Marching orders from General Dad

Here's a comforting message for all of you who have children under the age of 6: It gets easier.

As children get older, parents move from the trenches to the rear guard, in charge of logistics rather than patrolling the sleepless front lines of the home front. So it's like a promotion. And, in many ways, there's less incoming flak.

When they're toddlers, kids seem to be in constant danger -- teetering on stacked boxes to reach stuff, experimenting with matches and electrical sockets, teething on the dog. With experience, children learn which things to put in their mouths and where not to stick their fingers. They discover that you'll reach high shelves for them if they whine enough.

As children learn to solve their own problems, parents can relax a little. They can get a full night's sleep occasionally. Most importantly, parents can bend over a lot less, which becomes crucial with age.

A case in point: We bought these bean bag chairs so our two sons could drag them around and flop into them in front of various television sets strategically placed around the house. The bean bags look like big old prunes lying on the floor, and you can trip over them in the dark, but they keep the kids off the good furniture, which is important, particularly when they're noshing Pringles.

One bean bag sprung a leak -- thanks to the dog -- and my 7-year-old recognized the leak as a problem he could solve. He went to the junk drawer in the kitchen and got out scissors and duct tape (that's my boy!). He crouched over the bean bag, cut tape to the right length with the scissors and -- voila! -- the repair was made. And he didn't approach me for help.

How did I even know he'd accomplished this on his own? Well, the junk drawer was hanging open, for one thing. Duct tape and scissors sat out on the counter. He hadn't put anything away when he was done.

If this seems like shoddy workmanship to you, then you're missing the point. He'd done part of the job himself. And it was the part that involved bending over.

When I was a kid growing up in the South, my parents considered my brother and me to be their own personal remote controls. We could be out in the yard playing, and they'd call us inside to change the channel or fetch some more tea. My parents believed it was easier to shout a kid down from upstairs than to get up and cross the room and turn on a lamp.

From a tender age, I hated this. I didn't see why I needed to interrupt my important activities -- which usually centered on slaying imaginary Nazis -- just because a parent didn't want to dislodge from the La-Z-Boy.

Now that I'm a middle-aged parent of two strapping boys, I do the same thing. I'm General Dad. I sit in my comfy chair, a newspaper spread across my lap, my coffee within arm's reach, and I invariably spy something that needs doing. Time to summon the troops. Yo, boys! Come here and hand me that/pick that up/clean that up/put that down/turn that off.

They mutter and drag their feet, but they do it. And I don't have to wrestle my way up out of my chair.

I see now why my parents used my brother and me as their servants. Parents are tired all the time. We never really catch up on our rest from those 2 a.m. feedings. And bending over and picking things up off the floor becomes increasingly difficult for aging spines. Better to let the kids do it. They need the exercise. They're limber. They're shorter than us so they're already closer to the floor.

I know this won't last. Before long, my boys will be teen-agers, and I'll be lucky if I can find them, much less get them to help out. And shouting the length of the house for assistance does no good when the kids always wear headphones spewing rap music.

But until then I've got helpers, my own little chain gang. Now all I need is a La-Z-Boy.

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