It’s around 10 AM and we’re at the beach to pick up seashells when the kids start in on me. I swear we have JUST hit the damn sand and they’re already unleashing their blitzkrieg of whining.
“It’s tooooooo hot!”
“I have to pee and I don’t want to pee in the ocean. There’s jellyfish and killer whales!”
“My bucket is sooooo heavy!”
“These shells are ALL BROKEN! This ocean is so stupid!”
“My toes are sinking in the saaaaand. Daddy, my toes are gone!”
Are they messing with me? What is happening right now? I’m at the beach FOR THEM! I’m looking for seashells in the morning FOR THEM! So why is this turning into three little kids verbally assaulting their dad with absurdity?
Whining sucks. It might just be the worst thing about raising children. No scratch that, it IS the worst thing.
Whiny kids melt my face.
Even so, I kind of get it. It’s morning when we’re at the beach, day five of our summer vacation, and so far it’s been non-stop action. We’ve swam in the ocean, we’ve jumped in the waves. We’ve trudged up and down the beach several times already, long distances for tiny legs, looking for shells. They’ve hiked to the ice cream shop in the evenings with me. They’ve collapsed in bed by my side each night.
So although in my mind (and on paper) these kids ought to be having the time of their lives, and although I actually think that they are, I still have a moment of clarity in the midst of their complaining today.
And that’s this: they’re exhausted.
They just are. There’s nothing bad about that, or wrong. I haven’t mishandled them much, I don’t think. Heck, I’ve given them my all trying to show them a good time. It’s really no different than when we’re at home, I tell myself. Kids get worn out. And they don’t do it according to my vacation schedule or your work schedule or any parent’s best laid plans.
They simply grow tired and cranky … and whiny … when they do.
I try to wrap my head around that wisdom windfall, but I’m embarrassed to admit that just as fast as the notion strikes me, I lose it again. They keep up the whining, and I lose my head. I’m tired too, it turns out.
So we head back to the house. And I cut the vacation short by a day. We head home.
To hell with this, I tell myself. If they’re tired at 10 in the morning then we’ve used it up. This vacation is Donesville.
Is that stupid? Was I wrong?
I don’t know.
But I did what I did.
And no one really complained about it.
Whining, even at the best of times, reeks of spoiled brats, of inmates running the asylum. It makes me question every tried and true method of discipline I’ve been using since day one. It causes me to fear that I am the object of other parents’ inside jokes.
“He’s The Enabler! That’s what Lucy and Jane and I call him. He lets his kids get away with everything. And now they’re crapping all over his world! Hahahahahah! BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!”
Then I remember back when I was a kid. It’s tough to do that sometimes, our minds have erased so much perspective from when we were young. But it’s always worth trying, I figure. That vast gap between what we see through our eyes and what our kids see through theirs is more than we can ever fathom. So any chance at even a brief flash of remembering how we were, at revisiting what we once thought and felt and saw as kids ourselves is probably worth it. Typically, it’s fruitless.
But every now and then it all comes rushing back.
I’ll leave you with this.
One summer night, many many years ago, I complained about an ice cream cone my mom had just bought me. It was after one of my Little League games. She’d driven a few miles up the road, gone into Dairy Queen, stood in line, paid for a cone … all for me, and then when she came back out, I let her have it with the terrible tone of a 10-year-old whiner.
“Mommmmmm! God! I said I wanted sprinkles, not these gross stupid crushed peanuts!”
Our worlds collided at that moment, as kids’ and parents’ worlds often do. I wanted friggin’ sprinkles. She’d worked hard all day. I didn’t want nuts. She’d taken me to my ball game and she’d cheered me on. I was disappointed about a dumb kid thing, and I was tired from my day. She’d brought me for ice cream even when she was nearly broke, always struggling to make ends meet as a single mom.
The moment of truth hung in the thick, humid air.
I didn’t have any game plan. I’d complained. Now what? Was she going to go back in there and get in line again and buy me a new cone? Did I honestly think that would happen? I might have. But I was a kid, remember? And most of the time kids think crazy stuff.
My mom sighed — long and slow — as she held out my cone to me.
Whatever, I figured. I’ll just eat it.
And as I went to take it, she lightly jabbed the cone straight into my nose. I was shocked. And I was wildly impressed. She swore it was an accident, but now that I’m a dad, I know what’s what.
And in a very strange way, I’m so glad that happened.More On