I Should Have Listened to My Mother

As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m thinking about buying my sons a shirt that says “I should have listened to my mother” on the front and “I never thought that would happen” on the back. The shirt would have casts, splints, and medical bills all over it. I might buy my wife her own that says “Don’t blame me. I told him it was a bad idea.”

When my wife and I started dating, we had the requisite conversation about having kids. I didn’t want any. She wanted 100 (or 6 but once you get past zero it might as well be 100). They are not, contrary to popular literary novels, cheaper by the dozen.

I argued, quite logically of course, that kids were expensive both financially and emotionally. They expect to eat on a regular basis, they want clothes, cable tv, and they will drive us to drink. Someday, I said with fear in my voice, they will want to go to college. Think, too, I argued, of all the memories they will have to repress growing up with us as parents!

And think of all the pain and agony we will endure. They cry. We spend two years wiping body parts that should remain private. They scream. They get hurt. They want stuff.

She just smiled.

Naturally, we had two boys. It’s not zero, but at least it’s better than 6.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids and being responsible for them has made me a better person. They have brought joy to our lives and I’m glad we had them.

But, I was right. They are expensive. They eat. A lot. All the time.

Worse yet, I’ve wiped backsides, brushed away tears, and fought the agony while watching them in pain.

And boy do they have pain. Repeatedly. There was that party “everyone” went to. There was that girl who never knew he existed. That class “all” his friends were in while he was with “no one” he knew. And a thousand other social cuts we only know happened because they came home in a rotten mood.

There were also broken bones, sprained ankles, and one finger tip cut off in a freak accident.

While I could write about the high cost of health care, the rising costs of medical insurance, and the ridiculous (and totally incomprehensible) pricing models used by hospitals and doctors, let’s all admit that the biggest cost of having kids is the emotional one. (Of course, a $2,500 medical bill just adds to the emotional baggage of any injury.)

Life is a calculated risk of probability versus possibility. We have to work hard to raise kids who make good choices but who aren’t scared to take chances. Parenting, it seems to me, is a delicate balance between protecting children and letting them roam free. As they get older, we should give them more rope, more freedom, and let them learn how to live life in a way that fits their personality.

Until they get hurt and you are forced to call into question your overall philosophy. And then you realize why some parents are overprotective and swirl around setting play dates and manufacturing friends.

It’s not about making sure little Johnny is happy. I’m pretty sure they are trying to avoid the pain and agony of injury or unpopularity.

Fortunately, we aren’t faced with a great tragedy and in my rational mind I know we are lucky parents. Our kids are well-behaved, making good grades, and we’ve never had to bail them out of jail (although they are young). Broken bones and hearts heal.

But we were reminded (yet again) this weekend that 15 year olds don’t always make good decisions. My son, a week away from a regional baseball playoff game, decided to tubing. The  kind where someone drives a boat really fast. He is the lead off hitter and starting right fielder. Or, rather, he was the lead off hitter. Now he’s a spectator with a $13,000 bone screw in his finger because he has a bone broken off at the interphalangeal joint. (The good thing about kids who get hurt a lot is you learn all the important body part names. Need any advice about fingers? Shoulders? Knees? I’m your guy. Doctors sigh when they see us coming.)

There’s a reason 15 year olds don’t vote.

Admittedly, watching him in pain was no fun, but they make little pills that help (for him–he wouldn’t share). What they don’t have is a pill to help when he has to call his coach and admit he was stupid at the wrong time.

Or a pill to help tonight when he’s not in the line up for such an important game.

And we have to watch him, knowing he’s hurting, and realize there’s nothing we can do.

Except make some shirts that say “He should have listened to his mother.”

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

One Response to I Should Have Listened to My Mother

  1. kampenjust says:

    I have never understood it! Maybe just as well, the world would be a lonely place if we did! Enjoyed your blog.

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