Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Learning how to parent from the best

We can only parent to the best of our abilities and no more. While our ultimate goal is to be a friend to our children, we still have to be a parent.

I'm always thinking about how or where to draw that fine line.

I like to read all sorts of things, and so does my son. And, since he shares many of the same interests as me, I thought about giving him "The O'Reilly Factor for Kids" for Christmas.

Yesterday I found the book in the library, and decided to read it before my son did. So I hadnded it to the librarian.

"Let me know what you think of it," she said as she glanced at the cover.

"I will," I said.

"I know some people think he's a little to short or blunt for their tastes."

"I think he reminds me of my grandparents."

She smirked and went about her business.

Now I've decided I will not give it to my son for Christmas.

I got home and left the book lying on the couch. When he saw it he said, "I hope you didn't get that book for me for Christmas, because I'm not reading it."

I didn't know if he was being serious or not, but I decided to heed his warning.

I read it anyway. And decided that there are two other reasons I don't think he's ready to read it. First, O'Reilly talks about things -- like sex -- that I think my 9-year-old is not ready for yet. Second, I don't want my son to feel like I'm lecturing him via this book.

Regardless, I read the book myself. In this book, more so than his others, O'Reilly certainly does remind me of my grandparents.

I remember when I was a kid going to my grandparents, and the TV was never on. I never even asked to turn it on because grandma would be sure to find something else for me to do, if she hadn't done that already.

"There are better things you can do with your time," she'd say.

She'd always have us coloring or drawing in a notebook. Once, while she was cooking dinner, she had me and my brothers running around her Victorian home counting doors. I don't know that we ever got an accurate count.

Another time I was bored she took me to the store and bought me a notebook. "I want you to write in here all your thoughts," she said. I'm convinced that's why I still write today.

Sometimes she'd take me to her library and show me books on the history of Shoreline, or she'd simply take me to the library and wait patiently while I mulled over which book to take out.

As I was reading the chapter on "TV" in O'Reilly's book, he very much reminded me of grandma.

He writes, "I make my living on the tube because I want to talk about people who cheat and people who get cheated. I want to talk about ideas. I want people who watch my program to think, even if they disagree with me."

Then he added, "But most TV is not designed to make anyone think... it's designed to give you dumb ideas so that you will spend your money on stupid products and never learn to think for yourself."

He writes, as my grandma once lectured in her own pithy way, that TV is good if you are watching it to dull your mind for a short time, and it's good if you are watching something that will educate your mind and get you to think about things, but either way "TV is only good for you if you control it. It's a powerful tool. Use it. don't let it use you."

This morning I found myself telling my son to clean up his mess in the kitchen, to quit watching TV. "If you have time to watch TV then you have time to pick up your room. Pick up the clothes that are all over the floor. If you don't do it, mom will have to."

He picked up the clothes, and then I had him clean up his papers and books from the kitchen table. He cleaned parts of it and was back to watching TV. I was about to have him finish up, but his mom took over:

"Get away from the TV," she said, "and get your hair combed." Once that was done he was loafing around again, and she chimed in, "Come on! Get your stuff ready for school. Robert, come on! This is getting old. I have to tell you the same things every day. You're old enough to do all this stuff without being told."

I didn't say anything more to him because I didn't want to come at him from all angles. Believe it or not, I remember when I was a kid.

I didn't mind it when my parents or grandparents give me their advice, or a pithy lecture. Often times these are the one's I'd think about most, and more often than not incorporate them. Most of the time my family didn't say much and hoped that we'd learn from their real life example. But, when that didn't work, we got the pithy talk.

Except for my mother. She'd sometimes go on and on and on and on. Okay, so I'd rather get a spanking from dad and be done with it.

So I had to say something to my son. I didn't want to, but I knew it had to be done. It would have been far easier to say something like, "Remember why your mom got mad this morning?"

"Yes," he'd say.

"Well, don't do it again." Done. There that was easy.

That doesn't always work. It does on Home Improvement, but not in reality.

I looked at the clock. I would give myself 30 seconds. I took a deep breath:

"Robert, your getting to the age in your life where you need to figure out that things you don't do someone else will." I waited for his response; I didn't want to get ahead of myself and confuse him.

"What?" he said.

"Well, if you leave your clothes on the floor, your mother will have to pick them up. When you leave your clothes inside out, your mother will have to put them right side in."

I paused. He said nothing.

"When you leave your stuff on the table, mom or I will have to put it away for you."

I paused again. He said nothing.

"When you don't brush your hair or get your stuff ready in the morning, mom or I will have to make sure you do."

I paused. He said nothing.

"I don't really care if your room is clean, so I don't bug you about that. But your room being messy says a lot about you, Jasper. It makes you look sloppy. If you want to keep a messy room that's fine. It's your life.

"All I'm saying," I continued, knowing I'd better wrap this up soon, "Is that you should start thinking about this kind of stuff."

I looked at the clock: 45 seconds. I thought of more to say, but my time was up.

"You have a great day at school," I said as I pull up to the curb.

"I will dad," he smiled. He showed no ill effects to the lecture.

We're still pals. Cool.

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