" as I went on my hardheaded and difficult way) and the look that I got in return which would have curdled fresh milk.

We never stop being parents. When our kids are adults we'll STILL be fretting about their choices, just unable to do more than suggest an alternative.

And what seems like the most unkind and unfair part of the transaction is that we don't get the guarantee of a Happy Ending.

They lived in the Wood with a Kind Old Aunt,
And one said "Yes'm," and the other said "Shan't!"
Good Bear learnt his Twice Times Four -
But Bad Bear's knicketies were terrible tore.
I have a friend; a truly brilliant, put-together woman, funny, inventive, just a great woman. She was cursed with a fairly worthless bag of stupid for a husband but put up with him for twenty years to raise two kids. And one of them, the older girl, is a shifty, treacherous grifter. Charming in her way, much like her father with the ability to deploy a certain amiability as long as it doesn't cost her any effort, but an untrustworthy slacker who lied and cheated her way to getting locked out of her own home.

I have another friend whose son has just stopped giving a shit about his schoolwork. He's a great kid; not dangerous, not angry, or mean, or rebellious, but he just stopped caring about his grades. She has been unable to convince him that in three years he's going to have to earn a living and that without a high school diploma that will be somewhere between difficult and nightmarish.
And then quite suddenly (just like Us)
One got Better and the other got Wuss.
Good Bear muddled his Twice Times Three -
But Bad Bear coughed in his hand-ker-chee!
I could go on and on...the ordinary tales of domestic woe that seem to visit every family in some way or another. When you think about it, it's rather amazing that any kid manages to get into young adulthood sane, unmaimed, and without an arrest record.

My littles are, thank Zoroaster, too small yet for me to have those sorts of worries.

And yet, there are always enough troubles in the world to spawn more.

In their cases, I look at them and try to peer down the road towards adolescence to divine who will have an easy puberty, who a hard one? Who will find themselves the narrow road through the mountains of teen age to the broad, sunlit uplands of a happy and prosperous adulthood, who the broad path down to the hell of trouble and pain?

If you'd asked me a year ago I'd have said the Girl was a likely candidate for the former and the Boy the latter.
Good Bear muddled his Twice Times Two -
But Bad Bear's thingummies looked like new.
Good Bear muddled his Twice Times One -
But Bad Bear never left his buttons undone.
Because Missy had the happy, sunny, open, loving sort of personality that lends itself to happiness. People loved her easily, were charmed by her instantly. The black keys of bossiness and touchiness were well hidden as she cheerfully played her preschool arpeggios.

The Boy, at seven, was already showing the kinds of things that made me such a heart-attack for my parents back in the day. Sulky, hard-headed, touchy, easily angered and disappointed, easily frustrated and discouraged. Those two touchstones of school failure; laziness and combativeness.

The negatives tended to outfight the positives for the Peep; his loving, clever, artistic, creative side would just get buried under the weight of the miserable little guy who seemed to lack the facility for happiness.

I dreaded his walking the same road I had, and, yet, seemed unable to do anything about that.But.

(And you knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you?)

Lately the little Bears have been trading places.

Take yesterday.

The Boy and I had a terrific day. We went all around Portland in the truck, spent time together looking through Pokemons and buying a new game at our favorite hobby store, agreed that the line at OMSI was, like, crazy long so went down to the Nickel Arcade and shot the hell out of some Terminators (where the Boy drove home the fact that twenty years of military service doesn't make you a better shot than ten months of playing first-person shooter games) and then stopped off at Burgerville for some fries.

Back home we ran down to his school and had a chilly kickabout under the covered training area where he showed me how to head the ball (grin...) and then out for coffee and cocoa and bowling(!) - the only blip; he didn't do well and was pretty sullen about it.

But then we went home for dinner, a movie, and then a couple of games, which he won with glee and good sportsmanship.

He was a great kid and a good companionWhilst we were about that, The Girl and her mom were having a truly difficult day. They went to our little North Portland consignment craft store, Scrap, where Missy was clingy and sulky, then home, to where she was whiny and cranky. She glumped, fussed, and whined through most of the day, only perking up in the evening to become more like her happy self.

She snarled and complained about being asked to pick up her toys and clothes. She was instantly sullen if she was denied a moment's attention from her mom. She was, more than she had ever been, much as she had been lately, something of a jagged little pill.
There may be a Moral, though some say not;
I think there's a moral, though I don't know what.
But if one gets better, as the other gets wuss,
These Two Little Bears are just like Us.
So I think I've come all this way just to settle upon another Hazard of Parenting they don't tell you about in "What To Expect When You're Expecting"; the uncertainty of it all.

Not only can they not promise you the happy ending, I'm starting to think there's no real way to figure out where the damn thing is, or how to get there, or to feel confident you'll know when you have arrived, or even whether you've already achieved it and are coasting into the winner's circle.

In short, we're back where we started; parenting is a contact sport, and anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.
For Christopher remembers up to Twice Times Ten ...
But I keep forgetting where I put my pen.*

*So I have had to write this one in pencil.

~ A.A. Milne
Oh, and the last picture? That's the church where Mojo and I were married ten years ago this October.

Full circle.

Or, let's hope, at least halfway.

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