Second thoughts

Here's an ugly little secret: We parents sometimes look at our children and ask ourselves this question: "What the hell were we thinking, having kids?"

Yeah, yeah, we love our children more than anything. They bring great joy to every day. And if, God forbid, something ever happened to them, it would leave a hole in our souls that could never be filled.

BUT . . . once in a while, their behavior is such that we can't help but have second thoughts about the whole parenting deal.

These unwelcome thoughts usually come as we witness our children do something so incredibly goofy or disgusting or downright dangerous that we parents can do little more than stand there slack-jawed, poleaxed by the foolhardiness of youth.

Kids feel compelled to try everything, no matter how hazardous or filthy it may seem. They're experiencing the world first-hand, and they must push the limits. It's their job.

The fact that we parents have gone there before, that we can warn them of the possible results of their actions, means nothing. We didn't listen to our parents when they told us get down from there/sit down/shut up/be careful/don't put that in your mouth/stay away from the "wrong crowd." Why do we expect such warnings will work with the next generation?

Yet we try to warn them. It doesn't work. They do it anyway. And it's then -- and this step often occurs on the way to the emergency room -- that we secretly think, "We could've lived our lives child-free. We could be sipping daiquiris on a beach somewhere, unfettered by worry and fear and impending college tuition. What the hell were we thinking?"

Take, for example, tree-climbing. If there are trees within 30 square miles of your home, your kids are climbing them. You may have told them to stay out of trees. You may even think they've obeyed. But somewhere, right now, your kid is up a tree, hanging on for dear life.

We parents know tree-climbing is dangerous; many of us have the scars to prove it. You don't see adults climbing trees and hanging from the branches like chimps, not unless they're professional tree-trimmers who get paid to do it (and you have to wonder about those guys). But a kid sees a tree as a challenge, a gangly Everest. It must be climbed because it is there.

Before you know it, you're outside with a ladder, trying to get a frozen-with-fear child down out of the high branches. Or, worse, calling the fire department. And those dreaded second thoughts come to the fore.

Another example: Sock-skating. We adults know that if you spend enough time sliding across hardwood floors in your sock feet, you eventually will bust your butt. But to a kid, it's irresistible. Why? Because it's fun (and there's an alien concept to a parent if ever there was one).

We parents may say we're all for having fun, but when we're standing over a squawling child, examining the injured area for any sign of a broken tailborne, we might secretly question our life choices.

And that's just the dangerous stuff. There's a whole universe of behaviors that are simply annoying: bickering, slamming doors, talking back, breaking stuff, spilling, bed-trampolining, crying, more spilling, wheedling, nose-picking, midnight upchucking, homework avoiding, yet more spilling.

We wouldn't put up with such behavior from another adult. If, say, a co-worker came to your house and started jumping on your bed while spilling his Big Gulp and shouting the taunt, "Neener, neener, neener," you'd toss him out on the street.

But when our kids do the same thing, we sigh and tell them -- for the thousandth time -- to cut it out. And they respond by running outside and getting stranded up a tree. In their sock feet.

Why do we put up with it all? Because they're our kids and we love them. Because they're so damned cute. Because we know they must learn some lessons for themselves. Because we believe that, with enough patience and fortitude, we can eventually teach them to behave like humans.

But, on the inside, unknown to the kids, we sometimes wonder, "What were we thinking?"

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