Just the other day I overheard a conversation among a group of folks – hey, this happens when you work in cubicle-ville! Four of the seven were parents of young children, toddlers on up to age nine, boys and girls, sounded like six kids all together between them. The parents in the group described how their kids were so openly affectionate when they were younger and so open about showing excitement over activities they enjoyed – like singing and dancing in public. Everyone in the group loved that! But the parents were also lamenting the fact that as their kids are growing older they show less and less of that non-abashed exuberance for life. And heaven forbid them showing any physical affection for their parents around their schoolmates and friends! They agreed that the kids no longer wanted to show any eagerness or excitement about anything they were doing – that’s WAY UNCOOL! “Way”….do kids even use that anymore?
The morbid dialogue topics that were detailed, let’s call them The New Millennium Commandments for Parents:
- Parents must drop the children off a block away from school so they are never seen together by anyone else at school
- Don’t expect PDAs (public displays of a smooch?!) with parents or siblings
- Parents are not allowed to cry at school, in front of the child’s friends, teachers, and especially not during assemblies and games…just stop crying all together
- Acting excited during your child’s activity is strictly forbidden
- Never address your child in front of others unless your child addresses you first
- Do not correct your child in the presence of others
- Never tell your child to smile when your child’s trying to be too cool, ever.
The conversation continued about how this stuff is all normal children’s behavior and just the beginning. They all agreed that as the kids grew even older their willingness to show affection, love, and simple joy, especially with the folks around, was going to become less and less existent. The unanimous warning: Watch out when they reach puberty, the kids won’t want to be around the parents at all! But hey, that’s life, right? That’s how kids grow up! Really?!?!
A non-parent then shared a tale she had heard. Seems a group of recent high school grads called a meeting with their parents during which they made the parents swear they would not cry when they dropped the new college-freshmen off at their respective dorms on move-in day – they demanded that they simply be dropped off with their stuff and then left alone to handle things all on their own - hey, “Have a nice day and thanks for paying for my education!”
Then the discussion rolled into the difference between raising girls and boys and, as everyone knew, both genders are so difficult. Parents have to deal with girls and their emotional troubles versus the boys and their more physical-danger trouble. Furthermore, the group agreed that men will say they prefer boys because that’s what real men have to say, but of course deep down they are actually jealous of couples with only girls. And women always feel so much love for their sons because their sons always take care of them…..always!
For me, the worse part of this entire discussion was the unanimous - repeat: unanimous - acceptance that kids will treat their parents and family with disdain as they grow older, from grade school to middle school to high school to college, because that’s just what happens - a foregone raising-a-family conclusion. A parent can only wish that kids will realize, sometime in the future when they’re older and wiser, just how much their parents truly love them, and at that moment those suddenly loving children will finally be able to display that same affection and joie de vivre that they did when they were so young and care-free and devoid of the wicked ways of the world. What the heck?!?!
Gee, why have children at all?!?! So that you can have a parent’s lifetime of misery and shame, hanging on ever-faithfully for that final offering of love from your child just before you’re dropped into a box and can then rest in blissful parent’s peace for the rest of eternity?
And sitting alone in my cubicle, listening in - okay, some would say eavesdropping! - OMG, that conversation made me so happy, kept a silly smile plastered on my face all day, in fact! And here’s why: Because it made me realize that I am SO LUCKY.
- I have young nephews and nieces that greet you with a hug so big you automatically smile broadly with your mouth closed and your eyes all scrunched up while you feel all gooey inside like you’ve just walked into a warm kitchen filled with the overwhelmingly wonderful smell of fresh-baking bread and you can’t help it but give them a great big bear hug right back
- Young teenagers see you anytime, anyplace and high-5 or fist bump you and then immediately step up closer to grab you in a good, strong, bro/gal-hug…and because they do it right in front of their friends, so innocently and enthusiastically, well their friends usually give you one, too
- Family members and friends, even when you’ve just seen them a couple of hours ago or maybe you haven’t seen them for a week or a month or longer, are hugging and holding hands and sitting in your lap without a second thought, because it’s right, it’s good, and it’s normal
- And family, young and old, from near or far - you know, the ones you don’t get to see but maybe once every year or so if you’re lucky - will cautiously sneak up behind you at some point in the visit, maybe at the market, walking along the beach, or somewhere when you are not expecting it, and sneak their wondrous hand into one of yours and give you a gentle squeeze, then walk along with you hand-in-hand, like a comfortable, forever friend….melting your heart with joy.
That’s how lucky. We should, and could, all be so lucky. I think it starts with the parents.