Brands like Gerber and Pampers like to show you pictures of sleeping babies taken with soft filters so they look all sweet and cuddly. Have you seen those Carter’s children’s clothing promo photos with all of those happy, contented, clean children?
Well, that’s all a whole lot of hooey aimed at selling stuff. The real truth is that kids are designed to soil and break things. If the aforementioned companies wanted to tell the truth, they’d have pictures of kids playing T-ball on that priceless vase that’s been in your family for four generations or chewing through the cord on a lamp. I think children may serve the same function in nature as the microorganisms that break down wood and leaves and such, except children break down home appliances and valuables.
One day, not long ago, I came home for lunch and my daughter had destroyed the lid on the honey bottle. Having desired honey for her sandwich, and being unable to open the sticky lid, she took a kitchen knife to it. When I arrived on the scene, she had already progressed to complaining that her sandwich was too sweet. All that was left were shards of honey lid and discontent.
But, usually, the destruction is less malicious. Sometimes you just find stuff in the midst of the slow process of deterioration. And you can be baffled by it until you turn a corner and some child is dangling the full weight of their 8-year-old body from the handrail on the stairs or riding the refrigerator door like a cattle gate. (“Oh, yeah, that’s why everything’s broken.”)
“Don’t hang on the refrigerator door, honey,” you say, but you say the word “honey” like you’re saying “you big dummy.” But you can’t say “you big dummy” because all the parenting articles say it’s bad to call your kids “dummy,” even though it’s hard to find any other explanation for their behavior at this point. So you say the word “honey” with your brows all furrowed and angry. And you use that growly, daddy bear voice that goes really high-pitched at the end of the word because, along with being angry, you’re also mystified your offspring could be such a big…honey.
Because of these destructive tendencies, you find yourself in a race against the clock to save your home. The question is: Can you fix things faster than the children can break them, or at least repair things at such a rate that the entire home does not collapse before you ship the last of the children off to college, at which time they can only destroy your home on weekends and during summers?
And children are getting more destructive. At least it seems that way in my home. Maybe today’s kids have been genetically altered by all the food coloring in their breakfast cereal. Or maybe it’s video games, or the internet, or the Teletubbies. I don’t know, but I can pick up a toy car that I played with as a child over the course of a decade, hand it to one of my children, and the wheels will instantly pop off. They break toys like those guys who claim they can bend spoons with their minds. They just think about a toy and it explodes.
And with kids, finding out what happened only leaves you more befuddled than before you asked.
“Well, I…um…there were things that looked colorful…and so I hit them with a hammer.”
(Blank stare from me as I try to make sense of the words, which I fully comprehend individually, but which, when taken collectively, have no meaning.)
“So you meant to break them?”
“Well…I…no…I just meant to hit them.”
“With a hammer?”
“Well…I…The second one was an accident.”
And they’re not being evasive (well, maybe a little). They just have no more insight as to why they do the things they do than their mother and I do. There was a hammer. There was stuff. And for some reason I struck the former with the latter. That’s all they know.
Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on my kids. I remember cutting my mother’s sewing ruler in two with scissors as a child. My explanation for my behavior was, “I wanted to see if it would cut.”
I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And when it does fall, my children will be there to stomp on it and crush it with a hammer for no discernable reason.
J. Shane Mercer is the digital marketing specialist at The Village Family Service
Center. He and his wife, Amy, live in Fargo with their three children, Ariana (10),
Talia (10), and Will (5).
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