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Moving Forward, Looking Back

Well, when I was a kid…” I was in physical therapy one day, trapped on my cot with a hot pack on my back, when I heard those dreaded words from an older patient outside my door.

Another patient’s grandchild had an early soccer game the next day, and he said, “Well, when I was a kid, I was up every day at 5 a.m. just do to chores! Can you imagine kids today doing that?”

The other man replied, “Hey, do you remember the harvest? I’d work for pennies just for the chance to drive the tractor!” It went on like this for several minutes.

I remember hearing those same words from my parents at the beginning of a story I’d no doubt heard before, which usually involved something about walking to school five miles in the snow, uphill both ways. And my response was always the same, at least in my head: “Yes, I get it. You had it worse.”

But listening to these two guys, I realized I must be growing up. Rather than making me cringe, I was enthralled with this snapshot of how it used to be.

It started me thinking about how hard I try not to say those words to my own children because I don’t want to sound like my parents sounded to me. I don’t want the words, “Well, I didn’t have that when I was a kid, and I turned out OK” to ever leave my lips—mainly because anybody who says that deserves the debate that will follow.

I didn’t want to believe that I’ve become that parent. And it made me realize, suddenly, that maybe being that parent isn’t so bad.

Every generation wants to make their children’s lives better than theirs, give them more opportunities with less hardship. But how arrogant I must have seemed to my own parents all this time to believe that I’ve gotten it right, that my generation figured it out. How hurt they must have been each time they saw us blatantly doing the opposite of what they did, as if every single aspect of their parenting was somehow flawed.

I have to remind myself that my “flawed” parents raised six enormously successful children. They obviously did one or two things right.

I’m beginning to think it’s not up to each generation to reinvent the wheel, but to maybe just find ways, with newly acquired knowledge, to tweak it a little so it runs more smoothly. Do we smoke and drink during pregnancy these days? Of course not. But our kids may find out someday that sports drinks and low-carb diets are harmful, and we’ll all look back with a collective, “Oops!”

And, heck, maybe our kids will review our parenting and say, “Hey, you really shouldn’t have made it so easy for us. You never made us work for anything, and you gave us everything we wanted simply because you could and because it was
easier. When I have kids, I’m not going to be afraid to say ‘No!’”

Or they might say to their children, “Boy, when I was young, our parents tried to talk us to death and reason things out all the time and protect us from every little disappointment! They made us play two sports all the time, even if it meant they were driving us all over creation and then waiting for us to be done! Can you believe it? You are so lucky I’m your parent
and not your friend!” And their children will be sitting there thinking, “Yes, I get it. You had it worse.”

Fortunately I know that someday they will get it, just like every generation before them. They will learn that they don’t know everything and that their father and mother didn’t do every single thing wrong. They will eventually understand that some of the stuff they went through was worthwhile and worth saving and worth passing on, that some of their childhood was actually pretty good, just like…well, when I was a kid.                                     

Maggie Lamond Simone is a book author, award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at maggiesimone@verizon.net.

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