I’m going to be straight up. There are a few things about being a parent that I dread almost more than death. In fact, if you catch me on the right day, almost might come out of the equation.
Now I’m not talking about the normal go-tos. The dirty diapers, cleaning up puke and potty training are obvious and frankly, child’s play. No, I’m talking about the insidious things that generally come later in life. Things like:
–Recorder concerts – Now I recognize that I am going to have to attend a lot of different recitals/concerts/sporting events with varying degrees of talent being showcased. That’s not a problem. If a child of mine has an interest in something, I am more than happy to support them and attend said events as they work through the difficult early days prior to their talent and hard work paying off. It is part of the parent/child contract, and something I am happy to do. But Thatcher schools has this crazy idea that in third grade, they need to give every child (Not those with an interest in music. We are talking every child) a recorder. Wait a minute, I take that back, they require us as parents to go buy every child a recorder. Now for those who don’t know, a recorder is a poor man’s version of the clarinet and, when played incorrectly, is first cousins with a dog whistle. Needless to say, third graders play them incorrectly about 97% of the time. So, they force each of these children to learn a few songs on the recorder (which requires wayyyyy too much practice time at home) and then invite all the parents to come and listen to their children play these songs they’ve been enduring at home for the past month in a concert setting. What you discover is that no child has learned to play the recorder any better than your child has and so if you close your eyes, you realize that the “concert” could just as easily be a mass exercise in torture at your local bird sanctuary. I have now survived two of these blitzkrieg assaults on my eardrums and am steeling myself now for the third one which will take place next year. But I never give up on the dream of some congressman finding an obscure entry in the Obamacare bill that requires the immediate destruction of all recorders nationwide. I know it’s not likely to happen, but come on. Have you seen the size of that bill? And it does purport to encourage preventative healthcare. I can’t think of anything more preventative than taking away all the recorders so I don’t accidently break one over the head of some unsuspecting and undeserving music teacher.
–Pinewood Derby Cars – There are many reasons I am hoping this baby we are expecting is a girl. Daughters have a way of nestling their way directly into a father’s heart. They also do not require the father to make a pinewood derby car each year between the ages of 8 and 10. Oh how I hate this rite of passage that the scouting organization forces upon its members. The main problem is, I am not a skilled worker of wood nor do I own a lot of tools needed for effective wooden car construction. So, I am left with these admittedly imperfect options. I can build it from scratch and have a wonderful bonding experience with my son that is shot to h#@! the minute we put that car on the track and it finishes a good three second behind all of the other cars. That’s what happened to my oldest son on our first attempt. The next option is to go to Hobby Lobby and purchase a pre-cut car that looks awesome, but requires very little from me. I basically have to hand it to my son with a sheet of sandpaper and say, “Get after it, bud.” and then go park myself in front of the TV, providing “expert” examinations on the wood’s smoothness at varying intervals. This is what we did the second year and while the bonding was definitely lacking, my son took first place in his age bracket and was thrilled. The only downside was the nagging guilt I felt at my lack of involvement in my son’s success. This year, I was faced with the perfect storm I’d been dreading for months. It was the only year I would have two sons in the cub scouting program at the same time, requiring me to build two cars instead of one. So, I did what any delinquent father would do and I bought tickets to the ASU/UofA basketball game that was scheduled for the same day as the pinewood derby and I got them and myself the heck out of Dodge. Surprisingly, I felt less guilt with this option than I did with the pre-cut car. Go figure. Anyway, this year worked out so well, I am half thinking of making this a tradition for at least…the next two years. Even if ASU is playing in Pullman, Washington that weekend, I will still have to give it serious consideration.
–The Birds and the Bees Talk – Another reason I am rooting for baby #5 to be a girl is this horrific life moment that any decent parent cannot escape. Shannon and I have a deal. She will take the girls and I will take the boys. I would assume most other couples would have a similar arrangement, but there is no way in Hades I’m ever gonna ask. Because I really don’t want to know if there is a couple out there that doesn’t. Anyway, when my oldest daughter reached this pinnacle of life, my wife got on Facebook and started gathering a hundred different ideas on how best to handle this. She got books and she went into that talk as prepared as if she were facing a final in her last semester of college. She did great. She covered every base and was ready for every question. I was proud of her. As it turned out, she either did such a good job, or my daughter just isn’t a real talker about personal things, but she had relatively few questions to deal with. I was hoping and praying for similar experience.
Anyone who knows my oldest son is knowingly shaking their heads right now. There isn’t a topic on this planet that involves science in any way that isn’t going to get fully dissected by a thousand inquiries. I should have known this. But I didn’t. I think I chose to approach this whole thing with a dash of denial.
So, on a warm spring morning, I took him to get a Dairy Queen blizzard and we went and parked under a tree. I didn’t have books, I didn’t have diagrams and I didn’t have any great ideas provided by my network of social media friends. I just laid it out as best I could. I tried not to hold anything back and then I waited…hoping…gaining confidence with each passing second that he just sat there eating his ice cream.
And then the dam burst.
He started off easy enough, but then he moved to things that I hadn’t thought of until well into my high school years. He even threw in a few questions I couldn’t answer. By and large, when it was over, it had ended up being a good experience for us. And if nothing else, I will be wellllll prepared for son number two in a few years. But it got me thinking.
When my dad finally came to me that fateful day to have the talk, I had already been through a thorough education at the hands of my peers at Duncan Elementary School. Looking back, I knew far more than I should have while at the same time not really knowing anything. This made things tough on my father because I didn’t have any questions. I also think there is a major difference in this younger generation and the one I grew up in. Because I can remember clearly that even if I had had questions, there was no way I was going to ask them of my parents. It would have been way too embarrassing. But my son, to this day, will come back to my wife and I with no shame or embarrassment. It’s actually pretty cool.
But I also realized this week that this level of comfort between child and parent has its downside.
My daughter and I were driving along listening to my iPod when a song came on we have sung along to a hundred times. But this time, there was no sound coming from my daughter’s side of the truck. When the song ended, she said, “I can never sing along to that song anymore.”
I was confused. “Why not?”
My question earned me a huge eye roll and a look that practically screamed, “COME ON, DAD!!! Don’t be such an idiot.” It’s my favorite look. It makes me feel so good. Anyway, she combined her expression with a mumbled, “I just…I just can’t.”
And that’s when it hit me. The title of the song references something that can be taken two very different ways. Very tentatively, I asked if that reference was the problem.
I have never experienced such conflicted emotions in my life. It is one thing for my son to be so open about personal things. It is just kind of who he is. But my daughter…Never! So the fact that she would be this open with me was like the ultimate validation of my parenting.
On the other hand. I was horrified. I have always wanted to live in a fantasy world where my thirteen-year-old daughter never learned of such things. Never mind I knew what she was talking about at her age, in my mind, she should never have known.
And another thing. I chose to assume at thirteen that my parents didn’t know anything about this…act I’m referring to. And it was guaranteed I would never breath a word of it to them.
So there I sat in my truck trying not to look as stunned as I felt. I attempted to casually talk with her and assure her the song did not contain a line she thought it did. I hope it went okay. I think it did.
But I will admit to one thing. Part of me wishes that the old teenage/parent version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell still existed. A much bigger part of me is grateful it doesn’t. I would not trade the relationship I have with my daughter for anything. That night was unique in that most of my family was out of town and so she and I got to eat pizza and watch a movie mostly on our own. It was a night I will not soon forget.
But while changing a dirty diaper or cleaning throw up is beyond nasty in the moment, within minutes, it’s over. It’s gone. This reminder that my children are growing up in a world filled with the vilest garbage is not fading at all. And so, although I might prefer to turn a blind eye, I will do everything I can to keep the channels of communication open. I may not always like what I see or hear, but at least there will be a better pay off than what I get from those infernal recorder concerts.
SHAMELESS BOOK PLUG ALERT
My book THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER, arriving August 13, 2013, deals with the difficulty of a parent communicating with a teenage child. It might also touch on one man’s frustrations with aspects of scouting. It can be pre-ordered through Bookworms Bookstore in Thatcher, AZ or from Amazon. com by clicking here. You may also request a copy be ordered for you through any bookstore selling LDS fiction.
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Thank you to everyone for your continued support.