My daughter, Kirsten, had her 15th birthday this past week and it occurs to me how soon it will be before she is a grown woman and my years of child-rearing will be behind me. Christian turned 18 almost a year ago and has already moved out so I am just a few years away from being all on my own. I have been asked by several people what I will do when I am living by myself. Will I miss having kids in the house? Will I be lonely? Is that any kind of life? It has caused me to reflect on my years of being a parent.
I remember Kirsten’s first smile while playing with her on the floor. She was 2 months old and she smiled. I don’t care that it is said they cannot smile at that young of an age. It was not gas. She smiled. I also remember her speaking her first word, “CHOCOLATE!” It wasn’t pronounced correctly, but it was her first word. I also remember her giving me the biggest scare in my life when she was 2 years old.
When we were attending Lincoln Christian College, we had a small apartment in Married Student Housing. I was studying in the back bedroom and Kirsten was napping in the living room. Because she was napping, we had the shades drawn and it was rather dark in the room. I came out of the bedroom to refill my drink and witnessed the bloodiest site I had ever seen. Kirsten was sitting up in the center of the couch with her head hanging forward. Her dress was dripping red. There was blood all over her face and the couch and many smear marks on the wall. I screamed and rushed for Kirsten. As I reached for her, she looked up and smiled at me. I was instantly dumbfounded, but realized she was still alive and I had not just walked into my own personal slasher flick. I flipped on the light and then the reality of the situation was visible. Kirsten had found a bottle of red tempura paint and had been honing her artistic ability all over herself, the wall and the couch. When my heart rate dropped the following Tuesday, we found a better place to keep the paint.
A year later, when we discovered her exercising her artistic ability on the dining room wall with a Sharpie she adamantly denied it. We knew she had done it. She still had ink on her hands and the marker was found in her room. When asked who did it, she said, “Bubby did. Spank him.” I then took Christian in another room and pretended to spank him so she would feel bad and confess the truth. Christian, then 6 years old, yelled like he was being beaten. Kirsten just laughed in the next room. She could be a bit difficult at times.
As difficult as she could be, I had been previously groomed to handle her by her older brother. Christian had tried his best to break me for years. Christian had his third birthday about 2 months after I started dating his mother and we have been a part of each other’s lives ever since. One of his earliest acts of terror was to carve a picture into the vinyl screen of my big screen TV. I got over it, but did not realize at the time that I would have a new challenge face me each day when I came home from work for the next few months.
One day I came home and found Christian playing in the living room with his castle set. This castle was fairly large and was the perfect size for playing with all his action figures. Since it was close to supper time I asked him to help me move it all to the bedroom. He grabbed some of the men and headed to his room with them. I tossed the remaining men into the castle and grabbed it to move it. I felt my leg and chest get wet as water went all over the wall. He had filled the castle with water to pretend he had a moat. This was not a bad thing, just unexpected. I even laughed, but it was going to get more intense.
Later that week, he kept the castle in his room. I went in when I got off work to see him and he had covered a four foot area all around the castle with whipped cream. It was all over the carpet. He knew he couldn’t pour water on the carpet to make a moat, so he used whipped cream and “just pretended.” The next day, he cracked an egg in his bed, but I don’t remember why.
With Christian there was always a fight with him and his bodily fluids. He would puke 4 or 5 times a day. He would come out of the bathroom at McDonald’s to inform me that he was going to throw up, then would do it on the table. He would wake up in the middle of the night, walk past his bathroom, through the kitchen, into my bedroom, past the master bathroom and wake me up just in time to let me know he was going to puke on my bed. I tried to train him to just go straight to the bathroom and yell for me. I WILL come, but it never worked.
When he wasn’t puking on me, he was peeing on everything. He would get up in the middle of the night to pee, but would not entirely wake up. He would make it to the toilet, but would pee all over the wall, the back of the toilet, the rug, everything. If we were staying at another person's house, he would not attempt to find the bathroom. He might pee in their closet or on their dog bed. He once peed in my mother’s laundry detergent. Once, while riding in the car, he woke up and said he had to go, so Christina pulled into a McDonald’s. Kirsten was asleep and so Christina asked him to go quickly and she would wait in the car. After a couple of minutes, she looked inside and saw a group of people standing near the entrance. Fearing the worst she ran in to discover her fears were true. Christian had only stepped inside the front doors of the restaurant and was peeing on the trashcan in the lobby.
Some of these practices continued when he got a little older. Although, they took a different shape. When Christian was in the fifth grade, he and I were playing Mortal Kombat on the Playstation. He paused the game to say he had to pee. The fighting rounds in this game only last 90 seconds and there was 2 seconds left when he paused it. I mentioned that there were only 2 seconds left in the game and asked if we could finish. He started the game again and peed right there. His explanation was, “I told you I had to go.” Also, once while backroading in a Jeep he said to pull over so he could pee. I immediately pulled to the side and he was already going as he stood up. He insists he doesn’t know he has to go until it is too late.
He also did not learn how to use a zipper until middle school. Up until about the 5th grade, he never zipped his backpack. He would get off the bus at the end of the day and run to the house with his bag flinging papers, books, and pencils in all directions. We never knew how many things had fallen out before he got off the bus, but he had a semi-valid reason for not having homework every night.
The motto for GOLD’s GYM is: That which does not kill you, makes you stronger. If this is true, then my children have made me into a very strong man. If it is not true, then I am just broken and tired. It has been a long, difficult road, but it has also been a road filled with wonderful joy and triumphant moments. I love my kids dearly and, of course, will miss them when they are both out of the house. However, I am also looking forward to not having to worry about anyone else and just taking care of myself. It was hard for me when Christian moved out and it will be hard when that day comes for Kirsten, but it must come one day.
I once heard a parent’s feelings toward his children put this way: I wouldn’t take a million dollars for either of my kids, but I wouldn’t give you a nickel for another one just like them.