Monday, March 2, 2009
The View From Childhood
Ah, children. Through their eyes, we see all that is innocent, right and beautiful in the world. Or so the theory goes.
My kids like me to tell stories about my childhood, and it's fun to tell them the things my brother, cousins and I used to do when we were kids. Saving our allowance to buy comic books and bubble gum at O'Neill's Country Store; going for pizza and movies in town on Saturdays when the theater showed three straight hours of cartoons; waving to the trains as they went by our house until the engineers would blow the horns for us. Through my rosy-hindsight goggles, my childhood was idyllic and fun.
But my kids always ask to hear the bad stuff.
Most of the bad stuff that I remember from my childhood (I realize I'm probably in denial here) are stunts that my brother pulled. Telling my mom there is no mouse in the mousetrap under the sink for the fourth day in a row when, in fact, today there actually is something in it. Leaving the rubber snakes and spiders in the bathtub after you're done playing and closing the curtain so that the next adult to open it for a shower gets a shock. And of course, my all time favorite, peeing on the radiator in the bathroom so that it always stunk in there, even after mom had scrubbed the room top to bottom several times. (She eventually caught him doing it one day after he'd had a fight with her.) Talk about creative.
Now that I'm a mom, of course, I see why my mother had to lay down every afternoon with her eyes closed to "collect her thoughts" and why she was always encouraging us to go play outside.
One day, after telling my kids how great they are, they asked to hear a story about my childhood. To illustrate how much better behaved my kids are than their uncle Mike was, I told them the bathroom story. I am still incredulous at the mere idea of such a stunt, and told the story with awe and disbelief, making the point to ask my children, "can you believe he did such a thing?" just to underscore what a stinker my brother was to treat my mother that way.
Well. One parent's cautionary tale is, apparently, another child's brilliant revelation.
After weeks of insisting that the children flush the toilet after using it, to no avail, I was convinced this was why their bathroom smelled like a bus terminal. But the other day, my husband walked in there, the toilet was clean, and he was still gagging. He went to work scrubbing it--you guessed it--from top to bottom. And waddya know, today was a very cold day, and the heat came up. That's right, not long afterward, the sparkling clean bathroom smelled like a bus terminal again.
We finally figured it out: someone had peed in the baseboards. I'm not sure who and I'm not sure when, and I don't have the courage to tell my husband that it was my idea. What I do know is I'm going to start choosing my uncle Mike stories a little more carefully from now on.
So let this be a lesson to others who like to spin tales of their reckless youth for their offspring today. Keep in mind that they revere you and the fact that you're full of ideas. Also remember that we were a lot more creative than they are (less video games made for more plotting time). And finally, even if you think you're telling a story as a warning of what not to do, that may not be what they're hearing. State it categorically. You may save yourself a lot of scrubbing in the long run. And you won't have to learn a lesson from something you got away with decades ago.
Posted by Christine Adler