An Epic Parenting Fail

2 Nov

Subtitled: The greatest gift my parents ever gave me (and why I’ll be in counseling because of it).

Sub-subtitled: Never teach your children to read.

My parents are great. (I almost wrote: my parents were great. Oops!)  And one of their first traditions established as a married couple was to compile a list of things they were thankful for each Thanksgiving.  It helped them jog their memory from the past year and remind them of the good stuff, not the bad.  Once we got old enough to participate, we began to compile a master list.  Sorta like a game of Boggle, one person would read off an item on their list, we’d add it to the master list, everyone else would check it off their list or groan because they forgot about it, and we’d carry on.  It was always fun to see who had the most legitimate thankful items (not including silly things like: jelly beans and new clothes – although I’m pretty sure clean sheets was a unanimous addition).

There was always some good-natured arguments about what the first item on the list should be each year.  Although the list was never rated, item 100 was just as important as item 1, there was some prestige with getting your item at the top of the list.

I’m very thankful that my parents taught me the gift of gratitude. Its a gift that I continue to learn about and try to use as often as possible.

But in case you thought this blog was going to be sappy and sweet and thankful, well, here’s where the story gets a bit sordid.  As a kid, I liked reading. Anything. Everything.  My Mom discovered this when she found my brother and I (probably 7 & 9) reading Dostoevsky’s short stories out loud. I remember a lot of starvation, death, and frozen bodies (lots of snow and ice). Little did I know that was a key component in every Russian book.

So my love of reading led me to read through the past Thanksgiving lists one year.  They were stored on yellow legal paper in a manila folder in my Dad’s desk.  And I read them from 1979 to present.  Whatever present was at that time. And I noticed something awfully sweet – my brother was #1 on his birth year list!

And both of my sisters made #1 on their birth year lists.

As it should be.

Which led me to flip to my birth year list.  I was not #1.  Ok, I mean, that was a big year, a lot of things happened.  But I was not on the list at all.  Not #100 or #127 or #42.  

My Mom is pretty quick on her feet and said “Well, you were born in March, so by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I couldn’t imagine life without you, so I didn’t even THINK to add you to the list because you felt so permanent!”  Translation: you were old news by November.

Then, I discovered a further slight.  The year that my brother and sisters were potty-trained, that made the list.  Not #1 or anything, but right up there.  No mention of me at all.

My Dad is pretty quick on his feet and doesn’t mind adding a little insult to injury so he said: “Well, since you were technically never born, we couldn’t really list you as potty-trained, now could we?”  And then later, “Honey, it’s just that we’ve never been sure you really were potty-trained.”

And that is why my parents now have handwritten proof that I am actually about 12 years old (if we go by the Thanksgiving list) and I was potty-trained maybe 7 years ago (also according to the list). I’m pretty sure this document will be framed for me someday, “Liz, age 21, finally potty-trained” and presented at my wedding or something.

I finally made it on a Thanksgiving list as #1.  I am no longer the poor, neglected child.  But it makes a good story.

And it’s a cautionary tale: if you must teach your kids to be grateful, don’t also teach them to read.  Or think for themselves. Or grow up. Because they may realize you are not Super Parents but just regular fallible parents striving to do their best to raise you without psychiatric damage.  A mother’s greatest fear is that her offspring will pay money to lie on someone else’s couch someday and talk about their relationship with their mother.  They’d much rather you lie on their couch and talk with them (but no shoes on the upholstery and make your bed first!).

Not all parenting mistakes will be caught.  Not all will be quite so funny and forgivable.  But try to remember the big things.  The year you get married, put your spouse as #1.  The year your kids are born, make them #1.  And always, always, always, be thankful for when your kids are potty-trained.

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