Monday, August 8, 2011

16374--Fantasy Suggests, Reality Dictates and Household Maintenance Endures

I'd say the dishes are done, but that wouldn't really be true.  I don't think any cleaning is ever done.  It's a cyclical thing.  You can have low points in the cycle, but it never has an end.  That's a basic reality.  This is probably why some people find it so appealing to thrive on take-out food.  That feeds the fantasy of avoiding the persistent drudgery of household maintenance.

As a dad, domestication is more of a requirement.  Household maintenance doesn't just mean taking care of the trash and yard work.  Today, it was taking care of dishes and laundry and sick wife and cooking everyone a breakfast they would eat.  Finicky kids are funny: they'll eat any sweet processed crap a cereal company stuffs into a colorful box, but when someone upon whom their life depends goes into the kitchen and lovingly prepares a custom meal for them they get picky.  Part of being a domesticated dad is learning to fight the urge to unleash swift and blinding violence against the people around you when they become annoying.

"Awww...I don't like this."
"Yes, you do."
"No, I don't."
"You ate it yesterday.  You loved it."
"I'm not hungry."
"You said you were hungry five minutes ago."
"I'm not hungry."
"Just eat it."
*unintelligible grunt* accompanied by a pronounced slouch
"Fine, just pout then."

Noise?  That's just the sound of my internal conflict becoming external, why?  It only sounds like my forehead bouncing off the wall. 

Back when I was single, I had absolutely no responsibility to feed people who annoyed me or even just couldn't decide what they wanted to eat.  If my friends and I got together on the weekends and my turn came up to make a food run, the guys learned quickly to make decisions on what they wanted.  When I got on my feet and pointed my finger, I asked the question "What do you want?" and expected an answer from these people who claimed to be hungry and had me going to get them food.  "Uh..." earned a response of "Nothing for you" and I moved on to the next guy in the poll.  Imminent starvation does wonders for reactivating a society-addled survival instinct.

I'm not a fan of coddling children.  "I don't want spoiled milk," I've always said, "why would I want spoiled kids?"  I've been assured there's a law against throwing them out when they go bad on you.  I trust my mom, so I'm willing to take her at her word, but I also recognize that she carries some bias.  Still, she knows how I feel.  Hey, she took part in raising me, so she's responsible for some of it.  In fact, on my birthdays, I call her to wish her a "Happy Mother's Day" and thank her for not caving in the back of my head with a rock when she had the chance.  Still, we all want our kids to be able to survive out of the nest, but we also want them to have a reasonably comfortable path getting to that point.  Some of them appreciate it and others don't.  A lot of them are clueless.

I've got one video game junkie who's halfway through teenage.  He seems to have decided that I need to teach him humility.  I wouldn't say he has much of an interest in it and he doesn't seem to enjoy it, but at least it makes me laugh.  Like many teens, he seems to think he's smarter, stronger, tougher, etc. than he is.  I think they go through that sort of thing because their growth has them more developed than they've ever been.  It goes to their teen heads, swelling them.  That really seems to make mine hate facing that dad actually is smarter, stronger, tougher, etc. than he is.  The stark reality threatens the gossamer edges of his bubble made from fantasy and denial. 

What can I do, though?  We're like the BEFORE and AFTER pictures in the old Charles Atlas ads.  I can count his ribs, weigh more than twice what he does, can bench press more than three times what he can and my shirts fit him like bedsheets.  When we watch Jeopardy!, his favorite answer is "Uh..."  and I can certainly do his homework better than he can (not that I would do it for him).  I'm a writer, but I get up and do things, too.  He's a kid and he'll stay in bed till noon if he's allowed to.  There's no part of my mind that says my acting like Clark Kent for the sake of his ego is a good idea.

As long as he can keep them to himself, I'm easy-going enough to let him have his fantasies most days.  Kids use fantasy as part of their growth process.  It helps them deal with reality in controlled doses.  It's similar to the way we grown-ups shield them from certain things till we feel they're old enough to deal with them.  So I let him have his a point.  I try to restrain myself from crushing fragile little egos (we want them out of the nest, not curled in a ball in the corner), so I try not to rub his nose in too much reality as long as he doesn't get out of line.  Sometimes, though...well, teenage boy.  Which means, he asks for it.  He doesn't always realize he's doing it, but he does ask for it.

One of the ways a lot of kids learn the limits between their delicate fantasies and our collective reality is to push at the borders.  When that becomes dangerous or just irksome (which I think most parents are probably familiar with), the "teachable moment" flag goes up and parenting time starts.  I used to have a plan for my rambunctious charge to dig himself a hole in the back yard that was deep enough for him to stand in, then have him stand in it while I filled it back in up to his neck.  The last part involved waiting to see how long it took him to break.  Mom, again, said I wouldn't be allowed to do that either.  Another dream fell, shattered.  Well, not really shattered, since I keep it tucked away in one of my happy places.  That means I have to be creative when the parenting balloon goes up.  It also means the kid is not going to enjoy it, but there's no reason for me (the parent) to miss an opportunity for some fun.  When it's your turn, trust me, run with it.  It's part of household maintenance.  It helps keep you, the parent, happy.  Plus, the earlier you deal with...whatever, the happier you'll be in the long run.

Was I ever that bad?  Mom says I wasn't and we've already established that, despite her bias, I trust her.  I was an odd child, preferring to stay in reading and writing even after being licensed to drive.  I grew into an odd adult, but my wife says she's happier that I do this rather than eat pork rinds, drink beer and watch sports.  Admittedly, it means that I do lack some of the exact experiences to draw upon for ammunition, but I've managed to learn a few things about human nature.  For one thing, I'm waiting for the day when each boy will decide it's time to do the Man Dance.  Not all boys have that day, but I've heard that many do.  As a coming-of-age moment, the Man Dance is that special time in a young one's life when he decides it's his time to stand up and challenge his dad, usually because that swelled teen head has gotten the better of him.  It usually ends up with a boy's bubble being burst by reality.

Children also seem to have the ability to poke at my love and compassion in a way that triggers my concern for their lack of developed sensibilities.  Sadly, the kids don't seem to have developed a sense of appreciation for my sarcastic wit.  It can make the life lessons take a little longer and I have to deal with "Huh?" a lot.  I've gotten pretty good at sighing...and shaking my head...and communicating with a stern stare.  Still, I persist.  My brain clings to the idea that it will someday be able to awaken our children's brains.  It has something to do with there being a joy to teaching that brings satisfaction to the soul, I think.  Did I mention the part where it's funny, too?  When I hear the words "Thanks, dad," couched in a distinctive tone of exasperation, I know my work is done.

And when I say "done", I recognize that it's a cyclical thing.  Kids can only handle so much teaching at once and I don't think there's ever an end.  That's just the reality.  Of course, there are days when the teaching/learning part seems that it might be the fantasy.

I feel a sigh coming.

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