My Dad used to say, "By the time you learn how to be a great parent, it's too late. The kids are all grown up." The one and only time I ever remember my father spanking my brothers or me was when he caught my younger brother stealing quarters from Dad's quarter jar and going across the street to play a video game at the local bakery. We had been expressly prohibited from going over there and from playing video games. I will never forget the anticipation of what was to come as my older brother and I watched Dad haul my brother back toward the house, seemingly by his ear. Dad brought him in, and without a word, brought him over to the sofa, put him over his knee, pulled down his pants, and spanked his bare butt. As stunned as I was to see this unfold, all I remember thinking is, "Gee, Dad didn't spank him very hard." Years later, I'm sure this memory has faded - for Dad. But for my brothers and me, Dad made his mark. No, Dad didn't spank the little offender hard at all. But in that exercise, Dad commanded respect and maintained his authority, making quite certain that we children understood that when we were told to do or not do something, that we listened.
I remember the times when Dad made three different lunches for three different kids, catering to what we each wanted to eat that Saturday. A single Dad who saw us every other weekend, this was Dad's only time to shine, to parent, to cram two weeks of living into a weekend. My younger brother, on being presented with his sandwich, whined that he hadn't asked for a pickle. That was the end of it for Dad, as his fist came down on the offending pickle, and the pickle exploded into pieces all over the table, the floor, the wall, and best of all, Dad's hand was covered with pickle seeds. Had I not been so startled by Dad's wordless, seemingly out-of-nowhere act, I would have burst into fits of laughter. Just the thought of those pickle seeds all over Dad's hand still makes me laugh.
As an adult and much to Dad's dismay, I remember these times vividly. Dad will complain, "I wish you remembered the fun stuff." Well, I do. Each summer he would get us up before the crack of dawn and get us dressed in our bathing suits. He'd pack a cooler with our favorite sandwiches and chips, sodas, and beach toys. We'd hit the beach by 8am and spend the whole day. And Dad was all about safety. He'd park the blanket strategically in front of the lifeguard station and purposefully show us where we were and what to do and who to talk to if we got lost. He'd wear a brightly colored hat so we could easily pick him out of the crowd. He also brought us, at least annually, to our favorite amusement park where we each wanted to take off to different rides. We received the same speech about where to meet and at what time and he made sure he wore a distinct t-shirt and hat. And there was never a water fight in which Dad wouldn't partake, or a song that Dad wouldn't sing, or any toy or gadget he couldn't fix. He brought us to Maine to his parents' lake house every August, took us out for boat rides and swam with us all day. On Sunday nights when it was time to go back to Mom, Dad bought two large pepperoni pizzas from Pete's Pizza for dinner. And on a really good Sunday night, he'd swing over to the ice cream shop for cones on the way. I found out years later that the stop at the ice cream shop was largely predicated on whether he had any money left from the weekend.
This past weekend, I declared to my kids that Friday night was going to be "game night." We decided to do a scavenger hunt (one of my personal specialties), a game of Clue, and a castle-making contest with the new blocks from Christmas. The weekend was off to a great start! Sunday after I took the kids to church, we went to the local grocery store for a few items; I bought them each a donut, as a treat for their good behavior. That afternoon, all h*ll broke loose, and my precious, sweet little babies were wild and out of control. Ernie and I tried to control the chaos, suspending electronics, putting children on the naughty chair, removing them from countertops, threatening, hollering, and the like. As the day wore on, the battle sapped our strength, and we called a truce. After we ate a peaceful and jovial dinner, we decided on another game of Clue before the children had a warm bubble bath.
I hope my children remember that I hosted game night, made them hot chocolate in the wintertime, gave them big bubble baths, warmed their towels, stuck fruit loops to my face, painted the girls' nails, attended all of their sports and school events, and now and again, let them eat chocolate pudding for breakfast. I hope they remember that I played a nasty first base in wiffle ball, pushed them on the swings, flew kites, made mickey mouse pancakes, took them biking and hiking and swimming, and best of all, stopped dead in my tracks when someone announced that they needed a hug. But in my crazy, chaotic world, if I ever end up with pickle seeds all over my hands, which I probably have a time or two already, I will understand why - and I hope someday my kids understand too. Dad is right, by the time I get this whole parenting thing mastered, they'll be all grown up.