“Because I said so.” “I’m the Mom.” “Pick up your stuff.” “Brush your TEETH.” Over and over I heard myself saying these things to my kids. And sometimes when I say them, I hear echoes of my own mother or father in my head saying the same thing.
I’ve turned into my parents, I think to myself, as I wrestle four kids into the house, get dinner started and homework finished, get baths and books done, drive to ballet and baseball. So much of what your parents did or said when you were little you didn’t understand at the time, and now, maybe you do.
I understand why my mom kept hard candy in the car, and we were each allowed to have one piece on the way home from daycare after she finally picked us up. I understand now why even though she is an amazing cook, she made the same dinners over and over during weeknights. I understand now why on earth she’d attempt to make pasta with three kids under 6 on a weekday after work when it was freezing cold and pitch black outside at 4:30 p.m.
I understand why we weren’t allowed to watch TV during the week (same rule exists in my house now), why we couldn’t drink soda, why I had to eat a second dinner if I wanted another dessert. I understand now why, when in high school I wanted to go to a friend’s party and spend the night (and yeah, there would be drinking), my mother told me to forget it and said I could bring donuts in the morning to all my friends instead. At the time I died of mortification, but now I think her response is pretty funny. I understand why they sent us away to sleepaway camp for four weeks each summer (Hallelujah kid-free week!), and why they told me to get a job the summer after my first year of college (um yeah, buy your own overpriced sneakers, kid).
I understand now why they paid for summer school so I could get ahead in math. I get why, instead of gifts one year, they took us to Paris for Christmas. It is truly a trip with my siblings I will never forget, and those memories will last forever. I understand why the only dessert I got in my lunchbox was a chocolate chip granola bar, and not a Twinkie, like all my friends. I see why they encouraged us to read, dragged us to church despite our protests, and taught us, by example, how to work hard.
I still can’t figure out how my mother managed three kids under 4 through long Maine winters, or how my father managed to pick me up at daycare after falling off a ladder and breaking his arm before he took himself to the hospital. I still don’t see how they managed the monotonous hamster wheel of getting three kids up and out of the house and fed and back in bed every day over and over while working for so long. But I get why they did it.
I understand now why my mother, a teacher for more than 30 years, spent the summer reading by our swimming pool with the kids in her class she knew needed extra help. She probably didn’t realize she was also teaching me to help others. I see why my dad spent Saturdays sailing in local regattas with my brother beside him. My brother went on to serve 25 years in the Navy. I get why, in the middle of February in a snowstorm, they left us with a questionable babysitter and flew to the Bahamas. And I don’t blame them, not one bit.
With four kids of my own now, I am finally able to see how much went into every small task they did to make sure we were fed, clean, educated, provided for, encouraged, supported, and held accountable. At the time, I saw two inflexible parents, bent on spoiling all my fun with no consideration at all for my social status at school. But that was about 30 years ago.
Now, I finally see now how much they love me.