The youngest amigo, Luke, just turned 11 years old a little over a week ago. Our children are now 13, 12, and 11, respectively. For those wondering, the answer is a resounding “YES”: Our daily existence is as terrifying and chaotic as those ages would imply.
The chaos is due in part to the arrival in our home of a certain chronic disease which goes by the highly technical term “adolescence.” I understand from experienced professionals, i.e., parents of grown children, that it usually lasts for several years and, like the peskiest of viruses, there is no cure. We are obviously facing the early stages of this plague, but have already tried a wide range of interventions—bloodletting, trepanning, and mega-doses of Vitamin C to cite just a few. I can confirm that early returns are not promising. We may just have to ride this storm out for, oh, about the next decade or so. How we’re going to manage three amigos battling the same malady simultaneously, I have no idea. In order to protect the good citizens of Greenville we may have to encircle our property with yellow caution tape and plaster signs on our doors that read “WARNING: TEENAGERS AND BESIEGED PARENTS INSIDE: LASCIATE OGNE SPERANZA, VOI CH’INTRATE!!”i
Aside from the terrifying prospect of having three children experiencing the teen years at the same time, each birthday also signifies a departure, a leaving behind. Gone are the simpler days of reading in bed together, of molding pretend food out of Play-Doh, of creating magical and illogical stories with stuffed animals as our only props and imagination as our only tools. Onesies and footed pajamas are a distant memory, as are Dr. Seuss, the Wiggles, finger painting, and “I spy with my little eye”. (Turning the page on the Wiggles has been just dandy, thank you, but saying farewell to Dr. Seuss and footed pajamas has pained me.) They’ve been replaced with video games I don’t understand, electronic devices I often can’t even turn on or otherwise access, books whose themes run toward the apocalyptic and dystopian, and friendships whose components, subtleties, and vagaries confound me. One day Abby was reading “Hop on Pop!” and the next “The Hunger Games”. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s some sort of time portal at the junction of Avenue E and Park Drive.
The transition from simplicity to relative complexity is evident also in our children’s participation in that great American engine known as capitalism. They, like most people, have always enjoyed buying things. They, like most people, have always suffered from the delusion that their lives would be oh-so-much-better if they could only have that certain shiny product over there in aisle 9. But once upon a time, the objects of their desire were fuzzy or sparkly items at a store where everything was a dollar or less. Indeed, an offer to go explore and buy a surprise at said specialty shop was met with shrieks of unmitigated joy and excitement.
These days the delusion is the same, but the objects are far more expensive and convoluted. The children used to be affected by television commercials alone, which was insidious enough. But now they see things on youtube or other internet sites, and their extravagant wants (Luke calls them “needs”; I need to help him with his vocabulary a bit) are kicked into overdrive.
In addition, we now are forced to address the influence of friends. Based on what I’m hearing from the amigos, (1) I’m the meanest and stingiest parent in Darke County and should probably turn in my Dad card for the good of all concerned (umm, okay…what’s the catch?), and (2) There must be a bevy of Treaty City 5th through 8th graders whose shoe collections would’ve embarrassed Corazon Aquino and whose gaming console systems cost more than my first house.
Look, I know there’s a lot of exaggeration (or worse) going on. And I can accept that [fill in the blank with friend du jour’s name here]’s dad is nicer and more reasonable than I. That’s probably true. I’m a fallen man. I’m tired and old and old-fashioned, too. But I’m determined to do my best to encourage a few decent character traits and teach the value of money, step by laborious step. I also understand the amigos are not impressed when I tell them of the various privations my sisters and I experienced when we were kids.
“Guys,” I explained to them recently, “my younger sister and I were totally jazzed when far far [my dad] would come home from his office and give us paper clips to play with and used mimeograph graph paper to color on. You’ve got it pretty sweet. Try to appreciate what you have instead of always complaining about what you don’t have.”
There was a brief silence, followed by three sets of eyes rolling with mild disgust. Then Abby and Luke in unison: “What’s mimeograph paper?!”
Oh well. The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
i “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!”