Children ruin everything.
Those words should be stamped on our genitals.
Joy in its every form is a booby-trap.
Eat a chocolate-chip cookie, get fat. Smoke a cigarette, get cancer. Date a model, get herpes. Have sex … get children!
As a parent, you are Wile E. Coyote, and children are the explosion that leaves your head blackened and hairless.
I know what some of you are saying. “But, Ben, children are a miracle. The only reason we exist is to have children and propagate the species. Children should be loved and nurtured and revered as a national treasure.”
Hey, I love my children. Everybody loves their children. It’s what keeps us from selling them to the Gypsies. That doesn’t change the fact that child-rearing takes arguably the best 20-or-so years of your adult life and leaves you a fat, wrinkled, nervous, and penniless mess.
With all the babbling, puking, pooping, snotty-noses, incoherent screaming, lying, manipulating, stealing, destruction of property and combativeness, raising kids is most akin to working as an orderly in a psych ward—or maybe a German porno.
Except, I’m going to guess the turnover rate for psychiatric hospital orderlies is much higher than the turnover rate of parents.
Yet, unlike the psych ward, you can’t just up and quit.
OK, I guess you can abandon your kids but most of us stick it out because we love them so dearly.
That, and for fear of being blamed once the little lunatic grows up to be a big lunatic and starts blabbing to some smart prick with a Ph.D.
Your kid: “I think the reason I drink is because my mother refused to buy the name brand cereal.”
Smart prick with Ph.D: “Tell me, how did that make you feel?”
Your kid: “Inadequate. Buying generic choco-poofers was mother’s way of telling me I wasn’t good enough for her … or Cocoa Puffs.”
Look, I’m not saying parenthood doesn’t have its fair share of good times. I’m just saying the price tag is awfully steep for a few poorly crafted Christmas ornaments and the occasional macaroni artwork.
You’re not fooling anyone, Tommie. We know you traced your hand to make that turkey.
We Had Our Kids Young
Of all the valid reasons you should not have children when you yourself are quite young—lack of maturity, lack of patience, lack of money, lack of housing, lack of life experience—there is one excellent reason to do just that, and it involves simple mathematics.
See, when I was just 19 and had a woman and newborn son to support, I watched with a generous portion of envy as my friends all continued to play the role of high-schooler-plus.
They were all still living at home. Few had jobs. None were planning to attend college right away, and that left ample time for drink and drugs and women and mischief, and as much free time as they could possibly hope for.
Remember what it’s like to be bored? I don’t.
Your average post-graduation interaction went something like this:
“Hey, Ben, wanna go to this concert?”
“Can’t, I spent all my money on diapers and a car seat.”
“Hey, Ben, you going to Florida with us for spring break?”
“Can’t. If I miss any work I won’t make my bills.”
“Hey, Ben, we’re going to the Foosball tournament in Vegas, you in, brother?”
“I’d love to. But, this weekend I’m planning on stuffing myself into a wood chipper.”
Year after year, I watched my pals splurge their youth and vitality on adventure after adventure.
Hell, some of them didn’t have their first kid until just a few years ago.
What this all means, for those of you who are as bad at math as I am, is that, while my kids are both college-age, my friends are dealing with everything from diapers and the Terrible Twos (and threes and fours and fives and sixes) to the early teen years … and at twice the age and half the energy at which the wife and I endured child-rearing.
Nowadays, the conversations (at least until my daughter moved back home with us) went a little something like this:
“Hey, Ben, you coming to my daughter’s second birthday?”
“Sorry, the wife and I are converting the family room into a wet bar.”
“Hey, Ben, my son’s Little League game is this Saturday.”
“I’d love to, but I’m going to stay home naked all weekend drinking whiskey.”
I am chagrin to report the instances of wine-related shenanigans and spirited house-wide nudity dried up approximately ten minutes before our empty nest returned to three’s a crowd.
It was a fun year but college isn’t for everyone. And, how hard could I come down on my kid?
After all, I made it exactly one-half of a semester before giving up. Of course, I’d been out of my parents’ house for damn near a decade when I decided to fail miserably at going back to school. So the only wrath I had to face was that of the wife. Oh, the wrath!
Of course, when your kids are in college, you haven’t really gotten rid of them.
They still spend nearly half the year creating dirty laundry for you to wash and dishes for you to wash and dirty floors for you to wash and medical bills for you to pay and grocery bills for you to pay. (I guess I’m trying to say there’s a lot of washing and paying still happening. Don’t go. It gets better, I promise.)
Something they don’t explain to you in bad parenting 101 is the strange dichotomy you eventually face when your child-children become adult-children. Legally, they are free to do as they please.
Yet, they still need to be parented to a certain degree. They demand to be respected as adults but sometimes expect the same amount of praise, attention, and material support they enjoyed back when they were still the unemployed midgets under your legal guardianship.
As the wife told me the entire time the kids were growing up: you have to parent your kids as individuals. What works for one may not be right for the other.
She was right, the wife, but now I’m using that same logic in parenting our adult children and it’s not flying so well.
The wife decided we should have been done parenting once the kids reached college-age. And, to be fair, that’s when she and I were out on our own with no help.
Though, we did end up moving back in with parents a couple times until we finally got things figured out. So, I guess we’re stuck until the kids hit their early 20s.
Regardless, the wife was really looking forward to the empty nest. I didn’t know it until it happened, but I was, too.
We had our kids way too early in life and that caused us to both miss out on a whole lot of living.
Nonetheless, good parents never stop parenting their kids.
Apparently, neither do mediocre ones.
That being said, I am under no delusion that I have all the answers now any more than I did when my kids were two and three.
So, out of boredom as much as curiosity, I recently stumbled across a Focus on the Family article about parenting adult children.
The author—a divorcee who apparently knows a lot more about how to maintain a healthy family than the rest of us—wrote that she was distraught over her relationship with her son, who was apparently making poor life choices.
She said she began sobbing during a prayer meeting and asked what she could do.
She was assured by an older lady that she needed only pray for her relationship to improve and God would snap his celestial fingers and make it all better.
Further, the article says I’m supposed to recognize and respect the differences between us—the kids and the wife and I. I think that will go a little something like this:
You: “Son, I recognize your desire to smoke weed and drink beer instead of studying, and I respect the fact that you are OK with a C-minus in Algebra.”
Your kid: “Dad, I recognize that you worked really hard to have very little money in the bank, and I respect your decision to keep handing it over to me.”
Next, I’m supposed to share my wisdom and insight without being critical. For example—a completely made up and not at all real example—you should address your adult child’s decision to use an entire roll of toilet paper to clean up a puddle of dog puke instead of getting the mop and bucket by saying something like, “Dear child, it is my experience that warm soapy water will do a better job of un-funking that barf stain than all the bathroom tissue in the world.”
In reality, what I want to say is, “What in thee actual frick are you doing with my toilet paper? Are you telling me that you’re so goddamn lazy you’d rather waste a whole roll of butt-wipe than go fill up the mop bucket and clean this the right way? No matter how dry you get that spot with TP, the living room is still going to smell like doggie upchuck, dumb-ass!”
But I don’t say that, because I love my children. And I don’t want the wife to slap me.
Lastly, I’m supposed to relinquish my kids to God. Let’s be realistic: He didn’t stop the Jews from being gassed; He didn’t prevent Princess Diana from dying in a car wreck; and, He allowed Jimmy Fallon to take over The Tonight Show. If He can’t deal with real atrocity then He sure as hell isn’t going to remind my kids to stop leaving leftovers out on the stove at night.
However, I am running out of excuses and ideas. So, maybe I’ll work some prayers into my regularly scheduled bouts of sobbing.