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After reading a parenting expert’s column in the newspaper that makes it sound so easy, followed by phone calls from my daughters who make it sound so hard, I realized, in retrospect, that I was a mess of a mother. I plucked tacky plastic Halloween costumes off the rack at Kmart for my children. Fed them un-organic anything. Dressed them in environmentally destructive polyester because it didn’t need ironing – well, it’s a miracle my kids didn’t turn out to be sociopaths.
Take our first daughter. A screaming insomniac from the moment she came home from the hospital, she never went to sleep before midnight. I suppose she did once in a while out of exhaustion, but in my memory, she wandered around the house throughout the night from birth until she left for college.
At about the age of 2, however, she was smart enough to stop screaming and learned to be quiet during her nocturnal revelry. Thus, I blissfully slept while she watched repeats of PBS specials on the family room TV.
She was the one who sent her kindergarten teacher into hang-wringing fits when she didn’t draw stick people with a sufficient number of anatomical parts. The young teacher said this absence of detail reflected an alarming lack of reading readiness. Fearing Social Services would descend upon me, I didn’t mention to the teacher that my daughter had learned to read fluently at the age of 3 watching midnight PBS specials. However, I did worry that dehumanized stick people indicated that my kid was a potential sociopath.
I tried, then, to pump up her stick drawings. “Couldn’t you add some squiggly hair, maybe in brown or yellow crayon, on top of your drawing?” I’d suggest. “Or maybe toss in some blue dots for eyes?” She stared at me like I was crazy. Then she explained, “I’m not a good draw-er,” and went back to reading the morning newspaper.
Daughter Number One was also too quiet at school, which worried everybody to death, and her hair wouldn’t cooperate either (which worried me to death.) Later, no thanks to me, she would graduate from an Ivy League law school, impress everyone she met with her reading readiness, and learn to make the best of her hair.
To our relief, Daughter Number Two, slept like the books say babies are supposed to do. However, at about the age of 18 months, she tossed the books out the window with a giggle, and started to do things her way. If you put her in her room for a disciplinary time-out, she’d climb out the window and run to a neighbor’s house to play. If you hid the cookies – or the knives or the scissors or your irreplaceable pearl earrings given to you on your wedding day – on the tip-top ledge of the cabinets in your two-story kitchen, she would scale the faux wood wall as if she were Sir Edmund Hillary conquering Mount Everest.
She could, however, draw fantastic stick people. This gave me hope during our darkest hours that she would not turn out to be, you know, a sociopath. Like the time she ordered her older sister to “turn the other cheek like Jesus says to do” so she could hit her again on the opposite side of her face. Like the time she skipped through Kroger chanting at the top of her lungs, “Johnny Jones poo-poos in his pants –” I walked real fast so people wouldn’t know she was with me, and managed to lose her in the produce department. I waited 10 minutes before claiming her when the store’s loudspeaker shouted that they had a lost little girl in the office whose name was “Johnny Jones Poo-poos –”
Daughter Number Two was too talkative at school, which worried everybody to death. Her hair would not co-operate either (which worried me to death.) Later, no thanks to me, she would graduate from college with honors, charm everyone she met with her effervescent personality, and learn to make the best of her hair.
Daughter Number Three picked up everything I didn’t want her to do from both her older sisters, plus a moral objection to eating meat from that model of all things good and noble, Michael Jackson. I was too tired to care. I threw some dry cereal at her a few times a day, turned on PBS, and prayed she wouldn’t grow-up to be a sociopath. I did ask her middle sister – who turned out to be artistic despite blowing up her middle school pottery project in the kiln and flunking art for the semester – to teach her how to draw stick people, with or without anatomical parts.
Daughter Number Three was socially well adjusted in school, neither too quiet nor too talkative, which pleased everybody.
Grooving in benign neglect by then, I can’t remember if her hair cooperated or not. Later, no thanks to me, she would earn a PhD. in clinical psychology and learn to spot a sociopath from a distance of 50 yards.
I’ve never been asked to write a parenting column. That’s probably because I don’t have many answers, and I’m even a little shaky on what the questions are. But I am sure of this: new mothers should start teaching their babies how to draw stick people as soon as they get home from the hospital. The world does not need any more sociopaths.