So many times I have gone to the store for necessities with my children and seen smiles on the faces of people we passed. At times this has slightly annoyed me as I pulled my three year old away from the lobster tank for the hundredth time, listening to his squalls of protest due to the delicate mental health of the “monsters” as he calls them. In my sons opinion they are lonely and need him for company, and by removing him I'm taking away their only reason to keep swimming. This may have quite a bit of truth due to the fact that most people find it very hard to purchase an animal with the purpose of eating it while a little boy stands next to them talking to said animal like its his best friend. Amusement and wonder illuminate the faces of strangers as they watch my four toe headed children (we often refer to them as the travelling circus) chatter, sing , and generally get up to mischief. Comments are always thick on the ground about “having my hands full” and “ aren't they cute“. I just agree with them and move on. No need to tell these well meaning strangers about having to fish Lego men out of the fish tank or having to stop the children from feeding the family golden retriever dandelions (he will eat anything) because it gives him gas (which they think is hilarious).
My son always claims the undercarriages of shopping carts and refers to them as his “creepy cave” , staying under murmuring softly to himself about pirates and the need for a plank and only coming out to make lightning raids on any food items he thinks we need at home. My eldest daughter keeps up a running commentary about anything that comes to mind and the geo-political situations at her school and constant requests for junk food, my youngest girl walks patiently by the cart posing as a innocent rosy cheeked cherub until something comes within grabbing range, preferably when I'm retrieving her brother from the cookie isle thereby giving her time to get packages open. And my youngest son keeps up a constant train whistle shriek, not of unhappiness, that's just his way of letting you know he loves you.
The excursion is ,of course, accompanied by constant remarks, often at top volume on my part , to “stop doing that and get back to this cart right now!“. I have worried in my more energetic and conscientious moments that their antics might annoy people, but it seems just the opposite. I think people see us as some sort of hilarious grocery store entertainment troupe breaking up the monotony of mundane milk and egg purchases. They relish my children’s remarks on the state of the world and their current bodily functions.
My son is especially attuned to his lower bowel and tells anyone close enough to hear about it. Older men find them exceedingly funny and I have often heard indelicate snorts of laughter following in our wake. Older women who have obviously had children smile fondly and say encouraging things to me about how sweet they are and how they miss those days.
Other mothers with children are the most forgiving. We pass each other in the isles and give nods of acknowledgement and wry understanding smiles. We belong to a sisterhood of dishpan hands, disheveled hair, and dark circled eyes. Cart collisions and barely avoided hit and runs are brushed off as every day occurrences to those in the sisterhood.
I have often envied those mothers whose children seem afraid of the cracks in the floor. I gaze longingly at them as they cling to their mothers legs and never stray to the lobster tank.
My children are Olympic class strayers.
When we found out I was carrying our third child I didn't pray for a girl or boy, I prayed for a child who feared water.
“What do they do that I don’t? “ I often wonder to myself. I'm consistent in discipline and rules, don’t allow destructive or rude behaviour I encourage them, love them, teach them (or at least tell them) right from wrong, and yet they still have an insatiable spirit for adventure and mayhem.
In my darkest moments of mothering I wonder what I did wrong. How could all four of my children turn out to be fearless Vikings whose every thought seems bent on discovery, often accompanied by the destruction of the discovered object? It would be convenient if I could blame there father, but since my mother has informed me that her curse has worked and that they are just like I was at that age theres no use pointing fingers.
In my desperate search for a solution I’ve tried everything from positive reinforcement and encouragement, to dire threats and privilege removal (as well as good ol fashioned spankings for the worst offenses). These have been on the hole a dismal failure. Punishment doesn’t seem to faze them in the least. All my children, we have discovered, have congenital selective hearing defects.
Finally one day after three weeks of sleepless nights due to the annual month long Winter Illness Celebration in which our children take turns being sick the entire month I asked our family doctor if he thought my children were abnormally wild. I knew he saw hundreds of children in his practice and at least could do a comparison for me. I waited in suspense trying to read the expression on his face and he observed the two rambunctious toddlers exploring the examination room. As I saw his face take on a weary look I told him he could be honest as I am not one of those mothers who thinks her children are innocent angels who could never do wrong while they torture the family cat. If there’s one thing I pride myself on it’s the ability to recognize my children’s weaknesses as well as their strengths. At that moment my 2 year old daughter was trying to eat a tongue depressor and my son was using the exam table as a large drum.
Earlier in the waiting room two old gentlemen and a receptionist had been stifling guffaws and grinning to split there faces as they watched me try to keep reign on the two youngest and keep up a conversation with my eldest. Waiting rooms I have found, are booby trapped with all sorts of items not suitable for small children. I sometimes wonder if they do it on purpose for personal entertainment.The doctor who I think must have the driest sense of humour on earth asked why I would wonder that. I rolled my eyes and explained about my theories on genetic lack of fear and selective hearing defects.
As he watched my children he said they certainly were active and healthy but not abnormal. “All children are different.” he reminded me,” It has more to do with how the parents raise their child when it comes to lack of fear”. “Lots of parents panic at the least little bruise or bump” he said with obvious disapproval. “Those are the children that turn out to be afraid of everything”
Instantly I knew my problem. It was like seeing the light! My philosophy was the exact opposite. I didn't make a fuss over falls or scrapes. If they fell I waited to see if it was a serious hurt while making a comment to them about taking a good one. I have noticed when children are really hurt they always let you know in a particularly ear-splitting way, there’s no way to ignore it. If they cried I comforted them, if not I would dust them off and send them on their way.
This, by the way, is highly upsetting to more faint hearted folk as they watch my toddler hit the ground at mach-4 and bounce back up again with out me even blinking. Several times I have had other mothers jumping in their seats at the sight of Donovan taking a tumble, obviously anticipating screams from Don and hysterical cries on my part. Only to see him get up, look around, and go on to the next entertainment while I calmly watch from the sidelines.
I try to reassure them as best I can, commenting that my children are fine and not to worry, but this is often useless. Even when confronted with the obvious truth that they really are all right and not just neglected as they run around laughing and having a grand old time, these parents sit on the edge of there seats twitching as I carry on with the conversation.. Secretly my husband finds it highly diverting watching other parents turn white as our son does a triple somersault and comes up smiling.
Looking at the problem however produced a realization that it was too late to change. All my children are too old to re-teach fear to. Trees are meant to be climbed, streams explored, poisonous insects examined, and all animals are pettable and maybe even kissable if they will hold still. While other children shrank away from horses, goats, or pigs at the county fair my children would, if allowed, run up and pet them, get into the stall, and try to hug them. Dogs are considered fun interactive pals, and chickens provide a challenge to stalking techniques requiring teamwork and good communication skills in order to catch one for closer examination. I never showed fear at animals so they learned not to fear them too. An unfortunate mistake on my part as a healthy fear of animals is a great saver of fingers for later life.
Grey hairs for my husband, and years taken off my lifespan have been the result of many near misses and barely averted catastrophes involving water hazards, amazing collisions, and large animals. I have often thought that when my children all grow up I wont know how to go back to a less vigilant style of living. I've grown used to being on a knifes edge, always wondering what’s going on behind those innocent little faces and preparing for emergencies and surprise ambushes in the middle of the night. Silence being the worst sound of all because then you know they are up to something. My husband comments frequently that we could do combat missions. After 14 years of screaming directed at me, tests in toy diplomacy, sleep deprivation, constant adrenalin rushes, and first aid care I have to agree. At least if an adult soldier were to get sick on the floor I wouldn't have the job of cleaning it up.
Life without children, I have now come to realize, would be a sadly uneventful and a much less interesting way to live. After all, what adult puts the cat in the dress-up box and forgets about it, causing much annoyance on the part of the cat and a frantic search through the house for the source of the yowling on the on the part of the parent? I have yet to experience my husband coming up and telling me in a nonchalant, offhand sort of way that the toilet has flooded over and that I might want to take a look at it, or that the baby has got into the flour bin for the fourth time that week. These are the daily excitements that keep me on my toes and make it to where I can honestly say I'm never bored. Exhausted, frustrated, on the verge of tears and hysterical laughter but never bored! I'll never regret having four very often exasperating , but at the same time impossibly sweet and loving children.