“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eye of a child, there seven million.” — saying commonly attributed to Walt Streightiff, author and newspaper editor.
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When thoughts turn to Thanksgiving, my top-of-mind moments tend to focus on family, food, and fall weather. That and kids.
Thanksgiving was a favorite holiday for me as a child and grew to become even more so when I watched my own children enjoying the warmth of family gatherings with lots of good food. And now that I am in the older generation, being qualified to offer helpful advice to the younger ones makes the holidays even more enjoyable.
It started at that turkey day dinner gathering a few years ago when a young new father in our large family approached me seeking pointers on child-rearing from the family “old timers.”
“You’ve raised children, and you have grandchildren,” the proud parent asked, seeking wisdom as we sat down to eat. “So, at your age, what do you consider the most important part of child rearing.”
My knee-jerk desire was to tell him at all costs to avoid those words. It’s bad enough, “at this age,” that “at your age” always precedes medical conversations without it invading friendly family talks.
Instead, I replied, “Thanks for the vote of confidence in my child rearing skills, but my mom always said that a parent is never through raising their children. Could be, however,” I added with a shrug, “she was just talking about me.”
Searching for something more informative, I reflected on my parenting skills as compared to those of my parents in the 50s and 60s. Then I shared how watching my own children as parents gave me four generational differences when adding the advice my grandmother left with me.
“Training,” I blurted out to conclude. “Raising a child requires infinite skills, but your training makes the difference.” Then, feeling I had fulfilled what was expected of me, I reached for another helping of turkey and dressing.
“What sort of training do you consider most important,” was the younger generation’s comeback question.
Pausing before taking that next bite, I said, “Maintaining that elusive balance of nurturing valuable life skills without being counterproductive. For instance, we devote the first two years of their life teaching children to walk and talk, followed by the next four, five, or sixteen, teaching them to sit still and be quiet.
“There is no way to describe the feeling,” I continued, “of spending hours coaxing your offspring into uttering infantile noises that only a parent would recognize like ‘momma’ or ‘da-da.’ Then reeling in shock, a couple of years later when one of them blurts, ‘goody-goody, let’s go’ immediately after the ‘amen’ on the closing prayer at church.”
“But,” I added, changing my tone of voice, “Beware of the day when they ask the hardest question of all. “Hopefully,” I added, “You will be better prepared for some of the trickier questions like ‘where does the fire go when it burns the log away?’ Even then, you will never be ready for the dreaded word that should never be taught to children under the age of 37— the infamous ‘Why?’”
“Once the little one feels the power of what can be accomplished with a simple ‘why,’ life is never the same for the parents,” I warned. “It’s a 15-minute delay for going to bed, taking a bath, or eating peas, I added. “And the weary parent is slow to learn that answering one simple question only leads to a barrage of follow-ups.”
“Consider, if you will,” I said, leaning across the table for emphasis, “Trying to tell a four-year old that why he needs let go of the cat’s tail is so that it doesn’t shred the curtains. And, so there is something left to cover the windows to keep the neighbors from watching frustrated parents trying to explain their way out of endless ‘why’ questions posed by preschoolers.”
“And, what usually follows,” I said, turning my attention from the turkey the last time, “is the little tyke will ask ‘what happened to Kitty?’ And you will simply smile and say with a sinister smile, ‘It ran away.’”
“That’s good to know …,” my young listener said slowly.
“In fact,” I concluded, “It will make you wonder what answer your wife will have when your child asks, ‘Mommy, why did daddy run out into the back yard screaming, ‘I don’t know why.’”
As of last Thanksgiving, the young couple still has just one child.
Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy the holiday gatherings with young people as much as I do.
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