Mike Parker: Visions of the past frozen in time
My mother opened her cedar chest and began searching through the contents. I do not even remember what she was looking to find. I only know she had a treasure chest of old newspaper clippings and photos from across the years.
She placed an 11x14 photo in an oval matte on the desk. The picture showed my three daughters. My son Michael had not been born. Sara was 7; Rachel, 6; Lydia, 4.
They appear to be wearing Easter dresses. A small, white plastic bow adorns the hair of each.
Rachel and Lydia look toward the camera and smile prettily. Something must have distracted Sara because her eyes are cut to her left, and she seems to be biting her lower lip just a bit.
The portrait captures youth and innocence. The girls project the image of “happiness” we generally associate with childhood and simpler times. In just a year or two, their little brother would come into the picture.
As I looked at that photo, my mind raced through the years. As my children grew, they experienced heartaches and heart-breaks, disappointments and fulfilment, pangs and pains — and the vast array of multi-colored yarns that knit together to create the tapestry our lives.
Today, they are parents. For the most part, their children are older than my three girls appear in that photograph.
Sara’s older children are 20, 19 and 18. Lydia’s oldest son is turning 17 on Tax Day — April 15. These four form the “Old Guard” of my grandchildren.
The “Young Guns” include Rachel’s daughters, ages 10 and 9. Michael has two sons, one 11 and a soon-to-be 10-year-old. Sara has a son, 9, and a daughter, 7. Lydia rounds out the even dozen grandkids with a daughter, seven, and a son, five.
The little children who look out from that photo taken so many years ago are now experiencing what Mom and Dad had to deal with. Their children are teaching them the Art of Parenting just as they taught that art to Sandra and me nearly 40 years ago.
No child can understand the challenges of parenting until that child becomes a parent. Most of their claims that “when I have my own kids, I will never …” and “when I have children of my own, I will never say …” boomerang back with uncomfortable force.
My vow was to never say to my children, “Because I said so.” I had to learn better. After a child asks for an explanation for the explanation for the explanation, the easiest way to end the interrogation is with that tried and true expression — the invocation of parental authority.
I am proud of the adults my children have become. They are people of integrity, honesty and honor. They are expert in their chosen professions. They mentor others.
Best of all, they work hard at being good parents. They know good parenting is learned behavior, a learning often rooted in the soil of the mistakes they make. They have produced a crop of kids I truly enjoy being around.
As I teacher, I dealt with a host of parents too timid to provide the discipline and structure their children needed. They feared losing their children’s love. I reminded them that what their kids needed was not a “buddy” or “pal” – but a parent.
At times, a parent must endure a child’s anger or hostility. Children want what they want when they want it. Perhaps the most used word in a good parent’s vocabulary is a resolute “NO.”
And like most parents, I have placed The Curse on my children: “I hope you have a child just like you.” I am four for four. Each of my children has his or her “mini-me.”
I can’t help but chuckle.
Mike Parker is a columnist for Neuse News. You can reach him at email@example.com.