17 June 2010

How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth...

...are my children.

And curse you, Will Shakes, for penning words that have proven only too true under my roof.

If she must teem,
Create her child of spleen, that it may live
And be a thwart disnatur'd torment to her!
Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,
With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks,
Turn all her mother's pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt, that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child!


King Lear Act 1, scene 4, 281–289


To make matters worse, I have teemed five times, so that five serpents' teeth can cut me to the quick. What have I done to deserve the cadent tears and the wrinkled brow? I am no less innocent than Cordelia herself, and yet I endure the eye-rolling, the puffs of disgust and the scorn in spades. What have I done to deserve this?

Oh, THAT'S right: I decided to take the kids somewhere fun today. No wonder my name is anathema to them.

We were having an uneventful day around here. Three World Cup Games had already been viewed by 1:00 pm. Two kids were playing outside, a few were hanging around inside. I got an email from a friend that a group of moms and kids was meeting at a local park around 1:30. I had been doing work and chores all morning, so I figured it would be good to get everyone out of the house for awhile.

Note to parents: Never interupt a perfectly boring day with the suggestion that you do something fun with your family. When I made that mistake, the complaining started. And the bickering and the fighting and the back-stabbing.

I want to go to the beach instead. Who's going to be there? Do we HAVE to bring Tallulah? Stop being stupid, [Insert Sibling Name Here]. HE PUNCHED ME. I don't want to wear shoes! Can't we go somewhere else? I-don-wanna-go-pee-first-why-do-you-always-make-me-do-that-I-don-wanna. I'm staying here. SHOT GUN! NO I CALLED SHOT GUN! YOU HAD IT LAST TIME! IT'S MY TURN! HE ALWAYS GETS SHOT GUN. MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! SHUT UP YOU STUPID IDIOT. Mom, make her stop or I am going to punch her. Can we bring [insert 20 different toys or 10 friends that live 30 minutes away or a catered meal]? WHY NOT? You are SO mean.


If that weren't unpleasant enough, the stalling made it positively unbearable. How long, exactly, does it take to put on a pair of shoes? And why do you need to change clothes three times at the last minute, only to end up wearing what you started with in the first place? And how hard is it to clear the table of your three lunch dishes and why am I asking you to do it 5+ times before it gets done?

And then there was the car ride. Nearly dead from the effort to get them in the car in the first place, I was then treated to a 10-minute trip during which they managed to insult each other, make each other cry, scream, complain bitterly that I don't care about them, and freak out over various minor offenses.

Why, oh why are they so downright unpleasant?

Must be because I am ineffective as a parent. Sure, that's it. If I were more consistent, or more organized, or more competent, they'd all hop to and do my bidding, right? Well, then they're as screwed as I am.

Thomas Hobbes had it almost right: Children are nasty, brutish and short. Apparently, I need to establish a social contract with my own kids.

* * *

We went to the park. They had fun. I was exhausted. I am not sure it was worth it.

* * *

Part of the adventure of our 5 hour road trip on Sunday included having to stop in a dinky little gold rush town on our return trip to change a tire. Imagine that little tableaux for a moment. Everyone's tired and hopped up on birthday cake and soda. Everyone knows we will be cooped up together in a car for at least 2.5 hours. And we realize that that rushing sound we are hearing is our rear passenger tire, gushing air out of a hole in the valve stem. So, we pulled over and found an empty lot where Rick could put the spare on while the kids could occupy themselves without being in danger of (a) getting hit by a car or (b) knocking the car off of the jack.

It only took about 30 minutes. It was the best 30 minutes of watching my kids that I've experienced in quite a while. They played soccer: Sam, Elizabeth and Tallulah against Vincenzo and Lola. They were downright gracious and kind to each other. They played hard, with good sportsmanship. The olders passed the ball to the littles, and went a touch easier on them too. Sam was the very picture of the Perfect Oldest Brother. They encouraged each other, and laughed at their own missteps. It was one of those moments when having a big family really is about always having a crowd to play with and always having a tribe to watch your back. I just sat back and watched them play, honored to witness the kind of freedom and happiness that adults can't remember experiencing.

That's what I want for my kids. Watching them that evening, many miles from home, I saw that they do and will have each other for their entire lives and that when push comes to shove, they'll take care of each other. They really do love each other, despite their serpentine days. I'm going to hold on to that and pray that sometime before Sam graduates from high school, I get to see another 30 minutes like the ones we spent in the setting summer sun, in a parking lot far, far away, changing a tire and having a happy family.

* * *

Today, they were pure evil to me and to each other.

And so goes the yin and yang of family life.

* * *

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