Here’s a 50-year-old man without four kids.
Here’s a 50-year-old man with four kids.
Here’s the savings balance of a man without.
Here’s the savings balance of a man with.
By the fall of this year my wife and I will be empty nesters, see image for a virtual representation. You see, this year our two youngest sons will be heading off to college… or Katmandu, doesn’t matter. The important thing is there will only be two of us in this small three-bedroom two-bath that was clearly intended for a husband and wife and possibly a dog. Yes, definitely a dog!
After raising four sons to various heights and weights the next phase of our marriage is just beginning. Time to pull out the old tennis racket, start swinging those clubs again (9-irons, not disco. Do they still have disco clubs?), organize a weekly poker night, and travel… travel… travel.
But before all that can begin, I need to dust off the to-do list that I began writing all those years ago when I thought this day would never come. Those “someday I’m going to…” chores that won’t really feel like chores anymore because they will not be crammed in between basketball practice and a parent-teacher meeting. Here it is for your reading pleasure, at least I hope it’s a pleasure. The top ten things I will do when the nest is empty:
This Fall, my wife and I are preparing for the rare parental double-double. Well, I’m preparing while my spouse is sad about the upcoming prospect. As far as I’m concerned, this is the highly coveted and rarely achieved parental twofer! My guess is this is how the parents of twins feel.
You see our last two sons are preparing to head off to college in the fall. One son spent two years studying at a junior college while the youngest is graduating from high school. By September of this year our house will include myself, my wife and our dog. I think that bears repeating; by September of this year our house will include myself, my wife and our dog. This is the culmination of our twenty-six year journey that began in our modest three bedroom home when our first of four sons was born.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to miss them in an inexplicable, confounding way. For all their inherent teen-ness, there will be a void in the house. But at least there will be two less rooms in the house I will need to avoid!
As I prepare for their impending departure, I have begun to compile a list of all that I will miss when they are off studying in some far distant county or state. To that end, here are the 10 reasons why I’m going to miss my teens:
I am in the process of raising four sons, and let’s get this out of the way right up front, I am not complaining! While there are definitely some challenges that come with rearing four sons, there are innumerable rewards as well. None come to mind at the moment but give me a minute. Nope, still nothing.
Anyway, as entertaining as it can be at times, there are certain realities that come with the territory. As unique as each of my sons is, these realities can be attributed to all of them. It might be tied to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, or it could be a part of the teen credo that exists somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight. An American Tail. Anyone? Anyone? So, without further preamble, here are my 10 realities of living with your teen.
Editors note: The photo on the right is not reality. Potty training is not a happy time for the parent or child! This is a Madison Avenue ruse.
With potty training comes freedom from the confines of the cloth and disposable shackles they must bear around their midsection. Freedom from grownups yanking at the back of their pants and taking a whiff. Freedom from being put on public display for anyone who happens to be talking to their parents at the time of the diaper change. Freedom from the constant parade of men washing their hands in public restrooms as you balance a bag, a dirty diaper, shopping bags, a clean diaper, and your child on the tiny little shelf they refer to as a changing table. What table? I’ve seen bigger hors d’oeuvre trays.
This theory of freedom is what I surmise, because, about the time your child becomes potty trained, their entire attitude changes. They develop this incredible independent streak. It is not an entirely bad thing, not entirely! For instance, when and where they “go” now becomes their decision.
I know with my boys they have a tendency to hold their pee until about five minutes past the two-minute warning. Mind you they have been holding themselves in a “Roseanne singing the National Anthem” kind of way for the past fifteen minutes. And you have been asking them every five minutes if they need to go. So let me just say, once they do say they need to go, I know I have seventeen seconds to find an unoccupied bathroom or I will be using that two sizes too small spare change of clothes that has been riding around in the minivan since the Clinton Administration.
Don’t think for a minute that once the diapers are shelved next to the Teletubby videos and the Talking Barney Doll that your days of cleaning up bodily fluids are over. Especially if you have boys.
The art of arcing just right to have pee hit “nothing but water” is a skill that does not apparently come in the early years. We’re hoping by high school! It has gotten so I have to carry around a spray bottle of Lysol and roll of paper towels at all times. I looked a little out of place at Christmas dinner last year, but I did manage to clean that upended wine glass in record time.
For every Tiger Woods, there are thousands of frustrated golfers on the links whose Dad put a putter in their hands at the tender age of three. For every Madison Bumgarner there are hundreds of struggling journeymen in the minors who wish they weren’t forced to pitch in the backyard with their fathers until their blisters bled.
Struggling musicians, frustrated artists, inaccurate quarterbacks, no-talent actors, depressed accountants, inedible chefs, fired up firefighters, all living out the dreams of their fathers. If you have dreams you did not pursue during your youth, for whatever reason, don’t force them on your kids. This is their life. Don’t try to fashion your dreams to fit around their lives.
My parents taught me that whatever career path you choose in life, make sure it is something you will enjoy. Even when they were probably panicking inside at my seemingly ill-advised choices, they let me live my own life, make my own mistakes and wander in my own direction (what cliff?). This left me with the satisfaction of knowing it is my own path, and they were always there with loving support and encouragement.
In my experience, I have witnessed many a miserable kid suffering through a Little League practice, and no it wasn’t because I was the coach. As my boys got older, I encountered college students struggling with their accounting classes because they really wanted to pursue architecture.
As they get older, even if your chosen path proves fruitful, there will always be the “what if” factor. What if I had; pursued that zoology major; taken a year off to work in Nome, Alaska; joined the Peace Corps; decided to become a professional cliff diver…
What are your what ifs? Did someone force you to go left rather than right? How does it make you feel, even now when you have a family of your own? Let’s allow our children to select their own path, who knows, they might surprise us!
Unrelated story: Did you ever hear the old joke about the mother who was having some of her friends over for lunch when her little five-your-old comes running in and says “Mommy, mommy I hafta go pee pee.” The mother, obviously embarrassed, talks to her son after her guests have left. She decided they should come up with a code word for pee pee and suggests the word whisper.
Fast forward two weeks, Uncle Billy is visiting from Vermont and sharing a room with the young five-year-old. In the middle of the night the boy wakes Uncle Billy and states, “Uncle Billy, I need ta whisper.” Billy groggily replies, “Wait until morning.” Two more times the boy tells Uncle Billy he has to whisper. Finally, Uncle Billy relents and says, “All right, but do it quietly in my ear.”
Whenever my youngest son, now four, wants to whisper (and I mean actually whisper) something to me, I lean down and rotate my head so my ear is pointing towards him. The unfortunate thing is he does the same thing and our ears meet. This not only tickles like crazy but closes up my hearing canal (medical term) so that his whisper is a barely audible breeze.
I have tried to explain to him the art of whispering a hundred times, but the entire concept escapes him. It is one of the multitude of things I take for granted, but it appears to allude the kids. There are others:
One trick I have found for surviving some of the more mundane or unpleasant tasks of Dadlands, is to modify songs. I pick a song I am fond of and adjust the lyrics to suit the situation, they become a very modified version of a kid’s song. This will do nothing for the children, especially if your singing voice is as torturous as mine, but it will make the task at hand more bearable.
Here are a few examples:
When changing a poopy diaper try this, sung to the tune of “Everybody Plays the Fool” from the Main Ingredient:
When feeding my child some form of inedible gruel, I will hum the Michael Jackson/Weird Al hit:
When you are washing hair, try this classic from South Pacific:
And rounding out the bathtub medley try this one from The Rolling Stones
Whenever you notice the warning signs that your child is heading for a complete emotional explosion, you know the signs (lightning, pestilence, flood, volcanic eruption) I choose the Boz Scaggs number:
If the diaper wrap you are using gets dirty (details omitted for decency standards) you can sing the Queen tune:
And for purely sentimental reasons I love to sing Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend” to my boys. No lyric tampering required; the message conveyed in that song is the way I would like them always to perceive dear ol’ Dad.
Quick related story: As I mentioned I am to singing what Keanu Reeves is to acting, but my wife has a beautiful voice and would often sing to our sons right before bed. One night she was out so after I read the boys a book, completed our prayers and tucked them in bed, I launched into “You’ve Got A Friend.”
With all the heartfelt, tone deaf emotion I could muster (“When you’re down,”) I began the song in a gentle quiet whisper (“some love and care.”) The song seemed to resonate from somewhere within the confines of my soul (“and think of me and soon,”) soaring, filling the room. And for once in my life I wasn’t flat and achingly off key! It was as if the gentle timbres of James Taylor had taken residence in my vocal cords. My confidence built (“you just call out my name”) and I was filled with…“Dad! Dad! You’re hurting our ears!”
Snapped out of my Grammy winning performance I stared in disbelief. “But I was singing you to sleep,” I replied innocently.
“Who can sleep with all that noise!”
“But every night I hear your mommy…”
“Daddy, Mommy doesn’t give us owey ears when she sings.”
Coincidentally, they were both shipped off to boarding preschool the following Monday.
Last week’s blog focused on the top ten joys of being a teen, see link below. The information was based on my years of raising four sons, the youngest having just turned seventeen. Granted it was not a firsthand account from an actual teen, but a well-researched compendium culled from over twenty-six cumulative years of observation. I felt it was a thorough and genuinely sound record.
Well, my second son (the outdoors-man on the right) has apparently taken umbrage at my list because, even though he has always claimed to never read my blogs, he sent me an email yesterday offering a counter-list of his own. My first reaction was, someone read my blog! Then my wife suggested I am obligated to offer equal time to my son.
So, without further ado, here is a teen rebuttal. The 10 Worst Things About Being A Teen according to my twenty-four-year-old son. (Note: #4 I find especially painful.)
The next time your eleven-year-old says they are sorry, treasure that moment because it is the last time you will hear it for nine years. The reason is simple. In their clouded, visually impaired, reality-skewed mind, they are never wrong.
It must be a joyous experience to be seventeen… it has been too long for me to properly recall. But imagine, the entire world is before you, dangling on a string. Unfortunately, your parents are the ones holding that damn string. If it weren’t for them the world, and all who inhabit it, would be so much better off.
Whenever I suffer from TMTT (too much teen time) I am reminded of my favorite quote of all time attributed to Mark Twain, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years.”
I believe that is how every teen perceives the world. They view parents exactly the way the Disney Channel portrays us in every teenage sitcom; brain addled, befuddled, incapable of coherent thought and depending entirely on the knowledge and wisdom of our teenage children to survive. So, without any additional preamble, here are the top ten joys of being a teen.