The exhaustion of parenting (I can only assume)

April 2, 2013

My mom has, on several occasions (presumably during rare moments of particular adoration), proudly recounted one of her personal victories in parenting. Judging by how I turned out, I’m not sure she has too many of those, so this story is sort of big for both of us. “Your first public hissy-fit”, she calls it.

She and my dad had brought me along to Giant Eagle on a grocery shopping trip.* And no, this isn’t the horror story that every adult has tucked away deep in some fold of their memory, in which their parents lost them in the supermarket. Although that did happen. I won’t go into it.

*For the sake of clarity, any southerners can pretend we’re in Piggly Wiggly.

I was apparently being one horrible 2-year-old son-of-a-bitch, suddenly breaking down and screaming for no reason, as 2-year-old sons-of-bitches are apt to do. I guess I was really putting it on this time: tears, stomping, laying on the laminate floor so as to form a hysterical, embarrassing road block with no regard for hygiene, etc. Like I said, horrible. “Oh, you were going out of your mind!”

Now, my mom faced a serious decision here. Does she just give me what I want (whatever it was) and continue shopping? Does she yell at me in the middle of the store? Does she hit me, showing her son and every shopper nearby just who the boss is?

“Nope.” Her back straightens as the anecdote reaches its climax. “I picked you up, told your dad to finish shopping, and took you straight home. I put you in your room and left you there until you stopped being ridiculous.”

Bold move, mom. And the outcome? With a sly smile, she declares:

“You never once threw a tantrum in public again.”

Now that’s parenting.

.

Today I watched a kid throw the hissy-fit of his life in a check-out line. His mom, alone, was charged with corralling three children while attempting to pay for the coloring books she was probably planning on using to quiet them down so she could enjoy the smutty novel she’d also placed on the counter. But coloring wasn’t enough. Jeffrey wanted more.

[I don’t think Jeffrey was the kid’s name. In fact, I don’t recall the mother using his name at all in the whole ordeal, which in hindsight seems odd. But that’s some familial psychology I’m really not fit even to ponder. But he definitely seemed like a Jeffrey.]

“You’re telling me I can’t have a game? MOM! I CAN’T HAVE A GAME?!”

He wanted a Nintendo DS. Not a ball attached to a cup with a string. Not Connect Four. A Nintendo DS.

“Are you KIDDING ME?”

He had actually learned some very impressive phrasing in his short life, and his inflection and general way of speaking were probably better than average at that age.

“So you’re saying NO GAME?!”

She kept handing him whatever kick-knacks were sitting by the register in an effort to satisfy or at least distract him. No dice.

“I NEED THE GAME.”

She gave him a tiny LED flashlight made to look like a fun-sized Mr. Goodbar. “Here honey. Here. This is for you.”

“THIS IS NOT THE GAME!”

Exchanging wide-eyed looks with the other people in line, I wondered what kind of life Jeffrey would end up leading. If this is the sort of parenting he receives every day, how is this kid being conditioned to react to the boundless trials of the world? What if Jeffrey ends up being a real ass hole?

And is that what parenting is? A never-ending series of moments in which you need to decide, on the fly, what actions to take in order to ensure your offspring don’t turn into ass holes?

.

Are there bad parents in the wild, in the animal kingdom? It always seems like it’s entirely instinctual. Animals just know how to raise their kids, because they don’t have, you know, books.

But really, out of all the species in the whole world making babies because that’s the only thing they know how to do, there have to be some individuals out there who just don’t have any idea what the hell they’re doing. They just vomit chewed-up worms into their kid’s mouth every time it chirps at them, and then never kick them out of the nest. There’s got to be a momma bear who, instead of teaching her cub to forage scenic babbling brooks and interstate camp sites, just catches bunch of salmon for him while he lays on the shore playing with himself.

There’s a pride of lions somewhere that gets quietly irked because little Simba never contributes to the hunt. His well-intentioned mommy Sarabi had always given him a little extra from her portion of the antelope carcass; and now, a teenager pushing adulthood, he’s come to expect still-warm flesh delivered to him after each kill. He just shoves himself right in the mix and bites anyone in his way. The other lionesses share knowing, annoyed glances and later complain about “Simba, the spoiled brat”.

But they never confront his mom about it. No way. You don’t just tell someone they’re raising their kids the wrong way. Because then somehow you’re the ass hole whose parents never taught you not to be rude.

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