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FOR PARENTS

What a Difference 10 Simple Words Can Make

May 03, 1990|MAUREEN BROWN

Quite simply, 10 words.

"There's someone in the kitchen I want you to meet."

Idealistic, impulsive female, undeclared major, sociology minor, meets unpretentious, pragmatic male zoology major, music minor, one February night at a party in a crowded apartment in Ann Arbor, Mich. Thus begins the saga of a family.

Like most young married student couples, we passed many years in student housing projects, libraries and laundry rooms. Finally, declaring a major and graduating, I spent a fifth year in school getting a teaching credential.

I was fortunate to have a wise principal as my mentor who gave only two directives before my first day as a junior high school English and history teacher: "Be fair and listen carefully." It was never clear who grew more in my classroom--the teacher or the students.

Years later, at a party they gave me before the birth of our first child, one of my students queried, "What kind of baby do you want?" I scanned the faces of these young people whom I knew so well through classroom discussions of literature and history and also through their personal journals, which they shared with me.

"I hope our child will be the kind of child who has friends--friends to sit with at lunch when they are in junior high," I replied.

There appeared to be no clear outline at the onset of our parenting. In actuality, we missed the final Lamaze class when our first child arrived one month early. I attribute all inabilities to cope with our children's behavior patterns to material we may have missed at that class.

In truth, we have made perpetual junkets to the grocery store, kept the washer and dryer in working order, adjusted to living with some clutter, dust, and an unmanageable garage, insisted that car seats and seat belts be worn at all times, and taken our children everywhere. When our last child graduates from high school in 2001, we will have spent 29 years involved in play groups, schools, sports teams, pajama parties and musical groups. Additionally, we will have made endless expeditions to libraries, museums, beaches, mountains, parks, bowling alleys and concerts.

Not long ago, a young senior approached me to critique the rough draft of his college essay. The question, "Who are your heroes?" was answered by referring to a well-known scientist, a national leader, and a writer. Eighteen years ago, before my education as a parent commenced, my answer might have been quite similar to his. Today, in my efforts to be an involved parent, I have rephrased my definition of hero.

Now, I am impressed with a single-parent father who coaches our 10-year-old daughter's softball team. An attorney by training, he posseses a natural ability to teach, motivate, and delight 9-, 10- and 11-year old girls.

I am in awe of a friend who, in addition to her own 18-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son, has opened her home to two other 16-year-old boys who needed a change of home and neighborhood environment. She laughs when I call her a saint and notes that her greatest challenge is keeping the refrigerator stocked. As for meals, she has found that placing a half-gallon carton of milk in front of each boy at dinner seems to meet their liquid-intake needs.

I am in competition for good lunches with the father of a dual-working family. "Oh, Mom" says my 7-year-old son, "you should have seen what Derek and Taylor's dad packed them for lunch today."

I laud a family that managed to function throughout two years of counseling and rehabilitation programs with a teen-ager involved in drugs and alcohol. Today, he is a model student and community worker.

I credit a group of pediatric physicians in North County who recognized that breast-feeding is not the most natural act of mothering and have included a registered nurse to counsel and assist patients both in the office and at home.

I applaud the growing list of educators who recognize that not every child has the same learning patterns and are now addressing learning disabilities. Finding answers in this educational maze can be a tremendous task.

My list of heroes continues to flourish as I log miles on our family vehicle. Some of the best times spent with our children have been the spur-of-the-moment "field trip," such as an essential trip to In-N-Out Burgers, a walk on the beach at 5 on a Sunday afternoon, a trip to the landfill (we call it the dump) with a carload of tree cuttings and 10-year-old boys, a Friday night high school football game, and riding in the express lane on Interstate 15 and watching other single-motorist vehicles inch by.

More organized and lengthy journeys, such as our recent spring-break trip to Northern California to explore California history and show Berkeley to our 18-year-old daughter who will be attending the school this fall, tend to test a family's strength. I cite one moment on Friday afternoon in rush-hour traffic on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, after six days of traveling with a 7-year-old with chickenpox, as an example.

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