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Oh, how I remember all those wonderful children I was going to have.
The perfect children who wouldn’t talk back to me, ever have a bad attitude, fight with their siblings, the ones who wouldn’t disobey.
Actually, I think it was more that I was going to be the perfect parent. After all, even before I had children, I knew about original sin. I just always figured that I would respond to it so beautifully and so consistently, that I could help tame the effects of The Fall — at least in my own household. I wouldn’t get tired, I would never allow something to slide because it wasn’t worth battling over, I would certainly not just laugh at the silliness of the moment or the argument, and hope my kids might too.
My then-husband and I married young and waited years to have children, all the while observing all the ill-behaved kids we weren’t going to have. I remember working the church nursery one Sunday, having one little guy serve up a tantrum, handing him back to his parents announcing he was "out of control," and then thanking God quite reverently that we did not have children yet.
Then there are the four real children I did have.
I was laughing about this with other moms and dads recently. Parenthood has a wonderful way of making one so … humble. We all remembered the incredibly well-bred children we were supposed to give birth to, the perfect parents we would have been if only we’d had those children, and then we … reflected on the little ones we’d borne instead. The ones who argued, talked back, fought with siblings, and even at times … disobeyed.
I thought of this as a dear friend of mine my age, who has never had kids, marveled at an instance involving my children a few weeks ago. Olivia, age 7, was picking at something on her face, which for whatever reason irritated Madeleine, age 9. Madeleine asked Olivia in no uncertain terms to stop what she was doing "right now." Believe it or not, Olivia, fully realizing she was bothering her sister, kept on doing it (gasp!) and within moments a fight erupted.
My friend was aghast. I genuinely think that before I’d had kids, I would have been aghast too. (I not only wasn’t aghast; I didn’t think I needed to get much involved in their argument, and pretty soon they moved on to something else.)
That wasn’t as bad as a few years ago, though, when an older family friend was watching my children for less than an hour while I went out to pick up yet another child. Two of my girls started arguing over who was the rightful owner of a plastic ring of some sort. One ended up throwing yogurt on the other to "prove" her point. Our friend, now very much upset, called me to report in and I envisioned the scene: this nice gentleman in a cashmere sweater, the screaming girls with the yogurt arching across the room. There was silence on my end of the line. Finally he asked, "are you. … laughing?"
The truth is, I couldn’t breathe I was laughing so hard.
(Though let’s be clear — that one I got involved in when I got home!)
It didn’t take long after I started having kids to realize that this parenting process is just that — a process of perseverance in helping and training our children. (And in that process, sometimes one just has to laugh at the little stuff and even, once in a while, the big stuff.) A wise older parent once said to me it’s like waves on a rough rock — one thinks that, like the water, one is having little impact. But then over time one looks at that once rough boulder, and realizes that it’s actually a lot smoother right where those waves had been rushing over it all those years.
I thought of that as my friends and I laughed about all those perfect children we didn’t have.
And once again I became so thankful for what I have learned and how I have grown-up as the result of the very real and (I’ve come to see) very wonderful children that I did have.
(Betsy Hart hosts the "It Takes a Parent" radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago. Reach her through betsysblog.com. For more stories, visit scrippsnews.com.)