Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Parenting and Bad Business

When an idea hits, sometimes it feels like a load of bricks. And I know what a load of bricks feels like, because I carted several from the driveway to the backyard, where they sit, awaiting installation into a patio of sorts. But back to the idea thing, because it hit me the other day, that being a parent is like running a really bad business. Think over your job, if you have one, and think how work flows. You show up, roughly on time, do what's asked, and in turn ask others to do things, maybe you go to lunch, and you look forward to the weekend. Not too bad a life. Imagine, for a moment, you had to tell your co-worker to do something simple, say, make copies of a presentation or something. So it'd go something like this: "Hey Frank, can you copy the Henderson presentation? Thanks." Pretty simple stuff, eh? Now imagine a world of kids. The tasks are different, but you basically want them to do something, say, put a few crayons back in a box. That would go more like this: "Hey, Frankie? Can you put those crayons back in the box please?"

Now, if you're not a parent, you might picture a cherubic little face beaming back at you, and the crayons get whisked back into the box. But if that's what you see, you're either not a parent, or a very optimistic person. Because what usually happens is more like this: "Frankie? Did you hear me? Can you please put the crayons back in the box?" And still there's no response from the kid, because whatever he is doing, watching a Japanese cartoon on a Japanese television, playing a Japanese built game, or just picking his nose(which could be Japanese, depending on . . .), is loads more important than answering a question. So again, you go, "Frankie? Frankie! Do you hear me? Can you get those crayons back in the box?!" And if you're lucky, you'll catch his ear a bit and he'll start looking in your direction, but then shift back, unless you pounce on the moment. "Frankie! Hey, did you hear me? Look over hear please." And as a word of warning, your polite phrasing only lasts so long, but you'll see why later. Say he does look, and you think he hears you. Doesn't matter, because he's turning back to the cartoon.

So now some avenues open up for you - You can either pick up the crayons yourself, which would be easiest and painless, but you're sick of always picking up their stuff, and besides, he's old enough and should start learning on his own. It's that instructive instinct, that "I will make my kids turn out better than everyone else's kids" feeling that is both good to have, and a reason to drink. So you decide, nah, I won't pick them up, I'll get the lad to do it. Now you have two options, either keep yelling at him, because talking in a nice polite voice can't compete with robots firing rockets, or stand in front of the television, blocking his treasured cartoon, and getting his attention. If you try the former, you'll find your voice and your stress level slowly rising. There are many reasons, but a big one is because you can't understand why someone a few feet away can't hear you, or respond to you, because you're asking a simple question. And even the thought of a simple question is interesting, because you find yourself gauging the stakes of the task. You get frustrated, because you're not asking him to construct a 30 foot minaret in the back yard, you're not asking him to do invasive surgery in the middle of the rain forest at night with no scalpel, you're not asking him to replace the lifters on a 69 Chevy motor. You, yes you, picture this as a task so simple a child could do it. And therein lies the rub. A child could do it, but he isn't doing it, and your brain, which, in all it's grand experience, is used to people responding to simple tasks that you ask of them. It worked at work, remember? Remember how even that job seemed so shitty, when you asked someone to get you a coffee, or copy something, it happened, even though they didn't like you, or were never on time to work, or whatever?

Yes, now, a task, so simple, so ludicrously easy, something so easy a child could do, is not being done by a child. So without thinking, you raise your voice. You holler. You stand in front of the television, or you turn it over, evoking a violent reaction, and possibly tears. Something so simple that should take, oh, 20, 30 seconds tops, is now a major event, in the 5 to 10 minute range. And you might find a voice coming from deep within, a dark, beastly voice, telling, well, yelling is more like it, yelling that these crayons had better be picked up now, or else. You'll know that voice, the coive oyu thought you never had. But that's another story.

And after this horrible episode, you reflect on parenting, and how no one ever gave you a book of rules, and how you figured kids would be easy, no problem, they're smaller, what harm could they do? You wonder if your parents were the same, endured the same struggles, and the answer has to be yes, and now you understand why parents love grandchildren so much, and why they give you a hard time when they see you raising your kids. They do it, because they have been in the shit before, and they remember when you were a teenager, and were going to save the world, and do all these things that your parents didn't approve of or think was a good idea because you were going to be different than them, do things the right way. They know what will happen, they've been though it. They take care of your kids, happily, because they don't have to live with them. If they want to see a movie in the middle of the day, they can, and you can't. Oh, and if your kids ever do go to your parent's house, and granny asks them to pick up crayons, they do. In a heartbeat. Sucker.

So parenting is like running a bad business, because none of your employees do what they're told when they're asked, they don't show up on time for anything (tell your kids to be at the door at a certain time, and see for yourself), and you find yourself stressed out, yelling yourself hoarse from time to time. Or they do something incredibly stupid, and it drives you nuts. Oh, and these incidents happen all day long. Gotta go now, I hear the kids are hollering.