Things I’ve Learned the Hard Way, Parenting Edition

Recently Ace offered up a useful piece of advice: “If you ever pick up a toad and it seems extra squishy, be careful, because that means it’s about to pee on you. I had to learn this the hard way.”

When Sonny nodded sympathetically, Ace asked him if he’d ever had to learn anything the hard way. He had. Specifically: “When you are really tired and your eye is bleeding, don’t ride your bike, because you will crash it.”

(It’s good to learn from others’ mistakes, so everyone take heed.)

My sons wanted to know what sorts of things I’d learned the hard way. I paused, wanting to select the most useful example among so many. It’s best to tell the truth the first time? People who gossip to you will also gossip about you? Do what is right despite what other people think? You can’t pull words back in once you’ve unleashed them?

While I considered, Sonny and Ace wandered away. Perhaps they’d already learned the hard way that my particular expression was a portent of a boring tale.

But now I was thinking about things I’d learned the hard way during my eight-plus years of parenting, and of the many more that will come. Some plant deep regrets. Others may not be as harsh, but they’re still worth tucking away so as not to have to learn them a second time. Here are but a few of those:

  1. Parenting books never include enough disclaimers and may tempt the reader to take false hope in particular formulas.
  2. Never let your vehicle to be without something that can serve as an emergency barf bucket.
  3. The child who is seemingly talking to himself in the living room for 15 minutes may in fact be talking to a toad. (May it not be an extra-squishy one.)
  4. Telling your kids that your name is not But Mom will send them to the floor in homophone-induced hilarity. Also, they will still call you But Mom but now will probably laugh while doing so.
  5. To mention that the entire household has remained exceptionally healthy this winter is to invite trouble.
  6. The kid crafting the paper airplane from the church bulletin may suddenly launch it over the heads of fellow congregants, even if he has always previously kept these airplanes grounded.
  7. Not all root beer is caffeine free.
  8. The longer you wait to respond to the Sign-Up Genius for the school event, the more likely it is that you will end up providing chocolate spoons or cheesecake on a stick instead of ketchup or paper plates.
  9. It’s unwise to take one child to urgent care with strep-throat symptoms early on a Sunday without confirming that his brother, who is still abed, does not have similar symptoms. Making two back-to-back trips to urgent care feels very inefficient.
  10. If you get pulled over for going a wee bit over the speed limit with a three-year-old in the back seat, that three-year-old will proudly and with great relish rat you out to everyone he sees for the next two weeks.
  11. Failure to warn your kids from the get-go that the Tooth Fairy keeps an erratic schedule may require you to scrape up early-morning excuses for her unpunctuality.
  12. Despite best efforts, sometimes the hard way is the only way to learn.

What have you learned the hard way?

Sixteen Insights from Children’s Books, with Apologies to the Bobbseys

I loved my grandparents’ house for many reasons. Crafts, Boggle games, the pond, the swings, strawberry plants, the cookie jar (thoughtfully located in a lower cupboard, accessible to even the youngest child), croquet, the purple tandem bike, and, of course, Grandpa and Grandma. I also loved the book stash. Grandma was both the church librarian and a school librarian, and, as such, inherited custody of the cast-off books. Although most had achieved their “withdrawn” status by becoming almost too tattered to read, they were still readable as long as one kept track of the molted pages. Walter the Lazy Mouse, Pippi Longstocking, the book about the bunnies and the weasel (I forgot the title): I loved them all.

Well, almost all. Love doesn’t describe my opinion of the elderly copies of The Bobbsey Twins. These books held enough of my interest for me to scan them, but little more. It wasn’t the adventures I found so implausible (although for a family from the early part of the 20th century they were suspiciously well-traveled) but the four protagonists themselves. Such goody-goodies. Seldom was their behavior inappropriate, and when it was, they repented immediately and with great remorse.

These “four youngsters” were what teachers would call “a good example to others.” They often smacked of a lesson. Let’s just all acknowledge that few books that trot out lessons are enjoyable literature.

I much preferred Pippi.

Still, many beloved children’s books do contain a bit of wisdom—not that which clobbers kids with the sense that they should emulate Freddie and Flossie and their ilk, but a gentler variety, subtly woven into the story. They offer insights that I hope penetrate my kids’ outlook on others, themselves, and life in general.

Insights such as these:

1.  “The world is full of talkers, but it is rare to find anyone who listens. And I assure you that you can pick up more information when you are listening than when you are talking.” The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White.

2.  “All children have gifts; some open them at different times.” Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco.

3.  “You can be happy and sad at the same time, you know. It just happens that way sometimes.” The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster.

4.  “Sometimes when you’re different you just need a different song.” Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae.

5.  “‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.” Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.

6.  “[May] understood people and she let them be whatever way they needed to be. She had faith in every single person she ever met, and this never failed her, for nobody ever disappointed May. Seems people knew she saw the very best of them, and they’d turn that side to her to give her a better look.” Missing May by Cynthia Rylant.

7.  “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes.

8.  “Olivia’s mother gives her a kiss and says, ‘You know, you really wear me out. But I love you anyway.’” Olivia by Ian Falconer.

9.  “They were two close friends sitting alone together.” Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Loebel.

10.  “’I like it better here, where I can just sit quietly and smell the flowers.’ Ferdinand’s mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.” The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.

11.  “I’ve heard tell that what you imagine sometimes comes true.” Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

12.  “How can we feel so different and be so alike?” Stellaluna by Janell Cannon.

13.  “Talent is something rare and beautiful and precious, and it must not be allowed to go to waste.” The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden.

14.  “You never fill your own bucket when you dip into someone else’s.” Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud.

15.  [On the closing of a library] “There will be consequences!” Aunt Chip and the Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polocco.

16.  “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Inspired by these and similar quotations worth pondering, I asked Sonny and Ace what they had learned from books. Surely one of their favorite stories had offered some epiphany on the human experience. Surely they had not only subconsciously internalized wisdom such as the aforementioned but even consciously reflected on a worthwhile message or two.

And they had. Both spoke up promptly.

Sonny: “I learned that before the Lions were a Detroit team, they played in Ohio and were called the Spartans.”

Ace: “I learned that Zane, the White Ninja, is also known as the Titanium Ninja.” *

Fair enough. Read on, everyone, and learn what you will. Enjoy your books.

*He then proceeded to deliver a Ninjago quiz, which I failed miserably.