I hate to sound like one of those cantankerous mid-40’s white dudes who spends all his time bitching about how much better the world was when he was a kid but my wife says it’s one of my strong suits, so I’m just going to go with it.
The focus of today’s mid-life bitchery has to do with the “outside” generation (people like me who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s) and the “inside” generation (like my kids who were all born in the year 2000 or later.)
When I was a kid and I got out of the school in the afternoon, I grabbed a snack from my parent’s kitchen and then didn’t set foot in the house again until the street lights came on in the neighborhood. It almost seems like mythology now but anyone who was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s will tell you it’s true. My buddies and I played football. We played basketball. We played baseball. We stole dirty magazines and looked at them behind the garage. You know, typical middle American white boy outside stuff.
I’m sure I’m exaggerating to prove a point (another one of my strong suits, according to the wife) but when it comes to my kids, I feel like I literally have to FORCE them to go outside. “Awww….Dad. There’s nothing to do out there! It’s boooooooooring outside.” Blah blah whine friggin’ blah….
As my kids will tell you, I don’t cotton much to TV or video games, and unlike a lot of parents of my generation, I just plain don’t give in on those battles. If it gets to the point that I have to take away privileges to get my kids to go the hell outside and play, then that’s what I do. And in all honesty, I don’t feel bad about it at all. I have this deluded notion that when they’re grown-ups they’ll thank me for not letting them vegetate their child hood away in front of a television or an X-box, but even if they don’t ever come to see things that way, I reckon I’ll still sleep fine at night.
Of late, my 12 year old son Evan has gotten into the early stages of what I’ll call “wanton parental contradiction”. This is the phase of a child’s life where they wake up one day deciding that they know absolutely everything and you, the parent, know absolutely jack-shit nothing. And so they go about making it their mission to disagree with every point you make, to reject every suggestion you offer, and to disobey every direct order you give them. (Studies show that parental intake of tequila increases 600% during these years.)
Now, I love my son. And I understand that this is just a phase he’s going through. And in the event that I don’t have to lock him in the basement until he turns 22, he’ll come out of this phase a more fully formed young man than when he went into it.
But the thing about the kid is this: he has an UNBELIEVABLE store of kinetic energy pulsing through his body at every second of the day. It’s literally impossible for him to sit still. And, just one of my generic parental observations here, if he doesn’t get out some of his energy during the day he’s an absolute DISASTER by evening time. All that unused energy goes into torturing his sisters, or arguing with his parents, or running imaginary pass patterns in our damn living room. Clearly, not a tenable situation.
Early yesterday afternoon, we reached one of those junctures where the only two options for Evan were A– to go the hell outside or B-go the hell outside NOW. But since he’s in the aforementioned “wanton parental contradiction” phase of life, he decided to test my patience by taking a book outside and reading on the porch. “Technically, you said to go outside, Dad. And I AM outside.” (Honey, where’s the tequila again???)
Feeling that I was effectively winning the battle but losing the war, I grabbed his football and said, “Come on. Let’s go play catch.”
“Noooo, Dad. It’s borrrrrrring. I don’t want to play catch.” Blah-blah-whine-friggin’-blah.
With my back up against the wall, I finally said, “Look, dude, if I have to start taking away privileges I will, but you and me are going to play catch.”
So off we trudged to the little grass patch down the street from our house. Me leading, and him following 20 feet behind, dragging his overgrown-ass pre-teen feet like a man who just had both knees and both hips replaced.
So, we get to the grass patch. I throw him a pass. He doesn’t even raise his hands. Just lets the ball whiz by him before trudging over to pick it up and throw it back in my general direction.
Again, I throw the ball to him and again, he doesn’t even raise his hands up or attempt to make a catch. The ball drops to the ground. He walks over and picks it up and throws it back to me.
At this point, I’m doing my damndest to resist the urge to drag him over to the nearest tree and hang him on a high branch from the back of his undies just to teach him a lesson. But a voice in my head says “Don’t battle him. Just keep throwing the ball. Eventually, he will give in.”
After cursing myself for not quieting the voice in my head with tequila, I do just what it says: I keep throwing the football. Over and over and over again. Saying nothing about his unwillingness to try to catch it. Not a damn word.
Eventually, he starts to make half-hearted attempts to catch the ball. I throw it some more but now I’m intentionally throwing the ball slightly off target so he has to move in order to catch it. If he knows what I’m doing, he doesn’t let on.
I throw the ball 2 feet out of reach. Then 5 feet out of reach. Then 10 feet out of reach and over the wrong shoulder. He catches them all and zings the ball back to me.
Finally, after about 15 minutes of this, Evan says, “Dad, can I run some pass patterns?”
My first instinct is to say, “Well of course you can my surly pre-teen know it all. In fact, you COULD have been running patterns this whole time but you were too busy being a stubborn little ass-clown….” But after deciding it might be difficult to explain the technical meaning of “ass-clown” to a 12 year old, I opt for the slightly more subdued, “Sure. Go ahead.”
30 minutes and 400 pass patterns later, with the last shades of orange fading into the darkness of the Denver sky, Evan and I head back to our house. He’s still not walking right next to me, but at least he isn’t moping along 20 feet behind me either.
“Thanks for playing catch with me, Dad.”
Letting him know that those 7 words are music to my ears wouldn’t be cool, even by my incredibly low standards so instead I say, “You bet, buddy. Any time.”
I think it was the great British Statesman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill who once said, “Never , never, never, never give up.”
I doubt he was specifically talking about the difficulty of working your way through the “wanton parental contradiction” years when he said that, but all the same, I’ve found it to be incredibly valuable advice during my 12 plus years as a parent.
Now, where’s that tequila?