In my last blog post I wrote briefly about lessons I never imagined I would have had to teach my daughters. When faced with the looming prospect of parenthood there are certain lessons you're aware of, topics that will, inevitably come up. Standard, run-of-the-mill, 'Leave it to Beaver' sort of stuff that everyone has to deal with. Manners, hygiene, the opposite sex, you get the idea.
But am I the only one surprised by the odd list of topics I've had to cover as a parent that I would never have guessed I'd need to address?
I've had the idea for this blog post for years, and considered writing a full series on stories like the one in the last post about Whistling, Walmart and Women. But I struggled to find a category name that conveyed the idea of: "50 Lessons I'd never have guessed I'd have to teach my daughters"
It's a bit wordy.
This particular surprise lesson in parenting involved me having to tell one of my daughters that it's not appropriate to lick her sister in the face. You read that right. That's not a typo. Face-palm.
Years ago I was in charge of a ladies volleyball league consisting of teams from my church as well as a few others. My role was to organize the league, define rules, administer the fees, pay the refs, those sorts of things. At the time my church did not have a gymnasium of our own, so we rented a gym from another local church.
This particular church gym was not large. It really had only one court - dual purpose for basketball and volleyball. We would setup folding chairs around the sides of the court for the teams and spectators. The building was a large rectangle, with the court in the middle, a hallway that led to a small kitchen and bathrooms on one side, and a small stage on the other side. When not being used as a sweat factory for sports, the church would use it for children's church productions like puppet shows and such, or as a fellowship hall for church dinners.
On the evening in question, I was there with all three of my daughters. They would help me setup for the night's games, then play with some of their friends for a while, then help me clean up when the night was over. During one of the games that night, my kids were playing a make believe game with some of their friends. This particular game appeared to be where my oldest daughter would "walk" her dogs. The dogs of course being her sisters.
Gold star to you if you see where this is heading.
The gym was crowded during the volleyball game and, because I try to be a conscientious parent, I was both watching the game and trying to keep an eye on my kids. They were on the stage, in plain sight of the entire gym. My oldest daughter was holding up her hand pinching an imaginary treat between her fingers. My two youngest daughters were kneeling in front of her, squatting on their legs, propped up on their hands like a dog does when told to sit. Both the younger two had their tongues sticking out, wagging like a dog that's just run some distance in the summer heat.
If you've ever been in a compromising or embarrassing situation as a parent I am sure you can commiserate. We've all been to the children's program at church or school and seen that kid in the front row of the choir drilling for oil in his nose only to eat the spoils of his labor. Or that kid who simply decides to sit down in the middle of the soccer game or is picking daisies in right field when the ball is hit to them. I think all parents have been on the far side of a crowded room and found themselves forced to watch in horror as their kids are about to do something, gross, rude, embarrassing or a mixture of all three.
Today was my lucky day on the Ferris wheel of shame.
Up until that point I didn't really believe in psychics. I thought seeing the future was a parlor trick. But at that moment I saw the future in HD, 3-D, full motion action. I knew precisely what was going to happen. And I knew was powerless to stop it. Upon reflection wish I'd taken that moment of pure gold psychic ability and foretold the upcoming Powerball lotto winning numbers. Since I already knew what was about to happen, I knew I could use the money. Obviously I was going to have to move, change my name and try to disappear from all civilized society.
I figure winning the lotto makes that transition easier.
I watched from across the room, my eyes wide with panic as my oldest daughter playfully tossed the imaginary treat to her sister-dog, who caught it in midair and made a grande spectacle of chewing it up. I felt myself rising from the chair. Maybe I could get there in time. Maybe I could put a stop to it?. Maybe I could... Wait, where is the freaking fire alarm in this place?
Alas, I was helpless.
As one of my younger daughters ate her imaginary treat, the oldest leaned forward. All dog owners know how dogs show love and affection. And if you're going to play the part of a dog, then by golly, you better play it well. The cheerful dog, stuck out her wagging tongue and, sure enough, laid a big fat lick up the side of her sister's cheek.
Now before we go on, I should point out that my kids were not THAT old. My oldest was probably six or seven. My middle would have been five maybe, my youngest four. So it's not like my kids were driving themselves to the game or anything.
Excuse my shameless defensiveness there.
When the deed was done, I simply stopped in my tracks. Maybe no one noticed? I looked up to the heavens pleading for this moment to be one of those where something tremendously embarrassing happens in a room full of people, but the room's so crowded no one sees it.
I looked around the gym. While most of the players on the court were too busy with volleyball, along the opposite wall there were a few ladies on the team benches all looking up at the stage. Laughing.
Yes, ladies those are my kids. Now do you have your league fees yet?
Ahead of where I stood along the same wall was a friend of mine, Mike, his hands covering his open mouth holding back laughter, his eyes tearing up from the strain of it. He looked up at me, condolences in his eyes. I shrugged.
I continued my trek to the stage, motioned my daughters over and I told them to put a stop to that particular use of their imagination. Time to play something less embarrassing and less offensive. Like 'Cowboys and Indians'. Yeah, you pretend to shoot these people, steal their lands and oppress them. That's better. I'm sure I was calm and collected. I'm almost positive I didn't deliver all the words through a plastic smile and gritted teeth.
I teach an adult bible class on Sunday mornings at my church. Mike's in my class. From time to time I am asked to preach messages at services for my church. That particular evening I was serving in the capacity as a deacon, the person in charge of the volleyball league. Few things undercut your respectability as a teacher, leader, and organizer like one of your kids licking one of your other kids on the face.
Please, everyone, take me seriously. And, if you will, pay no attention to those kids on the stage.
I guess in a way I should be proud right? We live in a world where we're told we are to applaud everything our kids do. We're told that if we don't they will have no self confidence and will grow up to be self-conscious, lazy or Republicans. Learn to walk? Here's a round of applause. Eat your vegetables? Here's a cookie. Color the walls with the contents of your diaper? You're a genius! Let's frame it for the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.
From a certain perspective it is impressive, if you think about it. I mean, imagine what it takes to commit to a role like that? Heath Leger never committed to a role to that degree and he was that nutso in Batman! I can't even imagine having that level of commitment to anything. I can't even commit when someone asks me one of those ridiculous: "If you were trapped on an island with only one book, one movie and one CD what would they be?" questions. I can barely keep a commitment to take my blood pressure medication.
And it's keeping me alive.
It takes a lot of courage to throw yourself into a role like that. And that's not such a bad thing, right?
I guess it could be worse. I remember one time being at a friend's house for dinner when a little boy rushed in saying that some bossy little girl had been pulling the back of his pants, taking a peek. Come to find out she was doing what she'd seen her parents do, checking for dirty diapers. She just had no idea how inappropriate it was to do to someone else's kid. Boy, I bet that guy was embarrassed. I'd hate to have been him.
Oh wait, that was me too.