We’re on the bed, and I’m trying to nurse Annie, who is treating me like a free refill bar at a fast food restaurant. I’m listening-ish. He reads that Manny, the Mammoth dad, and his teenage daughter Peaches, don’t really get along. Peaches yells at her dad “You can’t control my life!” Manny yells back “I’m your dad! It’s my job to control your life!”
Yikes. This needs a clarification, I think as I wrestle Annie to the floor and send her off to Dada.
But before I can say a word, Gabriel says “I think they are both wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“Peaches is wrong” he tells me. “If she’s going to live with her dad, she has to follow his rules.”
“And Manny is wrong. It’s not his job to control her life.”
“No. It’s his job to raise her to be a good mammoth.”
We don’t have teenagers yet. The closest thing we have is my friend’s nine year old. But they are coming, a giant clump of kids who will go through puberty within five years of each other, God help us.
I was not an easy teenager. I was smart and mouthy. Some would call me deceptive, but I would say that I ran excellent public relations campaigns. My parents were on a need to know basis. They needed to know about my excellent grades, outstanding athletic accomplishments, stellar babysitting reviews. What I did on Saturday night was my affair.
My father says if there is any justice in the world (when he says it you can hear the italics, I promise), I will get what I gave times three.
I survived with a clean record and all my limbs intact for one good reason: my parents did a good job. They laid a solid foundation of values and fear—you need both to parent effectively, in my opinion. When good sense didn’t stop me from being a dumbass, fear of the consequences usually did. Or at least prompted me to have a back up plan.
Because my parents were not playing around. I once got put on restriction an entire semester for being the designated driver. I argued this was unfair based on the fact that I was being the responsible one. They argued that we were all 16 and if they had their way we’d be locked up in a convent, so I should shut my mouth while I was ahead.
I understand a bit now how hard it is to raise good kids. Sometimes, every fiber of my being wants to raise safe kids in pretty cages. I’ve seen parents try to control their children into safe adulthood by anticipating every pitfall and negotiating every hardship.
But I know what that looks like at age 16—kids who are champion whiners, have no initiative and no ability to solve their own problems. If I had a dime for every time my dad told one of us to “use your head”, I’d be a rich woman, but that was much better than “I’ll do it for you”.
One of the most famous stories in our family goes like this: when my brother was in high school, he got a flat tire on the 405 freeway during rush hour traffic. He managed to get the truck off the freeway, but it was so old the spare tire was long gone. He called my dad to get some help. My dad listened to him and said “Call AAA and have it towed. I’m busy.” Click.
How many parents would have the guts to do this today? Strand your 17 year old? Not really stranded, because he had a AAA card in his wallet. But he had to handle the whole thing himself, which he did. To this day, when one of us hits a place where we don’t know what to do next, someone will yell “Call AAA and have it towed!”
As much as we give my dad a hard time, he was right about making us figure it out. And now, here we all are, successful adults.
So I’m going to try to remember: At some point it won’t be my job to control, negotiate and anticipate anymore. As they get older, it’s my job to teach them to do these things for themselves. I want them to go out in the world and be happy, contributing, moral adults.
I want them to be good mammoths.