Go forth and multiply – procreation. Procreation implies parenting. Parenting is perhaps the toughest job on the planet. It’s often thankless but now that I have the benefit of hindsight, I can honestly state that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Just because my kids are grown and out of the house doesn’t mean that the job’s over either. Occasionally, they still need guidance.
You could have a dozen kids from the same two parents, raise them in the same city, the same house, the same rules, same schools, same everything and every single one of them could turn out entirely different from one another. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolate, you really do never know what you’re going to get. If you’re keeping your eyes peeled and paying attention though, your kids might give you a glimpse early on as to which way they lean. Will they be musicians, will they be scientists, will they be good with their hands and become mechanics or plumbers? How will you know? Shouldn’t we watch for signs when they’re very young so we’ll know which side of the brain to stimulate?
Yes! You should. Sometimes it’s easy. At an early age, my son Corey would always ask “how many”? It didn’t matter what we were doing. If he wanted a cookie, he’d very strongly emphasize the number – one Dad, just one, or two Dad (and he’d hold up his fingers when he was old enough to understand it). So I sensed he would lean towards mathematics. Another example from Corey was that he would tell me he loved me very often. It always made sense at bedtime of course, but out of the clear blue he would just blurt out – I love you Dad! I love you too Corey! He was a ‘cuddler’ too so I sensed very early that one day he’d be a dad, a family man himself.
Those are examples that are easy to watch for and easy to interpret. But what about the more subtle signs, the signs that might be in code? It’s not going to be easy. You have to be very attentive and watchful. Sometimes your child might do something that might on the surface look like a minor catastrophe when in fact, it is merely an early statement from your child. Our firstborn delivered one of those to us at a very early age. His statement? ‘Look, I’m right-brained Mom & Dad. I like music and art and I’m going to be good with my hands’.
Being inexperienced parents though, we were ignorant and did not have the skills necessary to be able to interpret his message. To us, it looked like a big mess that we had to clean up. That’s why I’m here though, sharing my story with you. If you’re a young parent, read on and take notes. For if this happens to you, now you’ll be able to recognize it simply as a sign, a message from your child. It’s not a mess – our child is telling us he/she wants to be an artist! Aw, isn’t that cute?
Read on, young parent.
My wife and I were married young; we were only 20 years old. I think about that today and my reaction is – were we nuts? But a lot of people married at that age back in our day. Our parents were married even younger and theirs before them, even younger. Our first child came along then right around our turning 23 years of age. We never realized how sweet we had it when we were teens living at home. The part we all take for granted in the BC years, (before children), is the getting to sleep in on the days off. When you have a child, there are no days off.
The year was 1982. We had been married for four years and living in a nice, brand new, 2-bedroom apartment on the outer edge of town. I was working for the foundry and my wife was a nurse. By this time, I had earned my Associates Degree and was attending University of Cincinnati Evening College on a part time basis, trying to earn my Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. Our son was less than two years old, still in toddler diapers.
As a side note, when our first was born, cloth diapers were still popular. You could wash them yourself, but a weekly diaper service was popular and the cost versus washing them yourself was not terribly different. So we used a diaper service for the first year or so of our firstborn’s life. If we were going out of the house, we might carry a couple of Pampers with us. For those of you younger and curious, here’s how a diaper service worked.
On a regular schedule, a delivery person would bring us a bundle of freshly washed cloth diapers. As the diapers became soiled, we would rinse them out briefly in the toilet, (for #2), and then put the used diaper in a tall plastic bin that looked sort of like a garbage pail, the kind with the lid that would open with a foot depressor. On the underside of the lid was an air freshener made of some combination of chemicals. You know the type, they look like those giant blue or green tablets you sometimes see in public toilets. The day of the scheduled delivery, we’d remove the bag full of diapers located inside the big diaper pail and tie it closed. We could leave the bag outside our door if we were going to be gone. In return, we’d find a bundle of fresh cloth diapers.
Our boy’s usual routine was to wake up, wet and hungry of course, and he would begin to cry or make some kind of other noise to let us know that it was time for us to get out of bed and tend to our duties. Occasionally, he would wake up dry and I’d try to get him to use the potty. Oh by the way, if you don’t have kids yet, be aware that some kids will let you know immediately when they are wet or dirty and others are happy letting the green houseflies buzz around them. If you see the green houseflies, you’re being derelict in your duties.
Mitch, (number one son), was very regular. He’d wake up fairly early every day. He was a happy baby too. Some babies are happy and others are a little more cranky. There’s no rhyme or reason. You spin the dice and take whatever you get. On one Saturday morning, we were allowed to sleep in. I don’t recall who woke up first but Kim and I both woke up, looked at the clock and saw that it was a good ninety minutes beyond the normal wake up call. It was eerily quiet. We should have known that danger was lurking somewhere close by, but we were young – what did we know?
We both just looked at each other. We asked each other what the heck was going on? Why was Mitchell allowing us to sleep in? Should we go peek in on him? No, we shouldn’t spoil it. So we lay there together for a few minutes more, each of us with broad smiles on our faces. Isn’t life great? Eventually, I was the lucky one nominated to peek in. Stealthily, I got up out of bed, ever so careful not to create a noise from the creaking of bed springs (his bedroom was just next door to ours). Ever so carefully, I stepped into the hallway and very gently creaked open Mitch’s bedroom door.
“OH MY GOD!” (Was my exclamation)
From the other bedroom, my wife yelled out – what? What is it?
“You have to come and see this for yourself.”
“Do I have to get out of bed? Can’t you just tell me?”
“No, quickly…you have to see this for yourself.”
So my young bride did so. She quickly joined me three feet inside the doorway of Mitch’s bedroom. The bedroom layout was fairly simple. A small rectangular room measuring perhaps 14 x 13 (?), to the left sat the white changing table that would fold up on itself and had compartments for storing diapers and other necessary accoutrements of the trade. To the right, along the wall was a child’s crib. (We only recently sold this nice wooden crib on Craigslist, here in California). Inside the crib, sat the surprise I wanted my wife to see for herself.
And there he (it) sat. This image is emblazoned in my mind, actually seared I might even say. Looking ever so proud, was our son and his ‘handy work’, his creation. We of course didn’t know at the time that it was a work of art. What this left-brainer saw at the time was the biggest mess I had ever witnessed firsthand. It remains intact as the nastiest mess I ever had to clean. Yes, our musician, our firstborn had soiled himself and obviously not wanting the art material to go to waste, had created a mural on the wall. It was everywhere – on the crib, smeared on the walls, in his hair, on his face….EVERYWHERE!
Had this happened in the day of smartphones where it is so easy to capture a quick photo or video, I’m certain that this moment would be in a viral state somewhere today. But it wasn’t and we didn’t, wish we had.
We both looked at each other and just stared, mouths open and in unison – “Oh My God”…..
Mitch was so happy. He had a huge ‘good morning Daddy and Mommy’ smile on his face, complete with poopy in his hair, on his face and hands (had he tasted it?).
I was the first to speak. I said, “ok, I’ll get the kid if you get the room”. And Kim said, “deal”.
And so our Saturday morning itinerary was set for us. The bathroom was directly across the hall from Mitch’s room. I bent over the crib, being careful not to touch anything else, naively thinking of course that I could manage this without getting anything on myself. Wrong – like I said earlier, Mitch was a happy baby, always reaching out, wanting to play with Daddy. I remember holding him straight out away from myself as far as I could, scared to death he’d touch my face (yuk).
He didn’t understand why it was bath time so early in the day. I set Mitch down inside the tub and fully stripped him. Then, being on the forefront of water conservation, (and since I hadn’t yet had my shower), I stripped down myself and turned on the shower. My recollection is that Mitch didn’t care for this part too much. Oh, he didn’t mind getting wet, he loved bath time, but he didn’t care much for the shower. I had my back to the shower head with Mitch then in front of me so I could shield him a bit from the water, but once we got into it, I had to give it my 100% with the shampoo and soap. He was so lucky that I gave him 2-3 doses of shampoo. Mitch had beautiful golden curls as a baby. When I finally turned off the shower, he was squeaky clean from head to rear end and all evidence of the spilled art supplies totally washed away.
Meanwhile Kim had quickly tackled the Picasso mural in his room and had been coming in and out of the bathroom, occasionally dipping messy cloth diapers in and out of the toilet before she hit the Spic & Span or Mr. Clean or whatever it was we used in the day to ‘anti-bacterialize’ a room back in the day. After I got Mitch cleaned and dressed I finished the job of feeding him while Kim finished up cleaning off what we referred to as the graffiti. All in all, it made for an exciting morning, one we hoped we wouldn’t have to repeat anytime soon.
As parents, we worked hard to help our boys find their passion and to build a broad profile of skills. Number 3 son is still at home with us, not on his own yet. Number 2 son ended up becoming an engineer and did in fact end up being the first son with his own family. Mitch finally found a love for music and a way to express his artistic side in a more clean fashion. He’s busy working against a master’s degree currently, but he does have a few cool pieces on Youtube including this cool cover of a Jimmy Eat World tune.
As we’re all growing up, things happen and they don’t always immediately pan out for us. If you keep your eyes open and you live long enough, the pieces of the puzzle all begin to connect themselves and your small piece of the world might just begin to make sense.
But just in case? Have your smartphone handy – get a video or a picture for the rest of us.
Oh, and a PS to my third son Tim – I didn’t forget about you. I’m pretty sure I know where you’re headed, but since you’re not there yet, I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you. 😉