To raise kids, follow the path other mothers have taken

SUSAN REIMER

November 02, 1993|By SUSAN REIMER

It has been 30 years since my mother had a young child to raise, and when she looks at me across the gulf of experiences those years represent, she cannot relate to the demands of my motherhood.

It exhausts her just to hear about the running around I do, to dance lessons, soccer games, art classes, swim practices. There was no money for those things when my sisters and I were young and -- more important -- there was no pressure to do them. No one else was doing them either.

When I was writing big checks to pay for my children's fancy-schmancy preschool education, my mother pointed out that when I was 5 years old, kindergarten was optional. The bus fare of $5 was a luxury, she told me, and so I did not go. And, she noted, not only did I learn to cut and paste and socialize just fine, but I also went to college and found a decent job.

When she hears me talk about school board meetings and redistricting hearings, about the merits of whole language learning or about homogeneous vs. heterogeneous grouping, she is lost. My husband spends more time volunteering at my children's school in a single year than my mother -- and perhaps yours -- spent during my entire educational life. I think I recall seeing her there for one Hot Dog Day.

And, so, when I turn tearfully to my mother with a sad tale about my crazy life, she cannot say to me, as she often did when I was sick, "I know sweetheart -- me, too."

But I have filled the void where my mother's words of wisdom might be with a kind of advisory panel -- a group of women whose children are my children's ages and older.

As their kids pass through different phases, different stages, as they trot out different idiosyncrasies to drive their parents mad, I watch and listen. I am careful to see how these mothers respond. I have learned that, too soon, I will go through the same trials. My friends are my road maps through life.

It was not always so. I can still hear myself say as I watched my friends raise their very young children: "Humpf. My kids will never drink soda, eat chocolate or watch commercial television. I will never use food as a reward. I will never bribe my kids with some stupid purchase just to get them to cooperate. I will never negotiate with them . . ." Should I go on, or do you hear the same voice in your memory?

Each vow I took was quickly broken. The reality of raising children erased the absolutes I had established. I thought I would learn from my friends' mistakes. But what I learned was what the future held for me.

It can be a fearful picture. "Put your feet up," a friend told me, and she laughed a haunted laugh. "Nine-year-old boys are easy. Piece of cake. Wait until puberty hits. Then you just buckle your chin strap and hold on."

"Wait until she's 12 or 13," another friend said about my loving daughter. "She's going to hate you."

I am fearful of what they describe, because I know there is truth in what they say. Their own lives have predicted my future so often that I have learned to hold my arrogant tongue, watch and learn.

I remember thinking, when a dear friend started hauling her daughter an hour away for voice lessons: "She's nuts. No children's theater experience is worth this kind of trouble and expense." Now, my own daughter wants that theater experience, and Silver Spring does not seem so far away.

I remember thinking when she let her son walk to the comic-book store each Friday to spend his allowance: "Not my son. He's going to be reading junior novelizations." But when my own reluctant reader asked if he could do a book report on a comic-book version of Cal Ripken's life, I was delighted. "At least he's reading," I told myself.

Now, her son is a senior, and he is known as the only kid in the history of the school to have done all the reading in Advanced Placement History. I am watching, I told my friend, and hoping the pattern holds.

And so, as my kids snack on Yoo-hoos and microwave french fries and watch some cartoon show I abhor, as we argue about homework and whether it is acceptable to call someone a butthead, I watch and listen as my friends face the deadly issues of adolescence: drinking, drugs and sex. Here's hoping they get through it OK. Then perhaps I will, too.

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