Janusz Maciuba is a local writer.
When the girls were young enough to go to summer camps, when filling out the information sheets, there was a box toward the end that asked: “Is there anything else you would like us to know about your child?”
She’s a kleptomaniac? Cutter? Food fetishist? Wants to be a nun?
For both daughters I always wrote: “She is 99 percent sweet.”
True. Well-behaved, empathetic, friendly, funny, decent manners.
But that 1 percent can be a trial. Independent, headstrong, hormonal. Parents might contemplate moving without leaving a forwarding address.
Electronics and screen time had to sometimes be ransomed back with improved behavior and apologies.
Neither girl reached the point where we started removing furniture from bedrooms, bulbs from the lights. We never came close to either girl sleeping in a bare room on a hammock made out of Saran Wrap and duct tape. Although, according to parenting columnist John Rosemond, removing stuff can fix everything from Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder to a defiant child to chronic nose picking. Stuff matters apparently. This punishment is tame. In 1963, my unfortunate classmate Leo had his ADHD treated with a gym shoe across both palms, daily. (For an approximate experience, put your hand into an ice bath and then plunge it into very hot water.)
These days in a parent-child disagreement, at minimum, there is the eye roll, the slammed door, the whining over perceived deprivations, and, my favorite, the silent treatment.
As a baby boomer in a traditional family, any argument or bad behavior was stopped by a look my father got. Tight-lipped, with one eye closing to a squint, it was a terror device that was rarely used. Children used to respect all adults, blindly. Parents, priests, teachers, and nuns were all on a different plane from kids and there wasn’t the blending of ages that we have now. Becoming an adult was an important event.
Also, parents were not involved in schools like they are these days. Children dealt with everything themselves and teachers and parents met once a year. School sports didn’t have parent spectators and children didn’t complain about teachers, bullies, or cafeteria food. My parents never knew about schoolyard fights, sadistic teachers, or the nun who wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom after swim class, as I’d swallowed my weight in pool water. We all realized then that our parents were working hard, and it was doubtful that they would take our side in a school dispute. Parents still respected educational and religious authority themselves.
They also never knew about their children clambering on ancient slate roofs, bicycle accidents, a friend’s pyromania, rocketing the nuns’ residence, climbing anything that could be climbed, and a thousand adventures that might have ended in death and dismemberment. The world of children and the world of adults intersected at few points in those days.
This separation and the blind respect for adults did have a darker side; the silent suffering of abused children and the disbelief that an authority figure would actually abuse them. So, now we have to make sure that our children can refuse any action an adult might try to bully them into. We may not have the time to hover over our kids but we’re glad that other parents are in schools keeping an eye out for all the children.
An assertive child with realistic self-esteem who prospers in school and in the modern world has to be an adult before her time but it’s worth the slight and occasional disrespect.
Children now expect to be heard and seen.
About the Author