Parenting — a Short Story

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By Elizabeth Speth
Once upon a time, two people who were mere children themselves decided to have children.  Or they did not decide.  Either way, it happened.
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Babies were born and they were wonderful and terrible things.  Tyrannical, foul-smelling, inconveniently spewing.  Riveting, too.  The exhausted parents couldn’t tear their bleary eyes away.  Suddenly, the babies were everything.  Something had sprung up out of nothing, and taken over the world.
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The infants stretched into toddlers, and then pre-schoolers, and that took about five minutes, give or take.  The parents watched closely, and it was a time of fear.  The ‘What if…‘ time.
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What if… something happens?  What if… there is illness?  What if… someone hurts them… ?  What if…
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Holidays were fun, though.  There was squealing, and the slap of little feet in the hallway.  In summer there was the chlorine smell of swim lessons (to eliminate a ‘what if…’) and flushed early sleep while crickets throbbed, and the sun hovered low in the sky.  The lawn mower choked on army men hiding in the grass, and died.  Even that was amusing.
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Then a tooth or two went missing, and the children changed.  They looked different.  Elongated.  Angles replaced curves, there was some awkwardness.  They kept secrets, whispered to their friends in the back seat, eyes sliding away when a parent looked a question into the rear view mirror.
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Elementary school a blur, a little time in the classroom for the parents, a ride on the bus to a science museum, the underlying disapproval of their presence emanating from the children.  The beginning of the Time of Hostility.
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Which stretched into junior high school, the first dance, don’t ask them too many questions, don’t look too long, don’t love too much, don’t worry (but worry!) because they look like adults but they still have tantrum-throwing, unreasonable, magical-thinking toddler brains behind those braces.  And they are still heartbreakingly beautiful.
High school.  The ‘Whatever‘ time.  Each child a little different, all of them preferring the cool teachers as parents, and it’s all about the friends.  The parents watch them drive off alone for the first time.  Pick a college.  Pick a career.  They are terrified.  They make poor choices, and the rest of the time they make no choices at all, it seems.  Somewhere in there, despite the parents’ subtle surveillance, they sneak their milestones.  First drink.  Maybe first drug.  First sexual fumblings.  Maybe heartbreak.  The only clue is that they grow more or less surly, inexplicably.
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A last summer of separation.  Which they feel passionately about spending with friends.
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College.  A terrible wrench, some internal bleeding.
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After a long pause, a stony silence of independence, the calls start.  They miss the parents.  They appreciate the parents.  Home for the holidays, which are joyful again.
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The parents think:  “Well, we can do this.  We like these adult children.  They are pleasant.  And we can turn our thoughts to other things.”
Then things don’t go according to plan.  The ‘What the…?’  time. Courses of study are changed.  Schools are changed.  Someone has decided he doesn’t really want to go to college at all.  Maybe a ‘gap year’.  Maybe trade school.  Maybe get a dog and hike for a few months.
Dad, tuition-drained, a child suddenly gray at the temples (when did that happen?), asks in exasperation:  ‘What the hell is going on in our kids’ heads?’
Mom:  “As if they should have it all figured out somehow. By the late teens and early twenties? Please.”  But she is very worried.  This is how things stand, as she sees it, with the children:
1. They are poor. Which is appropriate.  Isn’t everyone at this age?  Some of them will struggle with poverty for only a short time, some forever.  The world is made up of both types of children.
2. They want adventure. This is a great time for that. They are children, yes, but with no children of their own.
3. They also want the world to be quiet, so they can think for a minute, so they can figure out what to do with the rest of their lives.
The parents decide to be quiet.   With difficulty, they try not to hold youth against itself. That would be the height of hypocrisy.
They mutter, they grumble.  They work to be grateful. And be quiet.
Someday, though they are but wrinkled, waning children themselves, there will be grandchildren. They want in on that.  And they want to see the process repeat itself.   They figure they’ve earned it.  The ‘What did we tell you?‘ time.
parenting 1       parenting 20

The ‘L’ Word

By Elizabeth Speth

Love hurts.  Love scars.  Love wounds.

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Love is a many-splendored thing.

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All you need is love.

Love is the moon, jealous of the stars.

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Scientists have confirmed that both good and bad things happen to our brains when we love.  Or when we think we love, but maybe we just want to have sex.  We produce dopamine and ocxytocin, which make us feel pleasure.  They are the biological reward for mating.  Cocaine addiction, of course, does much the same thing to us chemically.

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The early stages of romance are linked with diminished levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin and of a serotonin receptor, which, to some degree, mimics the chemistry of obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.

It’s wonderful and magical, and makes us write songs and sonnets.  It also makes our stomachs hurt, soaks our palms in sweat, dries out our mouths and makes us do stupid things.

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Love is agony and ecstasy.  We know all this.

We know that love takes up both spectrums of human emotion, but, as a society, have we allowed it to lay claim to everything in between?

Do we love too much?

I’m talking about the fact that ‘love’ may have become a useless concept, stretched and strained, overused and flabby.  Because we love everything.

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We love coffee and fast internet connections.

My son loves pickup trucks and old movies.  I have lots of friends who love cats.  I have even more friends who love cat videos.

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These days we love food trucks, but we still love restaurants.  We love social media.  If something is ‘trending’, that means we briefly love it.

As a pre-teen I loved disco, and I tried to love all of the Bee Gees equally.  Even though everyone knew Barry was the cutest. The first time I ever tasted prosciutto, I thought:  What wondrous love is this?

I know words mean things.  I respect the power of words.  As a writer, I try not to use the same one twice in a paragraph.  I agonize over exactly the right, the best, the most effective selection.

But I invoke the word ‘love’ a lot.

How can this be?  Can I truly love as many things as I say I do?

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If I love my children, can I also love dry martinis?  Is it okay that I love my husband, religious and political freedom, the great outdoors, and also Sriracha sauce?

Do I really love Downtown Abbey?  Actually, I don’t.  That family is exhausting.

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Am I lying when I say I love, at least a little bit, every one of my friends, a number of my co-workers, and also the fellow at the grocery store who gives me such good advice about wine?

I remember when I was in second grade, huddled with my best friend on the outskirts of a Catholic school playground, sneakily splitting a Snickers candy bar, despite the fact that Sister Joseph Adrian wielded a yardstick in the cloak room for such offenses.  Even then, a girl had to have her chocolate.

I told Felicia, around a mouthful of chocolate and peanuts and caramel, that I loved Snickers, and I was shocked when she sneered:  “Well, why don’t you marry it?

Though I was offended at the time, I got over it.  I realized she was repeating something she’d heard.  But the admonishment stuck with me.  The message she’d received from someone at some point, and passed along to me, was:  Hey!  You there, with the chocolate dribbling down your chin! It’s not okay to love too much! Rein it in, Nougat Breath!

The thing was, though, that I really did love that contraband candy treat.  I was passionate about it at that moment.  I cared about it as much as I cared about anything in my tiny life.  It was a real high point, and I’m not sorry I said so, Felicia.

I mean, if we have to avoid over-loving, who gets to decide what is love-worthy?

Where do we draw the line?

What if you are only allowed to love, say, the person you can legally marry?  And nothing else is allowed to be called love?  Ugh.  What a tragedy.

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If the list of things I love is miles long, albeit ever-changing, it would follow that I will neglect the list of things I hate.  There are only so many hours in the day, and I have a lot less energy than I used to.  Isn’t that a good thing?  In my case and also in the larger picture?

Ah, you say.  But the absence of love is not hate.  It’s indifference.

Well, maybe so.  But I still think love looks better.

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If I do a kind thing for a stranger on the street, I’d rather feel that small, temporary bridge of love than indifference between us.

“Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”  Mother Teresa said that.  Are you going to argue with Mother Teresa?  Don’t, because I love her.

Historically, hate and indifference both get us into trouble.  And trust me, you won’t have mass sales on discounted chocolate the day after a holiday celebrating either.

I’d rather have a world full of shallow, shifting, transient (or deep, passionate, lasting) love than the alternative.  I really would.

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I think you were right, John Lennon.  All you do need is love.

Vincent Van Gogh was kooky, but he was right when he said:  “The best way to know God is to love many things.”

Happy Love Day, my friends.  I think you know how I feel about you.

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