Next time you’re feeling smug about your parenting skills, ask your teenagers what they remember from when they were really little. My knockdown came last weekend when I was sitting across the dinner table from my son.
There he was, chatting politely and also chewing with his mouth closed, and I was thinking, “Oh, we’ve done a fine job raising him.” All those hours I spent reading to him, pushing him on the swing, coaxing him up the ladder and down the slide, watching “Little Bear” with him and then explaining it, sorting Pokemon cards, hiding between the washer and dryer while he counted to 10, teaching him to count to 10, hosting play dates that often deteriorated when someone needed a nap, coloring on big sheets of white paper, cutting the crusts off bread, scrambling eggs, telling him to stop trying to crawl out of the shopping cart, taking him to the pool, going to the zoo to visit the octopus that never bothered to unstick itself from the corner of the tank, singing “Baby Beluga” while driving, pedaling my bike with 30 pounds of him in the seat on the back. You know, the whole lot of it.
“What are your best memories from when you were really little?” I asked. This was gonna be great. I had my kid’s attention, and I was about to hear a version of Beth as a young mother. It would be like watching a video.
Cooper, 17, thought for a minute, and then he crushed me.
“All I remember is that sometimes in the summer you made me go to bed and I could hear the bigger kids outside playing and I would cry until I fell asleep.”
Now, we were known to enforce a strict-ish bedtime policy, and darkness doesn’t come until 9 in June, so he’s probably right about missing some daylight. But crying himself to sleep?
“Is that the best you can do?” I asked. “Aren’t you forgetting a few things? Does daily macaroni and cheese ring a bell?”
“I remember that time Mark and I were playing in the game room and he threw a ball and hit the light and the glass came down and cut my face,” he said. “There was a lot of blood.”
Was that all he’s kept of his early childhood? Crying into his pillow and a bloody face? What happened to the rest of it? Watching “Dumbo” 15 times in a row – no lie – when he was sick with strep throat. Spending hours at the local bookstore so he could play on the “Thomas the Tank Engine” train table. What happened to all of that? Does this mean I could have parked him in front of the TV every day, abandoning him so I could work on my abs or surf the Internet? I was feeling defensive.
“When you were 3, you had a habit of swiping kitchen tools and carrying them off to build other things with them,” I said. “I never did find my garlic press until we were packing to move. It was in the sandbox, wedged inside the back of a little tow truck.”
“I don’t remember stealing things. But I loved that tow truck,” Coop said.
He waited a moment, and then said, “I’m sorry about the garlic press.”
See, I raised him right.