Leaf Me Alone

After mowing the lawn this past Saturday, I discerned that there was yet more yard work to be done at Altshuler Plaza ("where living is a way of life"). Noting that leaves do not typically jump into trash bags on their own, I mentioned to my youngest that perhaps she might join me in my endeavor to keep the photographers from "Worst Kept Home on 62nd Avenue" at bay.

Hobbes may have suggested that life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," but I was determined nonetheless to have company raking leaves. I could be solitary later in the day-when taking the dog for a walk, for example.

My daughter, who had been contentedly watching cartoons, responded to my entreaty regarding leaves specifically and yard work in general with words other than, "Yes, Sir. Right away, Sir."

This was not the answer I wanted.

I reflected on the fact that, although I live with a great number of children, I do entirely too much yard work on my own. I further reflected on the fact that I gave a talk on parenting at Books & Books just the other day. Surely, the man who wrote a book and gave a lecture on parenting SHOULD BE ABLE TO GET HIS 14 YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER TO HELP HIM WITH A LITTLE YARD WORK FOR GOODNESS SAKE WE’RE TALKING ABOUT RAKING A FEW LEAVES NOT THE BATAN DEATH MARCH.

So, parenting expert that I am, I took the next logical step of entering into a complete and utter psychotic meltdown replete with raving, sputtering, and incoherent four-letter words. The gist of my disconnected shouting may have had something to do with living in a home where people help one another. Admittedly, the logic may have been hard to follow given the number of expletives. I am thankful, given the decibel level of my insane diatribe, that the neighbors did not call the police; I am also thankful that the neighbors did not call the Department of Children and Families to take the first steps toward removing my daughter from the home and placing her in foster care. I continued my frenzied tirade until the youngest of my four kids paused the television, put her sneakers on, and cheerfully joined me in the yard.

Clearly, yelling at a child about living in a happy family where people are nice to each other and help one another with chores is right up there with fighting for peace and f***ing for chastity. Bad plans all. And unlikely to be effective.

After my daughter and I stacked firewood and clipped branches for an hour or two, I had calmed down enough to be pretty much rational. Now that my head was no longer spinning, I apologized. "I'm sorry I yelled at you," I began. "That's no way to treat people."

"It's okay," she replied. We're good."

What am I to make of this comment? “It’s okay; we’re good.” How can a child be so forgiving? Dispensing with hyperbole and humor I will make the following straightforward points:

1) Being a good parent is like running a marathon. It's not about what you do on any one day. It's about what you do year in and year out that matters.

2) Making a mistake and apologizing is better than making a mistake and continuing to be a jerk about it.

3) Making deposits in the Bank of Goodwill with your children allows you to make the occasional withdrawal. Specifically, if you mess up--needlessly screaming at a child, for example--you are more likely to get another chance unless you frequently scream at your child, in which case who would blame her for tuning you out?

4) Making deposits in the Bank of Goodwill is not about allowing your children to play video games and eat ice cream for breakfast. Making deposits is about attending to your children's needs while helping them deal with their wants. (“No you can’t have a pony; we live on the 14th floor of a condo with an explicit ‘No ponies’ policy.” But I can certainly appreciate how much you want a pony.”)

5) Anyone who thinks that I have the proper insight to each and every question regarding how to raise healthy kids will be brutally disappointed.

But I’m going to keep making the best decisions I can going forward. I’m going to learn from my mistakes. I’m going to do more collaborative problem solving and less authoritarian directing.

I’m going to do less screaming. I hope you will too.

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