A good friend of mine recently dove into a written rant after his teenage daughter got herself in deep do-do. Even though she is his fifth and youngest child in the throes of trouble-hood, he couldn’t help but recall, yet again, the curse with which he was afflicted, the one set in motion by his parents oh so long ago when he himself was a serial hooligan.
He called his rant “The Parents’ Curse Works Or Why Are My Children Such Dumb Asses?” I’ve borrowed the former part of that title for my own rant without concern for any objections he might have, and not because I was around for some of his youthful hooliganisms and could easily drop a few dimes to his kids. I borrowed from his title because I couldn’t think of one myself. I’m not lazy; I’m tired – and it’s because of the curse.
I’ve hoped my parents would someday say something supportive when I found myself in a parenting whirlwind, but their comments have been confined to things like “What did you expect? They’re your kids!" I do still have hope – for empathy or at least sympathy, but so far no. Their response is a painful reminder of the day they'd had enough of my antics and cried out in frustration, "Someday you're gonna have kids just like you!"
Thus, I was duly cursed.
My parents almost revel in my discomfort and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard them giggle with glee in the distance now and then. I’ve often thought them so insensitive and calloused about it, but this must be because they know what I still do not know for sure – that me and my kids will make it through, come what may.
They also know what I’ve only recently discovered in the past couple of years: this job of parenting does not stop, ever. There are milestones to be sure, most notably the day the children move out on their own, but the idea that one worries any less for being free of their living expenses is hogwash.
Diapers, daycare, sleep deprivation, head wounds, action figures in the toilet, and dead toads in the laundry – these were all easier and cheaper to deal with than what would later plague my life and test my resolve.
I will not share my most perilous (and much more interesting) parenting experiences in the interest of protecting my children’s privacy. Also, I want to make sure it all remains quiet until my grandchildren want to know more than what their parents are willing to tell them.
I believe it was humorist Sam Levenson who said, “The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy.” Nothing confirms this more solidly than the curse.
As parents we eventually watch our offspring spring headfirst into a world armed only with the lessons we taught them. That alone is enough to scare the bejeebahs out of us. Suddenly we find ourselves taking inventory of every example we set by our behavior, and "Do as I say, not as I do" is no longer funny. We question whether or not we taught them right, raised them well, and gave them every skill we had to give.
"Turn that down" referred to stereo volume when they lived with us, but now it refers to cell phone contracts, dubious job offers, and get-rich-quick schemes – and we're not necessarily standing right there when the full force of the world's sales teams and con men descend upon our children’s hard earned paychecks.
As tiresome and challenging as it was to raise these knuckleheads, it has become more so as they discuss things like the possibility of quitting college to join the military. As the spouse of a career Marine, I’m not against someone joining the military. As the spouse of a career Marine who deployed often and barely missed being cut in half by an RPG in Iraq, I am against my children joining the military. In my mind, I’ve done my time, and my children should respect that. Alas, the parent’s curse rears its ugly head, and the “I’m grown and this is what I think I should do” discussion is on.
This is only slightly preferable to the day my then-teenage daughter breached the subject of birth control as I was driving through the busiest intersection in town. I didn’t wreck, but that’s only because I went rigid. This allowed my vehicle to remain straight as an arrow. Good thing there were no curves ahead – in the road, anyway.
She and I had talked about many things for many years, and this topic of conversation was inevitable. I thought I was prepared, but I most certainly was not. She felt, as did I, that we could discuss anything, but there is a big difference between maintaining lines of communication and feeling like those lines have been wrapped tightly around one’s neck – especially at 55 mph.
It didn’t help that we were stationed at Camp Lejeune at the time – a Marine base sporting a large population of physically fit 18 to 25-year olds. It is a young women’s dream buffet, a veritable smorgasbord of healthy, handsome, and employed young men. When I was a younger wife, many was the time my girlfriends and I would schedule our lunch breaks around the daily three-mile run of several thousand Marines in little green shorts. It was a parade for popcorn and perversion.
To think my daughter could be interested in any of them — and they in her — changed my perspective on that line of lust completely. Those yummy younguns transformed before my very eyes – from warriors and heroes to warthogs and horny toads.
I had insisted with great fervor that my husband keep his collection of antique shotguns put away and out of sight forever. With as much fervor, I now wanted them locked, cocked, and on full display at our front door. He complied, but he wouldn’t stand “firewatch” at her bedroom window, saying no one of his rank should have to stand such duty, even for the Commanding Officer – in this case, his wife. It worked out, though, because I had underestimated the effect it would have on a young Private to bebop over to his date’s house, only to find himself face-to-face with an armed Gunnery Sergeant. Heh heh.
Admittedly, I had a slightly easier time of it than my parents did when I was young. The kind of young man I dated was largely unemployed, enjoyed a twice-daily doobie, and thought Austria was home to kangaroos. Despite my dubious dating history, I did find an upstanding young man to call my own and thought I’d done well.
The curse came home to roost the day my daughter announced she was moving out of my arms and moving in with her Marine boyfriend. This was the same news I had dropped in my parents’ lap just 18 years before, and damned if I didn’t feel in my chest what I had earlier dismissed seeing in theirs: a sinking heart. I moved to the other side of the country and left my mother in a heap of tears. My father seemed unmoved by the whole thing, but I would later realize he was not so much unmoving as stricken.
Alas, there I was, sobbing, propped up by little more than my husband’s reassurances that our daughter would be just fine. Don’t get me wrong. I loved my daughter’s boyfriend. An Eagle Scout and meritoriously promoted to Corporal, he treated my child like a queen. Unfortunately for my heart, soul, and ovaries, he didn’t live on the other side of the country. He lived on the other side of the world. Curses.
As the older two sit securely in college — for now anyway — and our youngest begins her descent into teenagery, I am forever tormented by the memory of things I’ve done. I know my kids already have and will likely again partake of the same potpourri bowl of life’s thrills that I used to swim in. I can only hope that, despite the curse, everyone comes out smelling like rose petals.